Another Australian Day

In the context of this increasingly lopsided ‘contest’, the celebration of Australia Day seemed a case of considerable overkill. What day hasn’t been Australia’s day in this series?

India have certainly proved themselves a most accommodating opponent this summer. Unable to muster serious resistance when it counted, the prospect of them showing much fight here in the face of a huge total seemed unlikely, despite the benign batting conditions. Even Sourav Ganguly, whose Fairfax columns have reminded of none so much as Monty Python’s Black Knight (‘it’s only a flesh wound’) seemed resigned to the inevitable. He was a no-show for the Channel Nine preliminaries.

Such hopes as still existed of India having anything to celebrate on their own Republic Day appeared to rest (inevitably) with Sachin Tendulkar. This served to highlight a problem as much as a prospect. Preoccupation with individual concerns rather than team interests has characterised the Indian effort this summer.

Even this hope was quickly extinguished. After commencing with an imperious flick to the leg boundary, Tendulkar soon found himself involved in the familiar arm wrestle the Aussie quicks have yet to lose in this series. So it proved again. The disciplined line maintained outside off-stump induced caution, then produced the inevitable edge. That it came early in a Siddle spell seemed likewise inevitable.

3-78 soon became 4-87 as a Siddle produced a lifter through sheer effort, drawing Gambhir into again sparing to the slips cordon. Hussey showed up his veteran opponents by athletically diving from gully to complete the catch. With a technique that both closes and angles the bat, Gambhir has struggled in bouncy Australian conditions. Little wonder he’s projecting forward wishfully to home pitches.

VVS and Kohli were suddenly in partnership. Clarke astutely introduced Lyon before either had settled and he produced his most challenging spell of this series, bowling a good line outside off-stump and turning the ball more than Ashwin had managed. VVS began with a couple of superbly timed cover drives but was soon looking as inert at the crease as he has previously been this summer. Soon enough Lyon extracted some extra bounce and VVS was on his way courtesy of a knick to Haddin.

5-111 became 5-122 at lunch. India had lost 3-61 off 30 overs in perfect batting conditions. The Australian bowling strangle and their enthusiastic fielding continued to force India to graft harder for their runs than they were prepared to do. Given their weak tail, another debacle loomed.

Kohli and Saha sought to repair what their seniors couldn’t. Both were looking to establish reputations rather than rest on them. Kohli is an attractive blend of orthodox technique and wristy timing. Here he built on the personal advances he made in Perth. The diminutive Saha had impressed in the field, providing a more lively keeping presence than MS Dohni. With the bat he was neat and organised, prepared to dig in and support the specialist batsman.

They picked off runs effectively when offered, running noticeably harder between wickets than most of their team mates. Australia’s bowlers were for once reminded how plumb the wicket was. Michael Clarke found himself in the unfamiliar position of a holding pattern, awaiting the second new ball. Only the third Indian century partnership of the summer was achieved in measured style.

The arrival of that new ball changed the tempo. Once again India tightened up as a break approached. On the stroke of tea Saha shouldered arms to a Harris delivery that clipped his off-stump. It was a disappointing end to a fine 119 run stand.

After tea Australia had the scent. Upon reaching the 90’s Kohli developed such a case of the wobbles that he might have donned a Collingwood jumper. Watching his partners, he probably had cause. After surviving his own LBW appeal on 91, he saw Ashwin given out to the returning Siddle. Once again Zaheer Khan showed complete disregard for his batting partner, wafting hopelessly at his first ball and nicking behind. 8-230 and Kohli still on 91.

Events moved from drama to farce. Kohli drove Harris to the off boundary. He then refused a long single to the sweeper. Bafflingly, next ball he called a tight single to cover and scrambled a second on the overthrow. Anxiety overtook judgement. Facing Siddle, Kohli approached outright panic, slashing but not connecting, threatening to run out his partner or himself.

Someone obviously passed comment on his lack of composure as players crossed. The riled batsmen responded. Ishant Sharma, who’s had more arguments than wickets this summer, further inflamed discussions. Uncharacteristically, Ricky Ponting appeared to play peacemaker.

With feathers ruffled all-round, Kohli drove airily on 99 but found the gap, returning for a bonus run as it was Australia’s turn to temporarily lose the plot. He thoroughly deserved his maiden test ton despite the late theatrics. Kohli’s form in the last two tests is one of the very few consolations India will take from this series. His first 100 has greater implications for India’s cricket than Sachin’s 100th will, if it ever comes.

Having done a job, Sharma variously ducked, weaved and slashed at a now antagonised pace attack. Hilfenhaus returned and sensibly pitched up, ending the resistance. With the follow-on still a distant number, the only real interest was how many Kohli could score before the end. After a couple of powerful blows he missed a Hilfy full toss and was out for 116, the only Indian century thus far in the series.

Though Hilfenhaus mopped up, Peter Siddle was the undoubted bowling hero, claiming his first 5-wicket haul of an outstanding summer. From the moment a certain Sydney-based scribe sledged him after day 1 in Brisbane, Siddle has thrived as the bowling attack’s senior pro. A fuller length and clearer tactical purpose has finally produced consistent results to match the wholehearted effort he has always offered. His repeated ability to breakthrough early in a spell has constantly thwarted any Indian momentum

Leading by the minor matter of 332 runs, Michael Clarke could do pretty much as he pleased. He opted to give his bowlers a rest and apply a heavy roller to the wicket.

Once again Sehwag opted to bowl the spinner straight away. Once again David Warner’s equilibrium was disturbed. Neither Warner or Cowan convinced. As is his way, Warner still scored at a  lively rate. But it was no surprise when he chipped a return catch to Ashwin.

Sean Marsh trudged in at number three sporting a series return that would embarrass any number eleven. There was an element of misfortune in his LBW dismissal for a duck to Zaheer, but even greater sense of inevitability. Usman Khawaja should start packing his bags for the West Indies now.

When Cowan played back to Ashwin and missed a straight one, Australia was in the familiar position of 3-40. The top of the batting order remains a worry.

Ravi Ashwin has bowled very well with the new ball in this game. His problem was spinning the old ball sufficiently in Australia’s first innings. India’s ultimate problem may be the amount he spun it in their second.

Having gorged on batting of late, Ponting and Clarke again found themselves at the crease. By stumps the lead was 382. Given India’s shattered psyche, this is probably enough already, but Australia will doubtless press on tomorrow and suit themselves on a declaration.

Despite some spirited resistance from young India, this was again Australia’s day in every sense that really matters.

About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has been a Carlton member for more than 30 years.

Comments

  1. JB,
    Cast your mind back to the beginnin of the summer:
    Who would have imagined that the sight of Punter striding out to the crease (with Australia at 2 fa not many) would cause Australian supporters to breathe sighs of relief ?

  2. John Butler says:

    It’s been a summer of many surprises Smokie. Most of them good from an Aussie perspective.

    One of India’s only significant achievements this summer has been to bowl Punter back into form.

  3. JB
    One more thing: I am sick of assorted commentators banging on
    about how the state batsmen around the country are not putting
    pressure on the incumbents. Just how are they supposed to do
    that when there has been no first-class cricket for over a month?

  4. John Butler says:

    Now Smokie,

    if you require some of our commentators to actually think about what they’re saying you’ll open Pandora’s box. :)

  5. John Butler says:

    If I was India I’d be getting a little nervous about the umpiring trend.

    Most specifically their growing fondness for LBW’s.

  6. John Butler says:

    Hard to see what Australia were achieving in that last 1/2 hour before lunch.

    Nobody else really followed on from Clarke’s lead to get on with it.

  7. John Butler says:

    Clarke quite obviously annoyed that Punter and Haddin weren’t getting on with it.

    Pulled the pin on them.

  8. John Butler says:

    Question without notice: What constitutes a cameo innings?

    PJ Flynn and I debated this once over an innings of 16.

    Does Sehwag’s 62 still qualify?

  9. JB – cameo is more than 30 and fewer than 50. And dont think Clarke pulled the pin on Ponting. Wanted to set 500 and was happy whenever that happened.

    Footy season not far away. Blues flicking thru their recipe books yet?

  10. John Butler says:

    I dunno MOC.

    If ever 62 felt like a cameo it was Sehwag’s. He just free-wheeled. Damn the consequences.

    As for the Blues, just call us the Masterchefs.

  11. Peter Flynn says:

    Thanks JB,

    You’ve filled in some gaps for me.

    Really enjoyed the period of play when Kohli was approaching his 100.

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