CRICKET / Impressive Siddle scalps five; Aussies choose not to enforce the follow-on
India managed its first century of the series, but, like an appropriately self-absorbed actor, it arrived too late; and unlike said actor, it didn't have enough attendants.
Late as it may have been — India's seventh Test innings of the tour — the hundred did have a redeeming quality. It mightn't have come from the prodigious blade of Sachin Tendulkar, who a lot of the record crowd had come to see score his elusive 100th. But it did come from the promisingly talented bat of Virat Kohli.
Kohli had batted magnificently at Perth, looking as if he belonged on a quick, bouncy wicket first-timers usually struggle on. Here at the Adelaide Oval on Thursday, the third day of the fourth Test, the 23-year-old showed he will be a major piece in the jigsaw of India's Test future. His two knocks in Perth, which followed failures in Melbourne and Sydney, offered a measure of the man; his first Test hundred was corroboration.
When Kohli walked to the middle, Peter Siddle had just removed Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir in the day's first hour. Siddle, whose work hasn't earned the rich rewards it has deserved, would eventually finish with a five-wicket haul, but his second and third wickets showed why he is such a fine bowler on an unresponsive pitch.
Tendulkar was undone by the combination of line and length. Australia's bowlers had largely bowled well to the great man. Siddle came on, and, as he has so often this series, found an early wicket.
Tendulkar attempted to reposition his front-foot after his initial reaction to the delivery, realising he needed to reach further forward; the ball caught him on the move, taking the stabbed edge low to second slip.
Gambhir, surprised by a bouncer from Siddle, tried to ride the lifter. But it kept climbing on him; the line cramped him — in combination with the element of surprise, it coerced him to respond in a manner most unsafe. The batsman tried mitigating the damage by removing his bottom-hand, softening, as far as possible, the fend. But it still lobbed. From gully, Michael Hussey made ground on his feet before timing his dive expertly.
With V.V.S. Laxman touching an intended cut to the ‘keeper off Nathan Lyon's off-spin, India was in familiar danger of being bowled out for fewer than 200. But Kohli found in wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha, a batsman willing to absorb punches before throwing one of his own. Together, the pair set about batting time, tiring Australia's seamers so they could make capital when the bowling flagged. Given the flatness of the wicket and the dry heat of Adelaide, it was sound thinking. All it needed was execution.
Although it's an invitingly easy assumption, it can be said without significant loss in accuracy that Kohli is the quintessential modern Indian batsman. In him reside both the past — the wristwork, the hands — and the present — the inclination and the ability as he showed when batting with the tail to flog an attack — but he adds to these influences the impress of his personality: feistiness, self-awareness, a rakish intelligence.
His batting on Thursday was well organised. He played many of his defensive strokes off the back foot; he rarely went searching for deliveries.
He wrist-flicked those on the stumps in the arc between square-leg and mid-on, adjusting his stroke on occasion, for Siddle got the odd ball to cut to leg. Perhaps Australia could have tested him more with the short ball, but he pulled firmly and decisively, getting into good positions.
Kohli has had trouble in the past with hands tending to force themselves at the ball, the stroke being made outside the body's periphery instead of under the head. This he was in control of. He also proved he has an innate understanding of the nuts and bolts of innings-building.
His knock contained 32 singles and 14 twos, many of them run with Saha, who was keen to do much of the same himself.
Kohli attacked the spin of Lyon and Michael Clarke, something his senior colleagues appeared loath to do. The only time he didn't seem in charge was when Saha departed, bowled, shouldering arms, by an in-ducker, and R. Ashwin and Zaheer Khan didn't stay long. After the 114-run partnership, India lost three wickets for five runs, the last two to Siddle for his five-wicket bag.
But Ishant, who should be batting above the reckless and feckless Zaheer (the batsman), provided Kohli the time he needed to bring up his maiden century.
It didn't come easy: there were plays and misses on 97 and 99, a near run-out, a verbal tiff with the Australians in which Ricky Ponting (!) played the peace-maker, pulling Kohli away.
But the moment finally came, an aerial stroke through the off-side, a two punctuated in the middle and at the end by a typically belligerent celebration. Kohli was the last man out, incorrectly adjudged leg-before-wicket, and Australia, unsurprisingly, chose not to enforce the follow-on.
Its best chance of winning was to rest its bowlers while giving the pitch time to deteriorate, which it showed signs of doing in the evening.
India ended well, clever, skilful bowling from Zaheer and Ashwin reducing Australia to 40 for three. (Shaun Marsh was unlucky to be given ‘lbw').
By stumps, India trailed by 382, with Australia's first innings double-centurions together for Friday.