S. Ram Mahesh
The visitors struggle to take wickets on a flat pitch
Adelaide: Test matches at the Adelaide Oval over the last few years have made a habit of building slowly before tumbling over themselves in a disquieting rush to get finished.
Through Matthew Hayden’s 30th Test century, forged of will and strength, Phil Jaques’s workmanlike 60, and Ricky Ponting’s scratchy half-century that began to turn menacing, Australia followed the script, running up 322 for three by the end of the third day.
India, hamstrung by R.P. Singh’s absence, laboured on a strip favourable for occupying the crease on Saturday. The spinners were disappointing, but Ishant Sharma, who troubled Ponting again, and Irfan Pathan, who struck patches of promise, held out hope that the touring side may yet press Australia in the fourth Test.
Anil Kumble’s tactics in the first hour were bewildering. There are few better and more respected leaders of men; a lesser captain would have been swayed into bowling first at Perth. And no doubt every cricketer will benefit from the rigour with which Kumble censors excess in analysis.
But, through the series, the 37-year-old (as indeed his counterpart) has tended to the defensive with his fields. With Hayden and Jaques starting afresh on Saturday, India might have profited from forcing the openers into a risk or two. Instead, there were men out for the sweep, the pull, the lofted drive, and the cut — and far too few in catching positions.
It wasn’t clear how Kumble planned to transact for wickets, but one got the feeling India, despite the lavish first-innings total of 526, was doing it the hard way. Hayden and Jaques exploited the infirmity in tactic, taking the singles on dole, and still beating the fielders in the deep with emphatic strokes.
The fields were also enfeebling the bowlers in other ways: Harbhajan Singh, operating with a deep backward square-leg, a square fine-leg, and no one protecting the single on the leg-side, bowled wide of the off-stump. Hayden was therefore able to leave deliveries of good length, and harness the turn to back-cut anything short.
Ishant bowled five enquiring overs at good pace, hurrying the mighty Hayden into a handcuffed hook, but it wasn’t until Kumble bowled himself in tandem with Irfan Pathan that India looked keen. The strip had shown signs of variable bounce — M.S. Dhoni gloved Harbhajan by his face and rolled over backwards before trapping a shooter between his pads; Kumble seeded doubt.
Pathan gave up on banging the ball in, and discovered it would reverse. Perhaps the banging in had a knock-on benefit — perhaps it helped scar the Kookaburra (even as the Indians spit-polished one side), bringing reverse-swing. But, as a choice of length, it did little to threaten the openers. Reverse-swing, however, was another matter.
Pathan fish-tailed one in late for a close shout of leg-before against Hayden, and followed it with a withering stare — some achievement, considering the breadth of the muscular opener’s shoulders. Pathan also took several away from both left-handers. But, it wasn’t till after lunch that India broke the partnership of 159.
Jaques’s stiff stance, like a crab belly up, belies the balanced position he gets into at delivery. He walks across to work to leg and hangs back to cut — both of which were evident in his innings, but the sweep, at the moment at least, is beyond his ken.
He swiped Kumble to deep mid-wicket in a parody of the stroke. The sweep didn’t reappear until the second over after lunch. Kumble’s leg-break gripped in the footmarks outside the off-stump, turned, and disturbed the woodwork.
Then came a moment that captured the romance of Test cricket. Ishant, the victor of the defining battle against Ricky Ponting at Perth, upended Hayden. In the seventh over of his spell from the Cathedral End, looking as if he were an advancing fourth spire, the 19-year-old produced a magnificent delivery that blasted between bat and pad.
The dismissal was outstanding on many levels: to bowl a batsman in defence is high art; to bowl a batsman on 103 in defence is something else. Moreover, Ishant had sustained his pace (early 140 kmphs) late into the spell. The delivery had the imprints of its creator: unlike the usual curve of reverse swing, Ishant’s shape was angular — and late. The length was perfect.
Ponting spent a tough period settling against spin. His design to play Harbhajan off the back-foot so as not lunge at him, was furthered by the off-spinner. Harbhajan bowled with little flight and overspin, never really dragging Ponting forward. The Australian captain fought hard, and although he lost Michael Hussey to a fine bit of bowling featuring late, penetrative movement from Pathan, he found a picaresque ally in Michael Clarke.
India — 1st innings: 526.
Australia — 1st innings: P. Jaques b Kumble 60, M. Hayden b Ishant 103, R. Ponting (batting) 79, M. Hussey b Pathan 22, M Clarke (batting) 37; Extras (b-5, lb-8, nb-7, w-1): 21; Total (for three wkts. in 111 overs): 322.
Fall of wickets: 1-159 (Kumble), 2-186 (Hayden), 3-241 (Hussey).
India bowling: R.P. Singh 4-0-14-0, Pathan 24-1-70-1, Ishant 22-5-47-1, Harbhajan 28-4-70-0, Kumble 21-3-78-1, Sehwag 8-1-18-0, Tendulkar 1-0-6-0, Ganguly 3-1-6-0.