SPORT

Aggression pays in India

BANGALORE, OCT. 7. A cricketing day has several shades and hues, and like the elements of the weather, they keep changing, carrying the fortunes of the teams with them.

There are periods of sunshine when the arena is lit up with exceptional strokeplay or spirit-lifting bowling. Darkness when dull boring cricket abounds. Rain when it pours runs or wickets, or storms when a side is swept away by radiating brilliance of the Michael Clarke or the Adam Gilchrist kind.

The precociously talented Clarke only brings brightness with him for he appears to be simply enjoying the art of batsmanship, even on his Test debut, even while walking into a grim situation, not bothered by reputations, not haunted by the fear of failure, his bat a magic wand, his mind an ocean of freedom.

And the explosive Adam Gilchrist, much like a hurricane ripping across the ground, often has the opposition running for cover; high on speed, low on sympathy and utterly destructive.

Their sizzling hundreds in the Australian first innings in the first TVS Cup Test for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, also took us to a great cricketing truth — that the solution to the sub-continental conundrum for the visiting batsmen lay in a fluent, positive approach, and that winning had more to do with the mind.

Enchanting innings

Cricket's varying colours were indeed visible during Clarke's enchanting innings, with the Test changing shades — from a period of Indian dominance in the post-lunch session of the first day to a phase when Clarke and Gilchrist were rampant on the second morning.

All of a sudden the ball seemed to stop spinning, the close-in fielders seemed to disappear, and the field-placement discussions seemed to last longer. From a wicket-taking mode, the Indians had been forced on the defensive.

If Australia romped home by ten wickets in the first Test of the 2001 series in Mumbai, it was largely due to a rollicking 197-run stand for the sixth wicket between Matthew Hayden and Gilchrist, the two joining forces at a time when the Indian spinners were calling the shots — the Aussies had lost half the side for less than 100.

Gilchrist, on a surface where there was bounce and turn for the bowlers, raced to a hundred off only 84 deliveries, and if an Indian victory appeared on the horizon, it was gone in a flash.

Hayden continued to bat positively on that tour, intelligently getting forward, using his reach and footwork to either kill spin or launch into a drive, and sweeping the spinners with telling effect; he resurrected his career, amassing 549 runs in the three Tests.

Ponting's indecisiveness

At the other end of the spectrum was Ricky Ponting. Normally aggressive, the Aussie who had handled Muttiah Muralitharan's incisive off-spin with panache on the Sri Lankan wickets, was clueless against Harbhajan Singh.

Ponting appeared to be caught in two minds — whether to attack or defend — on pitches where the ball gripped, and suffered the worst slump of his career. The indecisiveness cost him dear.

A positive approach is a time-tested one — though there were spells of defence during Simon Katich's 81 at the Chinnaswamy Stadium on Wednesday, the left-hander uncorked some handsome strokes as well. It was a healthy blend of caution and aggression that can never be out of place.

The other day, one of India's greatest bowlers, off-spin wizard Erapalli Prasanna remembered how Ian Chappell used his feet against him; Prasanna of teasing flight and Chappell of twinkling footwork, the fare whipped up was stirring.

When the ball spins, even if slowly, and the men at silly point and short leg become, large, looming figures, and the pressure builds up with every delivery, the best method to break the shackles is through judicious, at times brave, strokeplay.

There have been exceptions, and West Indies' Jimmy Adams kept the Indian spinners at bay in the 1994-95 series, with purely defensive methods, using his pads extensively and earning the nickname `Padams.'

On more instances, those with a greater spirit of adventure have succeeded. You call them cricket's Sunshine Men.