S. Ram Mahesh
Poor umpiring and Clarke’s golden spell at the very end do India in
Sydney: It was gross injustice that a Test match of such drama, vigour, and meaning had to end this way. When five intense days of cricket leave a disagreeably bitter aftertaste, there has to be something amiss.
In the case of the second Test, here at the Sydney Cricket Ground, the fault lay with the umpires.
Poor decisions have been a part of the game since someone thought a shepherd’s crook looked like a good thing to hit a matted lump of wool with, but when the umpires colour a contest so often that it ceases to remain an even battle, it must be treated with appropriate seriousness.
Australia’s record-tying 122-run win was cheapened — and such a pity it was too, for as Ricky Ponting, the home captain, pointed out, winning one Test is hard work, let alone 16. The Australians comprise a champion side — they deserve better than overcoming the opposition with help.
What didn’t help their cause, however, was their behaviour, but we’ll come to it by and by.
India, despite losing two key men to wretched decisions on Sunday, should have batted out a little over five hours to retain a shot at the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. Instead, the side yielded to Stuart Clark’s double-strike after lunch, Andrew Symonds’s three wickets through the distended final session, and Michael Clarke’s pinch-me-I’m-dreaming spell of three for five in 1.5 overs at the very end.
The timing of Ponting’s declaration suggested he recognised India’s soft underbelly: batting time without hope.
Hussey completes century
He allowed Michael Hussey to compile his eighth century in just 20 Tests before blanching the game of two possible results: having set India 333 to get in 72 overs, he ensured only one side could realistically win.
It’s another matter that the touring side will justly feel it shouldn’t have been in this position in the first place.
Andrew Symonds’s reprieve on day one which prevented Australia from being reduced to 193 for seven was one of eight decisions that on conservative count went against India. Michael Hussey in the second innings was another beneficiary.
Australia, it must be mentioned, suffered four rough decisions as well, two (leg-before calls) involving century-makers V.V.S. Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar, but not once was a genuine catch turned down, as was thrice the case with India.
Ponting’s declaration left India 10 minutes before lunch, the sort of period an opener dreads, and sure enough, Wasim Jaffer reached fatally at a delivery from Brett Lee that shaped away to be caught at third slip. Jaffer’s feet were static. Credit to Lee for he had set the opener up with the short ball again.
Rahul Dravid and Laxman set about repairing India’s innings, batting against thoroughly attacking fields — the sort Ponting could afford all day.
The Australian captain introduced Clark after four pallid overs from Mitchell Johnson, and was rewarded almost immediately.
Clark’s dismissal of Laxman was a piece of clever, controlled bowling. Laxman’s batting, unlike that of others, isn’t dependent on the forward stride, and while this doesn’t detract from his rare ability to strike deliveries of length on the rise, it leaves him vulnerable to late movement.
Clark, in any case, is a tough man to get forward to, bowling as he does with just enough pace (early-to-mid 130kmph) from a 6ft 6in frame. He also is a canny exponent of cut. Laxman, kept on the crease by Clark’s bothering accuracy, was given a leg-cutter and an off-cutter in that order. The first defeated a speculative prod, the second hit the batsman’s pads in front of his stumps.
Tendulkar, who had walked out to another standing ovation, showed immediately why he’s had success in a variety of conditions. He stood outside his crease to counter Clark, making sure the umpires knew of his design. From this advanced position, Tendulkar worked Clark to the vacant fine-leg boundary.
But, Adam Gilchrist forced Tendulkar back into his crease by coming up to the stumps. Indecision festered in the batsman’s mind — Tendulkar was careless in removing his bat from the way of a delivery outside off, and the ball was funnelled onto the stumps.
Dravid found a capable ally in Sourav Ganguly. Though dropped by Symonds (filling in for the injured Matthew Hayden) at first slip off Johnson, Dravid settled and was soon batting with the elaborate care of bricklayer setting his next brick.
Ganguly’s second coming has been marked by its positive intent, and the left-hander scored freely, putting on an exhibition of cover-driving against Symonds’s off-spin.
But, having realised 61 in 15.2 overs, the partnership was broken when Dravid was done in by umpire Steve Bucknor. Symonds’s delivery went off front pad to Adam Gilchrist who took it skilfully. Dravid left, a sardonic smile playing on his lips.
Ganguly reached his 50 in 51 balls, but he too fell victim to an umpire’s misjudgement, this time Mark Benson’s. Lee’s delivery was immaculate, catching Ganguly on the crease and buying the edge. Clarke who rolled over in the slips said he caught the ball.
As per the pre-series agreement between the captains, it was enough for Benson. Only, there was sufficient basis for doubt.
Clarke may well have caught the ball (the reduction of a three-dimensional field to a two-dimensional image almost always makes such catches look suspicious), but in rolling over he placed it on the ground, when still not in complete control of it.
To make such a dubious claim, as did Ponting and Gilchrist on other occasions, was unbecoming.
Yuvraj Singh had earlier lasted all of three balls starting against spin, and it was down to M.S. Dhoni and Anil Kumble to keep India afloat with 39 overs remaining to be bowled.
The pair kept out 21 overs before Dhoni ill-advisedly padded up. Kumble was heroic, remaining unbeaten on 45.
But, Clarke, with bounce and accuracy, ensured the Indian captain’s heart-break would hurt even more.
Australia — 1st innings: 463.
India — 1st innings: 532.
Australia — 2nd innings: P. Jaques c Yuvraj b Kumble 42, M. Hayden c Jaffer b Kumble 123, R. Ponting c Laxman b Harbhajan 1, M. Hussey (not out) 145, M. Clarke c Dravid b Kumble 0, A. Symonds c Dhoni b R.P. Singh 61, A. Gilchrist c Yuvraj b Kumble 1, B. Hogg c Dravid b Harbhajan 1, B. Lee (not out) 4, Extras (b-3, lb-8, w-3, nb-9): 23; Total (for seven wkts. decl. in 107 overs): 401.
Fall of wickets: 1-85 (Jaques), 2-90 (Ponting), 3-250 (Hayden), 4-250 (Clarke), 5-378 (Symonds), 6-393 (Gilchrist), 7-395 (Hogg).
India bowling: R.P. Singh 16-2-74-1, Ishant 14-2-59-0, Harbhajan 33-6-92-2, Kumble 40-3-148-4, Tendulkar 2-0-6-0, Yuvraj 2-0-11-0.
India — 2nd innings: R. Dravid c Gilchrist b Symonds 38, W. Jaffer c Clarke b Lee 0, V.V.S. Laxman lbw b Clark 20, S. Tendulkar b Clark 12, S. Ganguly c Clarke b Lee 51, Yuvraj c Gilchrist b Symonds 0, M.S. Dhoni lbw b Symonds 35, A. Kumble (not out) 45, Harbhajan c Hussey b Clarke 7, R.P. Singh lbw b Clarke 0, Ishant c Hussey b Clarke 0, Extras (nb-2): 2; Total (in 70.5 overs) 210.
Fall of wickets: 1-3 (Jaffer), 2-34 (Laxman), 3-54 (Tendulkar), 4-115 (Dravid), 5-115 (Yuvraj), 6-137 (Ganguly), 7-185 (Dhoni), 8-210 (Harbhajan), 9-210 (RP Singh).
Australia bowling: Lee 13-3-34-2, Johnson 11-4-33-0, Clark 12-4-32-2, Hogg 14-2-55-0, Symonds 19-5-51-3, Clarke 1.5-0-5-3.