Shaking the tree



Second Test – SCG

Day 1 – 3 January 2012

Matt O’Connor

To borrow an expression from a West Indian cricket radio report of a few years ago, wickets have been falling like ripe mangoes from de trees this summer. And today the thudding continued as batsmen once again failed to deal with the moving ball.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Michael Clarke (resplendent in dark green blazer) shook hands on a typical straw-coloured SCG pitch. Dhoni correctly called heads and (incorrectly as it transpired) chose to bat. Clarke seemed untroubled, suggesting in a short post-toss interview that the pitch felt “a bit tacky underfoot”. Umpires Ian Gould and Marais Erasmus assumed their positions and battle number 2 was joined under sunny skies.

Gautum Gambhir became Test wicket 21 for new sensation James Pattinson within three balls, edging a bouncing, seaming ball to Clarke at first slip. Gambhir had cause to feel unlucky as Pattinson followed this up with two wides, and didn’t really settle into a consistent line and length in his first spell. Ben Hilfenhaus in contrast was on the money from ball one and probed away outside off stump for nine relatively luckless overs (conceding a miserly 14 runs).

Peter Siddle, sporting his new Joe Strummer haircut, relieved his Dandenong “brother” after eight overs and Virender Sehwag flayed his first two balls through the slips (in the first case) and over them (in the second) to the boundary. But Siddle was celebrating an over later after chiselling out Rahul Dravid, drawing an inside edge that looped up from the pad into Ed (“Leonard”) Cowan’s hands at short leg. Clarke’s use of the short leg position since he assumed control is one of the big ticks of his captaincy.

Out strode Sachin to the customary fanfare, and immediately went to work. An effortless flick to the square leg boundary from Hilfenhaus was followed by two smooth off drives from Siddle yielding the same return. Refreshments were taken after 13 overs, the Indians precariously placed at 2/44 and all hopes pinned on the Little Master.

Sehwag was reprieved by Ponting at second slip straight after the break, and Hilfenhaus appealed to the heavens. But the miss was not costly. Pattinson, back from the same end after only three overs from Siddle, produced a peach of a leg cutter that Sehwag could only feather through to Haddin. The big fast bowler celebrated with his now familiar fruit loop expression and Sehwag departed with another streaky 30 under his belt.

VVS Laxman was Pattinson’s next victim two overs later, snapped up by Shaun Marsh at third slip. India limped to lunch on 4/72 with Sachin 21. Pattinson’s analysis read 3/25 from 10 overs, reaping the rewards from an excellent second spell.

Siddle and Hilfenhaus took up the attack after lunch, and Virat Kohli moved smoothly into the 20s with some confident strokeplay. It didn’t last. Siddle induced another edge through to Haddin and a promising knock was curtailed. Badly needing a score for himself and his team, Dhoni joined Tendulkar in what loomed as a crucial partnership. He was positive from the outset and with Tendulkar scoring freely through and over point and the slips, a revival appeared on the cards. Lyon was introduced for the first time in over 38 and was accurate without being overly threatening. Pattinson came back for spell number three, and Sachin slashed him over gully for four. A few overs later, he unleashed his new signature spoon shot over the slips. But he was gone three balls later for 41, dragging a full Pattinson ball back onto his stumps. He seems to be paying the full price for his lapses in concentration so far on this tour.

Dhoni and Ashwin milked Lyon through the leg side to build the only real partnership of significance in the innings. Hilfenhaus plugged away at the other end without as much penetration as his pre-lunch spell. With the tea break looming, it looked as though the Indians could make it without further casualties. The trend though, this summer, is that wickets are never far away. In the final over, Ashwin edged Hilfenhaus to Clarke and Zaheer couldn’t get out of the way of the next ball, gloving it to Cowan at short leg. 8/178 at tea and back in deep trouble.

The end came quickly on the resumption, Hilfenhaus and Siddle picking up Ishant and Yadav for ducks. Dhoni stood alone, stranded on 57no. Even taking account of Australia’s brittle batting, the 191 total looked way under par. The pitch had played similarly to Melbourne, with good bounce and seam. But it was far from a minefield, and the outfield was lightning fast. Most timed balls that breached the inner ring had made it to the rope.

Did someone mention brittle? A Test match that was already rolling along started to careen downhill as three Australian left-handers perished in the first nine overs, all to Zaheer Khan. Dave Warner raced to 8 in the first over and then edged the last ball to second slip. Laxman fluffed the chance, but kept the ball airborne long enough for Tendulkar to snaffle the rebound. Two overs later, Marsh edged his first ball straight to a now more alert Laxman, and walked off with his third failure in as many tries since returning from injury.

Cowan was next to go, missing a straight one from Zaheer and adjudged LBW by Erasmus. With a complete misunderstanding of how the Decision Review System works, Ian Healy bagged the call in the Channel Nine box. Michael Slater pointed out to him that under DRS, Cowan would still have been out. If Healy apologised, I didn’t hear it.

And so Ponting (like Tendulkar before him) was once again asked to lead the fightback. His captain bustled out to join him in the middle. The scoreboard ticked over at almost 4.5 an over as the two leaders rode their luck and gradually grew in confidence. Ponting drove Yadav straight for four and followed up with his favourite pull shot to the square leg boundary. Clarke hopped into Yadav four overs later with three glorious boundaries on the trot, a square drive, pull shot and straight drive all executed with precision and skill. Spin was introduced late and the pair pilfered 17 valuable runs from the last three overs.

Stumps were pulled with the incumbent partnership reaching 79 and the first innings deficit only 75. The points are well and truly with the home team, and logic says they should secure a significant lead on a more settled, second day pitch. But as we are coming to understand, firm predictions about this Australian batting line up are right royal folly. If I were the Indian attack, I’d be giving dem mango trees a good hard shake tomorrow morning.


  1. MOC – I had the radio on in the background here in my humble office. Occasionally I was interrupted by clients (I could run a really efficient practice if it wasn’t for clients interrupting me) but for the most part the first day had an air of expectation about it right from the start. Maybe the MCG test has me conditioned for constant action.

    If the Indians can get a wicket early I fear dem mangoes will continue to fall on day 2. However if Clarke and Ponting get going they could easily make a 100 – 150 lead possible.

    I’m supposed to write a report for day 5. I’ve already done it. It goes like this:

    (Cue sound of crickets – the insect variety – chirping. End report).

  2. John Butler says

    The way India have started this morning Australia won’t have much to worry about.

  3. Pooooonting!

  4. Look like dere ain’t no more mangoes.

  5. Worst thing about this improved performance is listening to the Nine commentators jumping back on board with unseemly haste. It’s like they’re thinking: “It’s all gunna be OK. Ponting’s gunna keep his job. Clarke will keep his. AND WE’LL ALL KEEP OURS. EVERYTHING IS BACK TO NORMAL. Phew!”

  6. Yvette Wroby says

    Hey Matt, can you contact me at [email protected]

    Yvette Wroby

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