Waugh is not Over
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Steve Waugh said that it would take some exceptional cricket to win this series, and at the Adelaide Oval, his batsmen went a long way towards fulfilling that prediction with a dominant performance that produced 400 runs in a day. Ricky Ponting led the onslaught with some typically crisp strokeplay, while Justin Langer and Damien Martyn chipped in with classy cameos. And then there was Simon Katich, his place in the team on the line, who cut, drove and pulled his way to a superb 75 after a shaky start.
On India's last visit here, Ponting's 125 - allied to a magnificent innings from Steve Waugh - had rescued Australia after they lost four wickets for next to nothing against an inspired Javagal Srinath. And last year, he slammed an imperious 154 as Australia made light of England's 342 en route to an innings victory.
For India, there was no Srinath, and no inspiration, as Australia piled on the runs without effortless ease for most of the day. There were two pivotal moments, both involving Ponting, early in the piece. First, Ajit Agarkar got one past his defence to rap the pad, only for David Shepherd to turn down a vociferous appeal. Minutes later, Ponting slashed hard at one from Irfan Pathan, who bowled an opening spell full of verve, skill and hostility. Virender Sehwag's boost would have looked good on a volleyball court, but was no good to his team - hands made numb by the icy wind are no excuse at this level.
Thereafter, India's tactics were mystifying. The 8-1 and 7-2 fields more or less eliminated the chances of getting the batsmen bowled or lbw, and worse, the bowlers didn't have the discipline to bowl to their fields. Even when they did, Ponting and Langer - in a passage of play before lunch when they blazed Catherine-wheel bright - pierced the cordon with impunity.
Langer set the tone, giving Anil Kumble plenty of grief before losing his wicket to an indiscreet shot. And the positive approach was carried on after lunch, when Martyn eased to a quite majestic 30 full of sweetly timed drives. Waugh is Over, said a banner near the giant screen when he came out to bat. But he hardly appeared to be on his last legs when he unveiled three whiplash square-drives - the one stroke that has defined his career - in quick succession.
Waugh's dismissal should have seen India go for the throat, but Ponting's aggression and Katich's determination to grind it out dictated otherwise. We've come to expect this, and more, from Ponting, but the manner in which Katich played after overcoming the heebie-jeebies was especially praiseworthy. Kumble troubled him at times, but the short-pitched balls that the Indians dished out were meat, drink and dessert to a lad raised on the bouncy WACA pitch. A coruscating pull for six off Ashish Nehra was perhaps the shot of the day, and the highlight of an innings that went a long way towards cementing his place in the side.
Nehra, who fielded the ball as if it was an unexploded grenade, bowled a fine second spell, but was extravagantly wasteful otherwise. Agarkar did as Agarkar does, mixing good deliveries with utter tripe, infuriating those who have to watch him. Kumble tried to mix and match, but a belter of a pitch and Australian batsmen with murder on their minds meant that his dismal record in these climes was unaltered.
Pathan too went for runs, but led the line manfully. There was a touch of the young Wasim Akram about him, and the manner in which he nailed Matthew Hayden, after being cover-driven twice in next to no time, said much about his strength of character. India will need plenty of that tomorrow. Conceding 400 runs in a day is damaging enough for the psyche, and it gets worse when you realise that no team has lost a Test match after making that sort of first-innings score at this ground. A few prayers at St Peter's Cathedral wouldn't go amiss.
Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India. He will be following India throughout the course of this series.