India v Australia, 1st Test, Bangalore

The best-laid plans

Australian View by Peter English

October 10, 2004

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Adam Gilchrist made sure his team did not repeat the mistakes of Australia's last tour of India © Getty Images
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Carrying a dossier that has gained weight regularly since the disastrous end to the 2001 series, the Australians were rewarded by playing to their plan. From a more patient batting approach, to sweeping discerningly, and abandoning the follow-on. From picking one spinner, to adjusting the line to the stumps instead of outside off, and employing Shane Warne's huge hands to knead the ball to enhance reverse-swing. All were successful, and so was the opportunistic entrance of Michael Clarke.

But wait, this has happened before. India were thumped in the first Test of 2001 as Australia clinched the final win of their 16-match streak. The memory of losing the epic tussle in the next two matches will nag at Steve Waugh longer than the current drought between series successes in India (currently 34 years, 299 days and counting). The surviving team-mates need no reminding of the dangers of relaxing, but the stand-in captain Adam Gilchrist did it anyway. With only three days before the second Test at Chennai there is little time to lose momentum.

Taking away the Bangalore crowd noise and watching the team's body language, it was the Australians who looked to be playing at home. They picked their traditional three-pacemen-and-Warne attack on a crack-riddled pitch, and Glenn McGrath controlled the output and early breakthroughs as he has, barring a season out with an ankle injury, since the West Indies series of 1995. While Warne eyed the world's most-wickets mark, McGrath became the greatest dismisser of batsmen for ducks. Aakash Chopra was his 80th, two more were added to the list by the close, and he is now four wickets from 450.

Jason Gillespie and Michael Kasprowicz also ran their fingers down the seam, finding severe cut, steady reverse-swing and wickets of significance. Warne was probing, as VVS Laxman was twice reminded, but missing the devastation of opponents Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh. With the pacemen firing he didn't need to be. But the sooner he claims the two victims to pass Muttiah Muralitharan the better, so he can ditch the red-striped shoes that clash with the tuft of ginger on his chin.



Michael Clarke's dream debut certainly helped Australia steal the initiative © Getty Images
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Another player in a hurry was Clarke. Brash and spontaneous, his arrival - and partnership with Adam Gilchrist who, don't forget, made 104 off 109 balls - was stunning, and as Man of the Match he rode off with a motorbike. Picked to replace his boyhood idol Ricky Ponting, Clarke created a batch of his own admirers with an innings of 151 that began with Australia in trouble. More runs in the second Test will mean a tough selection meeting if Ponting's return from a thumb injury keeps to schedule. Not everything Clarke touched turned green and gold, and on the final day he experienced his first Test disappointment, dropping a sharp catch at second slip. Gilchrist quickly encouraged his debutant, as he did when Clarke struggled through the nineties on the second day, and gave him a bowl as well.

Despite the convincing victory margin Australia can apparently still improve. The top order was the main complaint, and the match was not finished before the coach John Buchanan greedily asked for more. A way to dispose of Kumble and Harbhajan without popping off catches to close-in fielders is also recommended. But it might be wise to leave some things to instinct. After 2001 Australia know all about the best-laid plans.

Peter English is Australasian editor of Wisden Cricinfo.

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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