Samir Chopra October 14, 2008

Game on

This Test resembled a boxing match in which each opponent landed a few punches, won a few rounds on points, and created headaches for the judges when it came to calling a winner

The just concluded first Test in Bangalore confirms a lot of my pre-series thoughts: the Australian batting line-up will not be pushovers; their bowling attack lacks some of the punch of old; the Indian batting line-up is still not firing on all cylinders; the Indian spinners have lost some zing; the Indian quicks will be more of a threat than the spinners; both sides' captains are inclined to let games drift and quickly go on the defensive, though Ricky Ponting outshone Anil Kumble in aggression; both captains can't seem to get a decent over-rate happening; India don't generally bat to win matches especially on fifth days; and lastly, injuries will do more to affect the 'Fab Five' than selections.

While Australia's first innings was uninspired at times, they did well to get themselves into a good position. 430 is always good batting first in a Test match. Ponting is likely to be very confident about his chances in the remaining games, which isn't good news for India, while Hussey showed that he is capable of succeeding just about anywhere thanks to his technique and temperament (I have a very hard time getting work done and thus tend to admire just about anybody with a serious work ethic!). Hayden failed but I don't think this will go on forever unless Zaheer sorts him out the way he did Graeme Smith last year in a one-day series. Katich looks solid but could also clog up Australia's attempts to force the pace unless he is willing to play out of character (I'm well aware of the fact that Katich has played some furious innings in Shield cricket). For my money the weak link lay in the trio of Watson, Haddin and White but it's too early to tell how they will do. Certainly Watson and Haddin did well on the fourth day but they were also let off by rather insipid captaincy from Kumble.

It's in the bowling front that Australia will continue to worry. This pace attack is 'McGrath-less', and it shows, especially when it is unable to knock a tail over. And White remains quite raw for now, but he will learn as the series goes along. Still, he will find it hard, and the quicks will have to be disciplined at all times.

On the Indian front, while the top-order didn't score heavily, there were some flashes of form from most of the top six. It isn't clear to me that Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly and Laxman are back in top form, but every single one of them had an extended knock out in the middle, and they'll be happy with that. However, I will say I did something on the second day that I would never, ever have done before: I went to sleep (at 1AM) when Sehwag and Gambhir were dismissed, and Dravid and Tendulkar were at the crease. Perhaps it was because I didn't expect them to take the game by the scruff of the neck.

Meanwhile the Indian spinners looked out of it: perhaps Kumble's shoulder is busted but he's looked ineffective for a few Tests now, and Harbhajan only seems to look dangerous on occasion (mind you, that Hussey dismissal was something else!). The most encouraging news for Indian fans is that we have a dangerous, penetrative pace attack. Zaheer and Ishant looked good, and provide a nice mix of right-n-left and swing-n-pace. They will trouble the Aussies in this series and hopefully, will get a chance to show that India can win Tests with pace at home.

This series also confirmed my suspicion that there will be a fair amount of sniping between the teams via the press. Ponting and Sehwag had their moments before the Test, and Zaheer has now stepped into the fray with his post-match comments. Much as I wish this would go away, it won't, so we'll just have to grit our teeth and bear it.

This Test resembled a boxing match in which each opponent landed a few punches, won a few rounds on points, and created headaches for the judges when it came to calling a winner. It was a draw and that was the fair result. But some of this probing will have some effect in the later tests: weaknesses and vulnerabilities will have been noted, and new strategies charted out. A Test series is a campaign. This encounter was merely the opening battle.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on October 30, 2008, 7:48 GMT

    I believe we've learned a lot since then. Australia has no spinners, Lee can't be bothered, and Ponting is forced to bowl himself. I remember Ponting getting two wickets against the Windies in the mid 90's, in a couple of overs. Steve Waugh was the captain then. Since then he's added 3 more wickets to his tally in 12 years. The fact that he's bowling now in the Third Test shows the utter hopelessness and desperation the Aussies find themselves in. And long may it continue. Game over.

  • testli5504537 on October 16, 2008, 7:13 GMT

    This is not much of a cricket point, I'll admit, but it's interesting that you bring up the boxing analogy at the end, Samir, and then it segues into a political one. It's as if we can no longer think of politics in anything but pugilistic terms -- watching the US debates and their aftermath will do nothing but confirm that.

    You're right about the cricket, though. We learned a lot, and nothing at all. Game on.

  • testli5504537 on October 16, 2008, 6:19 GMT

    yeah. i think sachin would have made a fantastic bottle opener. thanks for asking my opinion

  • testli5504537 on October 15, 2008, 22:57 GMT

    Cheers for that Anjo. That is really interesting, though I don't know where you found those numbers because I remember looking a few months back and they weren't there. Anyway, very interesting comparison of the two greats. Lara really could punish an attack couldn't he?! The good news is that it confirms my lineup for my all-time (last 25 years) team with Sachin opening w/ Hayden followed by Ponting & Lara. Yay! For anyone who likes to make up fanatsy teams they will understand the dilemma. Anyone else think Sachin would have made a great opener?

  • testli5504537 on October 15, 2008, 15:44 GMT

    @ KJH and Anjo....thanks for clearing that up 4 us all. So Lara scored quicker than Tenders and made more runs in less balls and less time. The Sachin fans always talk about the fact that Tendulkar was denied completing 25 innings hence why he has played for longer and more matches and innings than Lara and still has less runs. What Anjo has uncovered is that Tendulkar (regardless of not outs) did not score as quickly (time and balls faced) as Lara.

  • testli5504537 on October 15, 2008, 10:08 GMT

    Just to continue from my last post, if we exclude that test match, Tendulkar has scored 11928 Test Runs off 22073 balls, so his strike rate would be 54.039 If you really do want to include that match, given that the stats available show he was in the middle for 92 minutes in that innings, it is reasonable to assume he didn't face more than 138 deliveries (lets assume 150 in the absolute worst case) and at the very least faced two balls. This would put his SR in the range of 53.724 to 54.088, or in other words pretty much 54. So there you have it, in terms of balls faced Tendulkar has faced approximately 2300 additional deliveries and his career SR is around 54 compared to Lara's 60.51 Tendulkar has been at the crease for 30559 minutes, but oddly for the last few matches the minutes Lara spent at the crease aren't available here. Excluding those 7 innings he spent 26282 minutes at the crease, (you could assume around 26750 minutes including those innings) - approx 3800 less than Sachin

  • testli5504537 on October 15, 2008, 9:17 GMT

    @KJH I believe the reason you aren't able to see the number of balls faced (and therefore the strike rate) for Tendulkar is because cricinfo doesn't seem to have the complete stats for this match Its not just Tendulkar, apart from Sanjay Manjrekar, Cricinfo doesn't have these stats for the rest who played in that match. I'm really grateful that cricinfo has made a powerful database like statsguru available to the public and I'm sure that they will update their databases when and if the stats become available (and/or possible rights issues have been resolved)

  • testli5504537 on October 14, 2008, 23:10 GMT

    A good hard tussle to open the series. India did well to avoid the follow on and never really looked like collapsing on the final day. I think the aussies will be happy with their bowling, India maybe not as much considering their spinners were outbowled by some part timers, though their quicks were impressive. Salim, you would hope Sachin can make the 15 runs required to overtake Lara, but good point about the comparison. I've always preferred Lara's audacious & volatile brilliance to Tendulkars beautiful & technical perfection. But for some reason there is no record of Balls Faced or Strike Rate for Sachin! Does anybody know why? As far as I can see the stats are there for everyone but Tendulkar! What's going on?

  • testli5504537 on October 14, 2008, 14:10 GMT

    All points noted. But again, here's something that irritates me no end. Please, please, stop using media-created terms like 'Fav Five'. These are professional sportsmen, not rock stars. Keep them at that. And even if you want to create these fancy sellers, keep Laxman out of it please. He does not deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the other 3 batsmen. Ok sure he had played a few good innings against Australia, but that's about it. He's probably in the team because the media have hyped him up to be bigger and better than he is. We, as Indians, tend to use the word great too often. If everyone is great, greatness has lost it's sheen!

  • testli5504537 on October 14, 2008, 12:01 GMT

    So at long last Sachin Tendulkar is about to become the leading run making in Test history. He has stuttered and crawled towards the 11953 line to BC Lara. In chronological terms it has taken him 3 more years. In test match terms it would have taken him 21 more matches and perhaps more importantly and more relevantly 15 MORE innings. But perhaps a more far comparison between the two greats would be an account of the minutes at the crease each had or the total balls faced?

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