October 8 2004
The recent decline in the fortunes of Indian cricket showed no signs of reversing, as the second day's play confirmed what many fans feared: that the batting failure is no myth, and not restricted to the ODI arena alone. The second day started with the scales slightly tipped towards the Aussies, but the Indians in with a good chance to get back into the match provided they achieved a quick breakthrough.
But Michael Clarke and Adam Gilchrist had other ideas. On a flat track, they took full toll of the listless bowlers and rammed home their advantage. Gilchrist was especially severe against the spinners, and the ease with which he dispatched them to the fence demoralized the Indian team and painted the spinners in poor light. Both Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh lacked the zip and guile to beat these two.
Clarke, on the other hand, continued on his merry way and apart from the "nervous nineties" stage, looked in no trouble at all. It was a poignant scene when he reached his century, and the flashy 23-year old with quick hands and great footwork will be around for a long time. He was immensely lucky at 92 on an LBW appeal from Kumble, when the ball appeared to be heading towards the stumps, but umpire Billy Bowden thought differently.
Gilchrist showed no such nerves as he blasted his way to another typically aggressive and swashbuckling ton. The effect of his batting is truly demoralizing to the opposition, and his batting is a large reason for the Aussie success.
Finally, Bhajji pulled off a brilliant catch to get rid of Gilchrist which seemed to give a new burst of energy to the Indian bowlers. It is moments like these which raise the fielding team even though, unfortunately for India, it was a case of too little too late. Clarke fell to a tired stroke against Zaheer for a mammoth 151 and the tail was mopped up by Bhajji. The figures will show a 5-wicket haul for him, but he was less than impressive, and the same goes for Kumble.
The score of 475 was almost a relief after the way Clarke and Gilchrist were firing on all cylinders. But the pitch didnít look that threatening, and Indian batting is usually awesome at home.
However Glenn "Pigeon" McGrath had other ideas. Eager to finish his career on a high, and prove all the doubters wrong, he responded in the best possible way, resulting in the worst possible start for India. Chopra was gone LBW shouldering arms. The ball may have hit him a bit high, but he had no business shouldering arms to a ball in line with the stumps. Umpires everywhere are more inclined to give those out compared to the ball hitting the batsman while trying to play a shot. No quibbles about that one, it was poor judgment by Chopra.
Rahul Dravid came in, saw, and was conquered. Perhaps he was just stunned at having to come in so soon. It was a superb delivery and Dravid was late on the shot. A normally confident Dravid would have handled that much better.
Then came the best period of the day for India: skipper Sourav Ganguly, boldly promoting himself to face the music with the team tottering at 4/2, played some spanking off drives and looked good doing it. He was not unduly troubled by the inevitable short deliveries. Virender Sehwag, on the other end, was playing like only he can, thrashing the living daylights of anything in the slot. Spin or pace, nothing mattered to him.
And just when India looked to be getting back on track, Michael Kasprowicz bowled an ordinary ball and Sehwag promptly flicked it to Justin Langer. It was a shot which needn't have been played, and indeed he had avoided any shots across the line until then. But then again, thatís Sehwag. Canít blame him -- he looked to be in good nick and may yet play a big role in this series. Ganguly followed soon after to Kasper: it was a good delivery and he nicked one moving away from his body. McGrath and Kasper were bowling superbly on this wicket with the ball reverse-swinging a bit.
VVS Laxman walked in and played one of his non-Aussie type knocks. He looked very attractive making 30 runs, then got out to a leg-break which he failed to cover. It wasnít an especially great delivery by Shane Warne, and Laxman was guilty of playing a nothing shot to that ball. Speaking of Warne, he bowled well but didnít look unduly threatening until then. Yuvraj Singh came and struggled for his 5 runs looking distinctly uncomfortable against pace and spin (the way he plays spin, even Boycott's legendary Mum would seem like a Murali if she bowls spin to Yuvraj.) Finally he was put of his misery by that man again -- McGrath -- wafting at a delivery outside off-stump and moving away. Parthiv Patel and Irfan Pathan hung on gravely until stumps.
The game plan for India from now on is very simple. They will have to bat for 2 full days, or lose. Pathan, Patel and the tail must somehow bat on into the second session and take the score to 275 or so. The Aussies will have to decide whether they enforce a follow-on if required. Mindful of Kolkata, they will be wary of batting on the last day even if India somehow manages them to set a target of 125-150 or so.
But so far, the Aussies hold all the cards. India will need a miracle to save this one. A miracle like Eden Gardens. Hope springs eternal, but lightning rarely strikes twice at the same place (in this case the same teams). Or does it?