Friday 6 January 2012


Oh Sydney and there you are Sydney – The first match of a fresh year is always an exciting prospect for a cricket viewer across the world. The current match Australia vs. India marks the 100th Test at this historic venue. A lot has been written about Tendulkar scoring his landmark 100 hundreds on this memorable occasion. He had stats to back it up from his previous four outings here and the form he displayed in the first Test at Melbourne.

Then there is VVS another veteran who is among the few non-Australian batsmen in the world to have made three consecutive hundreds at the SCG. In his 4th appearance stage was set to make it four in a row. But there are greater problems for Team India in general at the start of this test and at the end of this test, Team India move ahead with only problems on its shoulders.

With such reputation of Indian line-up and the fading memories of Melbourne Test match Indians started their innings and by the time I was able to finish my daily chores I saw Australian openers coming on to bat. Well it wasn’t such a dramatic collapse but getting bowled out for 191 on the opening day isn’t going to win matches. Even if miracles were due to happen one cannot hide the ailing mistakes Indians making consistently off-late and most notably since the England series.

Barring M.S Dhoni who struggled his way to top score the innings none looked comfortable at the crease expect for a brief moment when Sachin hammered eight boundaries before dragging a Pattison’s delivery back on to the stumps. Craig Mc Dermott was at his peak of bowling prowess when Tendulkar first toured Australia in 1991/92 season and he is now the bowling coach that has brought the discipline in the bowling attack of the Aussies. His influence was shown by the performance of James Pattison in tandem with work horse Peter Siddle and the calm rejuvenated Ben Hilfenhaus.

Zaheer Khan led the attack and took three quick wickets. The captain, the home boy Michael Clarke came with clear intentions and attacked from the start and put Aussies within reach of India’s target at the end of Day 1. As I went to bed, I had a premonition about Ponting scoring a hundred. His last hundred came when I watched the game in Lausanne on a cold morning making a wonderful double hundred against Pakistan at his home ground in Hobart. That was back in January of 2010 and since then he has been on a slip with occasional brilliance but no hundreds to show. He must have been relieved to have finally got a big score under his belt.

Ponting’s case is an interesting one – Australia since the appointment of Allan Border has had a consistent pattern unlike other cricketing nations in appointing their captain and the theory of passing the baton. Border retired both as captain and batsman when he passed over the captaincy reins to Mark Taylor, same happened when Steve Waugh became the captain and also when Ricky Ponting took over from Waugh. When it was Clarke’s time it was an interesting scenario to have an ex-captain on the side. Well change is the name of the game, and for two decades Australia never faced any issues in replacing an out-going captain and his role as a batsman. This time it was Ponting, Australia’s most successful batsman and second to Don Bradman in terms of greatness; surely he wasn’t going to be treated the same way as his former captains had been before, especially when the team has found itself to be in rebuilding phase.

With injuries and lack of quality batsmen at the top, selectors (and that includes Clarke in the panel) needed Ponting as a mentor in the team. Post captaincy, his score of 50’s indicated the big score was just round the corner and after his two scores of 50 plus in Melbourne it was ominous his hundred would come sooner than Tendulkar’s much awaited century and so it did.

Now to Sydney’s home boy Michael Clarke, known as ‘Pup’ – He isn’t the pup anymore, has matured at least in batting, honing the skills of a fighter and seems to be enjoying the captaincy and has managed to score hundreds in all of the four series he has captained so far. He now has a maiden double hundred which eventually turned out to be an unbeaten triple hundred. He had all the time and looked good to go after Bradman’s record of 334, Hayden’s 380 and challenge the top summit of Lara’s 400. Not sure exactly the reason behind the declaration, nevertheless a strong statement was made that he was after victories and not individual records. For all the problems he had with public on his image unlike the previous Australian captains, not going for the record and making the statement of team victory over individual should do a world of good in the coming days.

Michael Hussey another aging batsman was under fire but has come good since the second innings at Melbourne. Mr. Cricket surely could not have asked for a better time as he brought up his hundred, a much needed one considering the fact he was almost in the brink of being dropped at the start of the series. The declaration came when Hussey reached 150 with Australia having amassed a mammoth 659 runs. 

Sydney Test - fourth season in a row has become a landmark Test for the awareness of breast cancer in memory of Jane McGrath and third day of the Test one gets to see the whole stadium dressed in pink in some form or the other. The idea behind is the gentle giant fast bowling legend from New South Wales Glen McGrath,  who in memory of his wife had set up the foundation that works on awareness and providing facilities to cancer affected people.

With long road to travel India started their second innings with a session and a half left on day 3 - Gautam Gambhir for the first time in the series looked positive and went about his usual business that got him those big scores in a period of one year in the season of 2009/10. His footwork was much better from the looks of it and importantly he looked for runs. Since the hard fought fifties in South Africa early last year he had nothing much to show and on the third afternoon he applied himself and remained unbeaten to see yet another day in the company of Tendulkar.

Indians were stretched to their limits on the second day and half of third day. Trailing 468 runs with little over two days to go isn’t going to be an easy task. This is mother of all challenges to cut the deficit and then see if they can look for a win or draw the match. They have done this before in Napier two seasons ago; Gambhir then batted for long sessions to save the Test match against more bowling friendly conditions than the one in Sydney. While this Indian team remains the same as the one that played the Napier Test; situation and the opposition remains different as Sun Tzu from Art of War points out – “As water has no constant form, there are in war no constant conditions”.

On the fourth day Gambhir could not go on and make a big score and got out at 83. In eight overs between over 78 and 86 it seemed ghosts of the past were coming back - That 90's show of team collapse was triggered once Tendulkar's wicket was taken by the opposition. Forget the milestone (these days that is all Tendulkar has been associated with) India had to show some fight and were expected to bat out the day. For a moment Laxman and Sachin showed it with their 100-run partnership. Playing for the new ball change (due in two overs) Tendulkar got defensive for few minutes and in that brief moment of time his bat took the outer edge off Clarke's left arm spin and had him caught at slip. He did not get his 100th hundred but the situation demanded much more than that. The landmark of such proportions shouldn’t come in the way of masking Indian’s defeat or for that matter the way Clarke dominated the Test match with his triple hundred.

Virat Kohli fresh from his finger controversy must realise there are different ways to vent one's frustration; better if he concentrates on the bat than on the crowd. Rohit Sharma is in the queue and looks certainly to make the XI for the next Test match. The other nemesis of Australia over the last decade VVS, played fluently for his 66 till he got a peach from Hilfenhaus.  And soon M S Dhoni came and went in a flash.

The fireworks of Zaheer Khan and dodgy resistance by Ashwin only delayed the victory parade for the Aussies and also ensured India getting past 300 only for the second time in the last six away Tests. India finally folded up at 400 and in terms of performance it was certainly much better considering they batted for more than 100 overs in an innings.

These things happen in Test cricket and sadly in the last six away Tests this is becoming a trend. Past is only an indicator of a pattern and something one can learn and do nothing about it to alter the gone by results. It is what you do in the present moment that will determine the future.

 All good things must come to an end and so it did and was evident during the 4-0 loss to England last year, but the manner in which it has come has been disappointing. The result was a killer blow for a side that started to look sharper with each series last decade outside the sub-continent. Winning tests and more often the series was turning out to be a good habit and now Team India is sliding, steadily with each test match that has been played on the foreign soil.  Is it time to press the panic button, not quite. Time to re-think the strategies – Yes

 One need not look beyond 2008 when Indians after an incident packed Sydney Test came back strongly at Perth by winning the Test and showed a great deal of character at Adelaide in the fourth Test. Indians were not favorites then and now it seems they haven’t quite won a real series with the favorites tag. Was the controversy of Monkey-Gate scandal behind such a motivation for the turnaround in the 2008 series? It remains to be seen and it will be known over the course of next two tests at Perth and Adelaide. 

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