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It was a day when bowlers were rewarded for their skills and another set of modern batsmen was found wanting against a rare, but thankfully not extinct, bowling art: swing bowling
January 17, 2008
This Test began with Australia chasing history, and India, at least in the eyes of cricket fans, looking to chase away the ghosts. They last played a Test here 15 years ago and, though the only survivor from that team would have carried happy personal memories, even he would not have forgotten the ignominy of the final innings when ten wickets fell for 59 runs. This Test has not been won or lost yet but, incredibly, it is now Australia who left playing catch-up.
Fifteen wickets in the day would point to some fire or juice in the pitch. That was hardly the case. It was a day when bowlers were rewarded for their skills and another set of modern batsmen was found wanting against a rare, but thankfully not extinct, bowling art: swing bowling. Australia lost the Ashes in 2005 to reverse-swing and today they were undone by traditional swing. It had been a similar story in the first innings of the second Test but, unlike that day, fortune didn't desert India, who weathered a dangerous sixth-wicket partnership to finish the second day on top.
It's a match that continues to surprise. Australia began the day with joy, yet by lunch they were up against it. On a pitch that was supposedly designed to blow the Indian batsmen off their blocks, it was the Indian pace bowlers, at best sharp but mostly medium, who teased the Australians by floating the ball up and curving it away. By the end of the day, the Australian bowlers, who couldn't have imagined they would be bowling again in the day, seemed to be gripped by nerves as they sent down a succession of no-balls and wides. Shaun Tait, pushed to hurry through the last over, sprayed a wide off a short run and then lost his run-up the next ball.
Apart from those two ill-chosen strokes in the last hour of the first day, India have made all the running in this Test so far. Finally they chose the right batting order - with hindsight it can now be said that the eagerness to accommodate Yuvraj Singh was a great distraction - and they were not deterred at the toss by the reputation of the pitch. It would have been a defensive decision to bowl first. And even Irfan Pathan rewarded the team management with a cameo with the bat and a lovely opening spell that accounted for the openers. He has regained his pace and swing and was strong enough to bowl 17 overs in the searing heat.
In the context of what has gone so far, it is easy to miss the significance of the partnership yesterday between Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar. In a Test where most batsmen have played and missed, their performance in the second session can be called commanding. Andrew Symonds and Adam Gilchrist, who scored his first fifty of the series, almost matched them today but, if their rollicking stand was based on adventurism and bold stroke-play, Dravid and Tendulkar provided technical virtuosity.
So much has already happened in the Test it is hard to believe only two days are over. But India will know that five sessions don't win a Test. Some had predicted a three-day finish for this Test but, barring a sensational collapse from India, it is expected to go into the fourth day. India will need three solid sessions to take control of the match. There will rarely be a better opportunity for their dazzling batsmen to set it up for their much more inexperienced bowlers who have, once again, surpassed all expectations.
Australia would want to keep the chase down to 300 and wouldn't want to chase more than 350. India would perhaps feel secure with a 450-run advantage. The battle for those hundred runs would be fascinating. Brett Lee and Stuart Clark have been Australia's outstanding bowlers but Ponting will expect Tait, who has replaced the man who is not only their main spin option but a handy No. 8, to step up tomorrow.
Australia are behind in this match but it is not beyond them. Nothing is. They have not racked up this winning streak with the help of umpires. They will fight like hell to maintain it. Expect another cracking day tomorrow. Perhaps the decisive one.
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