Take the pleasure of winning a Test against the best side in the world in their backyard on a pitch that suits perfectly their style of play. Add to that the joy of bringing down to earth, albeit briefly, the most arrogant group of sportsmen one could ever hope to see. Multiply that by the ecstasy of seeing Team India displaying the heart and the balls to fight back after tumultous events that would have broken lesser sides. And only after doing this, can one even begin to understand how exactly an Indian fan felt as R P Singh’s yorker sneaked through the gap between the blade and the Star Trek pads of Shaun Tait.
The highlight of the Perth Test for me, as I no doubt feel for many others, was that spell. Yes you know the one I mean. Ishant Sharma. Ricky Ponting. The morning of the fourth day. On one hand stands the best batsman in the world, cocky in his knowledge of the conditions and of his own greatness. Despite chasing a historical 413 to win and having lost two wickets, Australia, because they possess an unreal batting line-up, are still very much in the game. Hussey is standing solid like a rock. There is an air of inevitability—-Ricky Ponting will, like countless times before, cut loose , crush the opposition with a big century scored at break-neck pace, the rest of the batsmen will rally around him and the runs will be knocked off.
Against him stands an obviously nervous 19 year old, who has gone wicketless in the last match, in the side simply because the front line of Indian pace bowlers are injured.
The script seems to have already written.
But then something happens. Whether it be a helpful breeze or the angle of the sun’s rays or the effect of a million prayers or the ghost of Curtley Ambrose, Ishant Sharma unleashes a spell of hostile fast bowling which has Punter all at sea. The ball zips about, Ponting does not know which way it is going, and his eagerness to change ends is visible to all. The Australian winning formula depends critically on a facade of invincibility and in those glorious moments, Ishant Sharma tears away this mask and shows to the world that even the best of the Aussies feel the pressure. When Ponting ultimately falls to Ishant Sharma, the game is still open to both sides but the psychological advantage remains firmly with India.
Anything now becomes possible. Including Sehwag bowling Gilchrist around his legs with a vicious spinner.
I do not know about you but victory seems sweeter when it is against opponents like Australia who just hate losing. A cursory glance at the online haunts of Australian supporters reveal a theme: a persistent mention of how manfully the Australians took the two bad decisions against them, unlike the Indians at Sydney (the decision against Sachin at Perth being even worse than that of Hussey’s is of course conveniently forgotten).
Peter English writes in Cricinfo:
Decisions are more likely to go bad for the struggling team, which is something Australia’s opponents have complained about for years. At least there won’t be calls for an umpire to be stood down for the final match of a gripping series in Adelaide next week, and the only boycott will remain an English commentator
Not that it needs repeating, (or perhaps it does) that the principal problem in the Sydney was not simply that all decisions had a consistent bias (which it did) but that the umpires did not bother consulting the third umpire when it came to decisions which might favor India while displaying no such reticence in decisions where Australia would benefit (a possible run-out of Harbhajan was referred to the umpire even though he had long made his ground before the throw came in while close stumpings and illegal catches were decided on the field of play)—actions that cannot be explained away as simple human error. And as to Peter English’s contention that decisions are more likely to go against the struggling team, I wonder why the decisions at Sydney when Australia was on the mat went in their favor or why the decisions at Sydney in 2003 when India was pressing for victory went in favor of the struggling team once again. (Bucknor was officiating in both matches).
There was of course more fun from the Aussie press. Including an accusation of ball-tampering against VVS Laxman , in the best traditions of yellow journalism, on the day the Aussies were unable to counter Indian swing. I am however disappointed that noone has written about how the rays of light reflected from Sehwag’s bald pate distracted Gilchrist and Lee.
But then all fun has to come to an end and with BCCI and Pawar uncle in the wings, how can it not ! Just before the fourth Test, the wise men of the BCCI announce the dropping of Dravid and Ganguly for the one day side, ostensibly at Dhoni’s insistence. What the effect of this sudden decision will be on the morale of these two great players just before a critical match is of course something Jalauddin Niranjan “Shah”-en “Shah” could hardly concern himself with.
Not much surprises me nowadays with respect to decisions made by the BCCI but this one did. To an extent. That’s because based on their performance in the recent Test series, the two representatives of “Gen Next” (Yuvraj and Dhoni) have done little to show themselves worthy of the mantle of their predecessors in games that last longer than forty overs in foreign conditions against the best of opposition. Everytime Yuvraj has come to the crease, he has looked like he was batting second innings, fatigued after prolonged games of shuttle-cock and rackets with a certain actress. And Dhoni has scratched around at the crease, time and time again displaying that he has yet to adjust his technique to Australian conditions. Whatever India has done in this series, batting-wise, has been because of the older generation of players, which in itself is very worrying.
In this context, sending home Dravid (who seems to have played himself into form) and Sourav (who despite a horrible Perth Test excelled in Melbourne and Sydney) is an extremely brave decision. As a matter of fact, there was a strong cricketing case to even keep Laxman for the ODIs considering that he does exceptionally well against Aussies. But that’s not the way Dhoni and the wise men look at it. What they want are “good” fielders (which also includes Munaf Patel) , irrespective of what that does to the batting line-up. Of course it may be argued that it was the chucking out of the old guard that won us the Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa. However ODIs and Twenty20s are totally different cups of tea — Twenty20 papers over many a vulnerability that starts to come into focus as the length of the game increases. (This is precisely what makes Twenty20 so exciting as it evens the playing field between the good and the average). An example of how success in Twenty20 does not guarantee success in ODIs is the case of Gautam Gambhir, who despite being one of Twenty20s most successful batsmen, still struggles to find his footing in the one day game.
But what has been done is done and whether dropping Dravid and Ganguly is an inspired bit of decision making remains to be seen.
Aah well. At least we shall always have Perth.