Ghost of Kolkata past
The stuff of Australian nightmare
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When Ricky Ponting was asked yesterday evening if the sight of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman putting together a partnership brought back uncomfortable memories of Kolkata 2001, he smiled his impish smile and said, "I didn't want to think of that." This morning you understood why, as Dravid and Laxman unveiled another masterpiece of backs-to-the-wall resistance.
At Eden Gardens, they had batted 104.1 overs - including the entire duration of the fourth day - stitching together an exquisite 376-run tapestry that changed the course of a series that had been all one-way traffic until then. By stumps yesterday, the partnership was worth 95, and today they stretched it to 303, from 93.5 overs. An impetuous flash from Laxman on the stroke of tea ended it, but by then, India were almost at even keel, having struggled hopelessly for much of the opening two days.
On a pitch that continued to taunt pace and slow bowler alike, they did the hard yards in the morning, inching towards the follow-on target at just over two an over. Thereafter, the dam broke, with both men competing with each other in the aggression stakes.
The record books might say that Laxman was given two lives, but a lesser fielder than Ponting wouldn't even have got within a yard of those chances. Laxman was in imperious touch otherwise, defending stoutly, and driving and cutting with panache when afforded the opportunity.
Dravid was faultless, compiling - brick by brick, run by run - an innings that laughed in the face of innuendo which suggested that the absence of a century in Australia made him a lesser batsman. He was also brimful of aggressive intent, pouncing on the loose delivery like a Goth attacking a Roman legion. Stuart MacGill and the hapless Brad Williams were never allowed to settle as the scoreboard ticked over relentless on a golden Adelaide afternoon.
For Australia, Andy Bichel kept running in like the Duracell bunny, getting occasional steepling bounce where none existed. Jason Gillespie, too, kept to a thankless task, though he appears lost without Glenn McGrath.
Where's Butch, wonders the Sundance Kid
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The great pace bowlers hunt in pairs, with the exception of Sir Richard Hadlee - a Lone Ranger - and the West Indians, who preferred foursomes. McGrath was the Butch Cassidy, the ice-cold operator, to Gillespie's Sundance Kid, and without his presence in the eleven, Gillespie hasn't been half the force he can be.
McGrath, even when not taking wickets, was never profligate, and his control - and Shane Warne's - gave Gillespie license to go full pelt regardless of the match situation. In the absence of McGrath and Warne, no one has been able to apply the tourniquet at one end. MacGill tried, but his penchant for bowling one four-ball an over means that he will always suffer in comparison to Warne, who could be Uncle Scrooge when needed.
Take nothing away from India though. Other teams, including a much-vaunted South African one, have come to Australia in recent times, and lost the mental battle even before the stepped onto the turf. At 85 for 4 on the second evening, with Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly both untying their pads, India could have given up the ghost. Instead, Dravid and Laxman resurrected one. With the pitch expected to deteriorate over final two days, that ghost of Kolkata past may yet come back to haunt Steve Waugh and his Australians.
Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India. He will be following India throughout the course of this series.