Why

Why

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

PERTH – WILL THIS BE THE SCENE OF A GREAT INDIAN FIGHTBACK?


Last time when Indians arrived in Perth the score line read 0-2 to Australia and this time it is no different; at least with respect to the score line. Apart from 2-0 deficit there aren’t any similar situations as last time India lost the Sydney match which bolstered India’s purpose of the whole tour. It galvanized the entire team and the result – more determined performance which resulted in winning the Test match in a venue, considered alien to the sub-continent teams.

Twenty years ago Perth Test match showcased the world about a 18 year old teenager who had the temerity to take on the big boys of Aussie bowling attack. He isn’t the teenager anymore but comes to this week’s Test match being one of the game’s greatest and more importantly the in-form batsman in the present touring squad. Expectations have only multiplied in the last twenty years and the talk of the town is surrounding his century and nothing else.  For a change how about we focus all the attention towards India and their chances of winning the Test match?

Just to give a historical perspective – The ground at Perth is named after the owners - Western Australia Cricket Association (WACA). The venue known for its intense heat is cooled by the afternoon breeze sweeping along the Swan River,  famously known as the ‘The Freemantle Doctor’.  Though the stadium was built in the late 19th century, international cricket was never scheduled for a good 80 years owing to transportation problems. Since this is located far end from the cricketing hub, it needed an airport and scheduled flights to Perth to make it accessible for international cricket. It finally happened in the year 1970 when Australia took on England. The highlight of the first match - Sensational arrival of Greg Chappell into the international arena by scoring a century on debut.
Perth had to wait for another four years as the second match was played in 1974; since then the Test matches at W.A.C.A  has been a regular feature in the Australian test match calendar.

Knowing as the fast bowler’s paradise – The ground at W.A.C.A has been traditionally known as a surface that assists fast bowling and good stroke play. Termed the ‘fastest track’ in the world, there has been many intriguing contests with bat and ball over the last 38 test matches it has hosted.

India first played at this ground in 1977 against an Australian side that was weakened owing to disputes,  many first choice players had with the Australian cricket board over Kerry Packer issue. Having batted well in both the innings with centuries to Sunil Gavaskar and Mohinder Amarnath in the second innings, Australia won the Test match chasing 342 runs by two wickets. India had a great chance of recording their first victory on Australian soil at Perth but the bowlers could not penetrate at crucial junctures. However India won the next two matches at Melbourne and Sydney to make it 2-2 before losing the decider at Adelaide.

Two trips to Australia were made one each in 1980/81 and 1985/86 which saw the performance of the Indian team being very solid drawing the series each time, that also included the famous Melbourne Test win. None of the test series featured Perth as the venue and it was not until 1991/92 season Perth was featured again and also a five test match series.

In 1992, with few weeks to go for the World Cup Indians came to Perth to play the final Test. They were trailing 3-0 and with the fast bowlers Australia had in their squad, 4-0 was a very probable result. Sachin Tendulkar made the headlines in the world cricketing circles with a resounding 114 which featured 16 boundaries and bulk of them coming from square of the wicket. Apart from this, this Test also had a moment of celebration, a consolatory one for Kapil Dev who became the 2nd bowler at that time to take 400 wickets when he trapped Mark Taylor in front of the wickets. Going into the last day, India had all their wickets in tact; though victory was too far to think of (442 runs) a fight was expected and things were on track for the fight back with Indian openers putting up their best partnership of the series (82). It is the habit of losing wickets in a heap that hampered India’s progress as the Aussie quicks spearheaded by Mike Whitney and the debutant Paul Reiffel ended India’s resistance two hours after the fall of first wicket. Though India displayed some individual brilliance at different occasions in that series,  none were consistent enough to enforce a respectable draw or a victory.

In the next two series in Australia, Perth was given a miss and it was only in the January of 2008 one got to see a Test match between these two nations return to this ground. The build-up to the Test match was enormous with India having threatened to boycott from the series if the umpires Steve Bucknor wasn’t replaced for the Test match.  Harbhajan Singh was not playing and there was a comeback of sorts for Virender Sehwag and Irfan Pathan.  Both made a impact on this Test with quick runs coming at the top and Pathan finding the swing and discipline to take wickets at regular intervals. Pathan was the Man of the Match for a performance which made India the first Asian team to win a Test match at Perth. The match had other highlights - Ishant Sharma’s spell on the 4th day to Ricky Ponting is remembered till date, Anil Kumble taking his 600th Test wicket and more importantly India winning the Test match and thereby stalling the hopes of Ponting taking the 17th Test victory in a row. Though India could not win the next Test match and thereby level the series the spirit was well admired even by the Australian public and ex-cricketers.

January 2012 - The attention shifts to M.S Dhoni and his troops with comparisons being drawn from the team’s performance in 2008. Dhoni was the vice-captain back then which included most of the current players. Will he draw some inspiration from that victory? Will he show aggression that is required in such situations in a place like Australia?

Next week, things will become clear regarding the bounce back ability of this current Indian team, which not so long ago was rated as the number one Test team in the world.