Australia v India, 3rd Test, Perth, 1st day January 16, 2008

Finally, cricket returns to centrestage

After the misery of Sydney, Perth provided an enthralling and rewarding day of Test cricket when the focus returned to the contest between bat and ball

The manner in which Dravid has battled his way back, over by over, innings by innings, should be an inspiration to anyone struggling with form © Getty Images

It was in keeping with the script of the day that Rahul Dravid played an uncharacteristic swipe to effect his dismissal and tilt the momentum, in fine balance at that point, in Australia's favour. After the misery of Sydney, Perth provided an enthralling and rewarding day of Test cricket when the focus returned to the contest between bat and ball.

It didn't quite pan out as expected, though. The build-up to the Test had been breathless with everyone from the curator to former players to newcomers talking up Perth's restoration to its former fiery glory. The speed gun kept crossing 150 when Brett Lee had the new ball but, one hour into the second session, the field placements told the story.

Mitchell Johnson had gone back to his run-denying line, a foot or two outside the off stump with a seven-two field; Shaun Tait returned to bowl with point on the fence; Ricky Ponting stood at short mid-on to Andrew Symonds' gentle medium-pacers. By tea, Symonds and Michael Clarke were bowling spin at both ends. Even the breeze was blowing in the wrong direction, from south-east instead of south-west.

But drama wasn't lacking. Virender Sehwag announced his return to Tests with a series of swishes that got India off to an explosive start, Brett Lee then bowled an outstanding spell to bring Australia back, only for two batting masters, playing in contrasting manners, to take over.

Rahul Dravid's struggle in the earlier matches has been one of the most fascinating stories of the series. A man of lesser character would have wilted, but the manner in which Dravid has battled his way back, over by over, innings by innings, should be an inspiration to anyone struggling with form. He had the good fortune of being dropped early today but with the innings' progression emerged the man who scored 619 runs in his previous series here.

The manner of his dismissal will dominate the reports tomorrow and it will perhaps grate him the most but in the circumstances and in the context of the match, he played a splendid innings. As always, he was assured against the short ball, either swaying away or getting on the top of the ball and dropping it down, but the key to succeeding on bouncy pitches often lies in how a batsman responds to the full ball and Dravid's driving through the covers and down the wicket was flawless. It would have been a century to cherish and perhaps the anxiety to get to it quickly induced that stroke.

Of course he was indebted to Sachin Tendulkar, who is now batting as well as he ever has. His innings was constructed as much on skill as on cleverness. His greatness is based on balance and versatility and today he displayed both. The Australians had apparently spotted a weakness in his response to the short ball, and it was clear from the beginning not too many would be offered for him to drive. And so he devised his response.

Something ought to be done about the slow over-rates. Fines have just not worked. Ian Chappell advocates banning the captain but there might be a even better deterrent. Hit them where it hurts the most by docking them for runs.
A few of his early slashes would fool late-comers into thinking Sehwag was still at the crease but followers of Indian cricket would remember it was Tendulkar who showed the way at Bloemfontein in 2001, when Sehwag was a wide-eyed apprentice. Today, if the ball was short and outside off stump, it was evident that Tendulkar would try to hit over the slips for four. A couple of his slashes were edged but the ball was never in danger of being caught. The best of them, though, was manufactured almost after the ball had passed his nose. A short one from Lee followed him as Tendulkar looked to sway out of the way and when it got too close to him, he brought the bat below the ball and gently directed it over the cordon. It was inventive, deft and touched with genius.

Not until he got to 64 did Tendulkar hit a four in front of square on the offside, and it was a glorious cover-drive played off Stuart Clark, front foot stretching forward, the upper body leaning in to give the stroke force, and the front shoulder rotating to give it direction. Sixteen years ago he had played a lone and glorious hand at this ground as his seniors crumbled around him; this Indian batting line-up is far more solid but, once again, Tendulkar was the guiding light on the day that could have gone horribly wrong for India. A rough decision and a brilliant over from Lee denied him his second successive hundred at the WACA but it wasn't until Dravid's dismissal that the wheel started turning in Australia's favour.

Brett Lee was outstanding, bowling in the off-stump channel, the wind blowing across his right shoulder, generating a lovely away curve at good pace © Getty Images

Perhaps even the Australians had been misled about the pitch. To add to it, their big weapon, Shaun Tait, failed to fire. Either he was too eager, or too underdone, or perhaps both. He is yet to add variety to his bowling and once the Indians started going they picked him easily for runs. Lee was outstanding, bowling in the off-stump channel, the wind blowing across his right shoulder, generating a lovely away curve at good pace. He could have got Sehwag early, had a catch dropped off Dravid and he alone troubled Tendulkar. Responsibility now sits handsomely on his shoulders.

His dismissal of Laxman in the dying moments of the day gave Australia the edge. At start of the innings, they would have expected to knock India out for under 300. After the experience of the first two sessions, they will take 350. For India, the challenge is to push towards 400.

An excellent day was, however, marred by hopeless over-rates. The Sydney Test was blighted by all sorts of unsavoury incidents but one offence, committed by both teams in the series so far, is the speed at which the bowlers have gone about their job. When India last toured Australia Sourav Ganguly came close to a ban for failing to keep the over-rate up to speed but on this tour the matter hasn't even come on the radar.

A 90-over stipulation was put in place to rein in the West Indians, who, it was argued, were gaining an unfair advantage by bowling their battery of fast bowlers leisurely. The decision to play with four quick bowlers in Perth was Australia's and so was the onus to keep it moving. They were found shockingly lacking. They bowled 12 overs in each of the first two hours, 13 in the third, 14 in the fourth, and the second new ball wasn't due until after ten minutes of the scheduled close of play. That is an unacceptable breach of playing conditions.

Something ought to be done. Fines have just not worked. Ian Chappell advocates banning the captain but there might be a even better deterrent. Hit them where it hurts the most by docking them for runs. See how no-balls have become scarce in Twenty20 after they introduced the free hit.

Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • David on January 17, 2008, 13:08 GMT

    Why are Australia doing so badly in this test? India have played very well, but not that well.... The answer is simple. And tragic. Australia's team morale has collapsed because of all the criticism from within Australian after Sydney. Fielding is still of the highest standard, but as soon as some nerve and drive are required (bowling & batting), the Aussies have hesitated. If you play for the glory of your country, nothing is more sure to sap your confidence and make you wonder if it is all worth it than the sort of hysterical over-reaction of the past few days from some sections of the media and even some sports "personalities". NONE of the so-called "experts", has-beens and never-weres, and that includes former Test Captains, have ever tasted success at the level of this current team, which has a good claim to be the best of all time. Expect significant Aussie retirements soon, due to a "lack of enjoyment for the game". If it were me, I would tell Australia to "get lost".

  • Liju on January 17, 2008, 6:37 GMT

    Slow over rate should be dealt session by session. If a bowling team falls short of the over rate, i.e. 30 overs, taking into account any other delays, the bowling team should be warned, and asked to make up for it in the next session. If it is not complied then there should be a penalty.

    Mulcting should be used only if the team repeats the slow rate for more matches in a specified period. Suspending captains is a desperate measure, and should be used only in reckless cases.

    If it could be determined that a batting team is the reason for the slow over rate (for an argument) don't offer light to them, and ask them to bat the complete quota of over for that day

  • Sandeep on January 17, 2008, 5:32 GMT

    Sachin gets another one. Technology still does not have a foolproof system to replace onfield umpires. Moreover the human errors are part and parcel of the game. HOWEVER I will not like to be Sachin Tendulkar batting in a foreign country. The umpires in the last few years have time and again robbed the paying public of watchin the genius in full flow. I can count atleast 11 times off hand where he was incorrectly given out. Admire the man for still keeping his composure. Ideal role model.

  • Chris on January 17, 2008, 4:49 GMT

    There has always been plenty of time in cricket to do all the required field placing, gardening and ball retrieving within the time it takes for the fast bowler to walk back to his starting spot which he should do immediately after he finishes his follow through. They used to get through the overs when there were 8 balls. No one has the will or guts in the administration to take it on.

  • andrew on January 17, 2008, 4:42 GMT

    The hypocrisy of the backlash against Aussie appealing is shown by the ridiculous appeal against Michael Clarke first ball today. A similar appeal was put against Hussey in Melbourne, when he dabbed a ball to third man for runs. It came off nothing but the middle of the bat, and in any case was missing off stump by a foot, yet the Indian players appealed and appealed again. Their appealing in England recently was an absolute disgrace, making them forfeit any right to complain about umpiring. There is no way the Australian appealing is half as bad as that. Get a grip!

  • nick on January 17, 2008, 4:16 GMT

    Well why then, gung-ho (in response to slow over rate being soley due to 4 pace bowlers) are there not fines galore in world cricket? 4 pace bowlers is hardly a new concept! The reason was due to the heat.

  • jay on January 17, 2008, 4:01 GMT

    i m surprised with the combination of the indian team who are taking the load of Wasim jaffer who is failing innnigs by innings. Its quite clear that he is not able to play in fast and bouncy pitches of Australia.I think Saurav Ganguly should be given a chance to open the innings with Virendra Sehwag,since he himself wants to go up the order.

  • Kong Howe on January 17, 2008, 3:36 GMT

    Andymc, are you saying that all the points that you raised (each dismissal consuming 2-3 minutes; time consumed in boundaries scored, etc,) DID NOT APPLY in, say, Richie Benaud's time? While I am not saying that batsmen do not contribute anything to time-wasting, but (in my experience) most of the talking between overs (or between balls) and gardening are done while the bowlers are walking back to their marks or when the captain and bowler are discussing something and adjusting the field. The 90 overs per day was calculated in a way that took into account of all these. When the Aussies were at the receiving end of the Windies' slow overs tactic, out came the whiners and the whingers! By the way, I am a supporter of the Australian team.

  • Greg on January 17, 2008, 3:07 GMT

    Let's give the third umpire something to do. 1) Add up time lost due to the batting team (eg gloves left in dressing room, talking to batting partner) 2) Add up time lost due to wickets fallen. 3) Work out overs lost (@ 4 mins per over). 4) Work out net overs bowled (actual + overs lost). 5) Penalise fielding team TEN runs per over not bowled in the course of the day (just add the runs to the batting side). If there is a change of innings in the course of the day, it's easy to work out how many overs need to be bowled by how much time is left - 1 over for every 4 mins left to play. Spectators want 90 overs in a day, captains aren't really interested in how many overs are bowled - Let's get them interested!

  • Toby on January 17, 2008, 1:56 GMT

    Although replays have shown that the decision on Tendulkar was harsh, watching it in real time, it looked dead in front. Before all of India complain about the umpiring again, its worth remembering that the umpire has one chance to judge a ball travelling at 150km an hour and whether it is out or not. Few would have complained with the decision watching it in real time. The reports suggest the umpires made some very good decisions throughout the day on close calls (a catch of the arm guard by Gilchrist comes to mind).

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