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January 12, 2011

Samir Chopra

India's Great Misses, Part Three

Samir Chopra
Matthew Hayden carries off Steve Waugh at the end of the Test, Australia v India, 4th Test, Sydney, January 6, 2004
India could have deprived Steve Waugh of such a farewell  © Getty Images
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The first two misses in this series of great misses - India's failure to pull off a run-chase at the Oval in 1979, and to bowl out the Aussie tail and then mount a small fourth-innings chase at the MCG in 1985 - were falls at the last hurdle. But for the third entry in this series, there is no one such moment of failure (as there wasn't in the recently concluded India-South Africa third Test). Instead, a series of small fatal errors added up, ultimately corroding India's push for a win, which would have ranked, in terms of historical significance, right up there with India's 1979 Oval Test. I feel the failure in this Test all the more keenly because along with the Bridgetown Test of 1997, it is the Test that I witnessed the greatest proportion of in the flesh: I spent four out of its five days at the SCG.

Welcome then to the SCG in January 2004. India had already pulled off a great miss in the MCG Test, where they had subsided from 278 for 1 to 366 all out, and the later, in the second innings, when, chasing a lead of 192, they had moved 61 runs ahead, with six wickets in hand, on their way to setting Australia either an awkward target or saving the game, they suddenly subsided to 286 all out.

Thus India had failed to protect their 1-0 lead by the time they got to Sydney. When they left Sydney, they had failed to pull off an epic win, one which would have done for Sachin Tendulkar what the Oval Test could have done for Sunil Gavaskar. They failed to dramatically end the Waugh era with a dethroning that would have ensured a dramatic crowning for the Indians. They had failed to pull off a series win against an Australian team reckoned the greatest in the modern era. (Yes, McGrath and Warne weren't playing; the perfect time to pull off an ambush was at hand!)

The first note of worry came, ironically, after India had piled up a gigantic first-innings score. Did India delay their declaration? When India failed to bowl out Australia on the final day, that became the refrain amongst the cognoscenti. But I didn't think so then. As I walked home that day from the SCG, worrying about the declaration, I consoled myself with the thought that pressing on for 700 could perhaps help the Indians attack more, set more aggressive fields.

Later, with hindsight, as I saw Hayden and Langer open, I realised that the Aussies, who were not about to be cowed down by that score, would have had a harder time opening late on the 2nd day.

That Hayden-Langer opening stand (which made mincemeat of Agarkar's bowling figures) was the beginning of the end. As the pair attacked, I sensed some panic on the field. India looked bedraggled all of a sudden; was this really a team defending 700? I suspect the memory of that assault struck fear into Ganguly's heart.

Still, by the end of the third day, India had taken some vital steps towards a win. They had prised out six vital wickets; Australia were still 164 runs away from saving the follow-in; two days were left; India could push aggressively in a variety of ways on the last two days to win this game.

Things went wrong soon after Lee fell early on the fourth day, for Katich and Gillespie frustrated the Indian advance. When Australia were finally bowled out, though they had not saved the follow-on, they had removed it a possibility. Ganguly was not going to subject his bowlers (and fielders) to another stint on a flattish wicket after they had bowled 117 overs.

To their credit, India batted positively in the second innings, rattling up 211 at almost five an over. Again, the timing of their declaration might have been disputed: why didn't Ganguly declare half an hour earlier, giving the openers an awkward moment or two, while remaining confident about his ability to prevent Australia from scoring 400 or so? Here, the memory of the Hayden-Langer stand played a vital part in dampening any such adventurousness.

On the last day, Ganguly appeared bereft of ideas other than getting Kumble to bowl from one end, as he sent down 42 out of the 94 overs eventually bowled (Pathan only bowled eight overs in the second innings). Ganguly's' fields were excessively diffident; at any given moment, the fear that Australia might suddenly launch an attack and pull off the unlikeliest of wins appeared to be uppermost in the Indian captain's mind. At one point in that dismal, overcast afternoon at an SCG that was, surprisingly, not packed to capacity, I realised that India would be very, very happy with a 1-1 drawn series.

And so it came to pass, that a glorious opportunity to ensure all sorts of cricketing immortality was missed. Tendulkar's twofer of 241 and 60 (both not out) would have passed into cricketing lore as the greatest of all batting achievements by an Indian. Would anyone have doubted his ability as a matchwinner? (What would we think of Laxman's 96 in the Durban Test if the Indian bowlers hadn't bowled out the hosts?) More importantly, a series win over Waugh's Aussies in Australia, in Waugh's final test? Be still, my beating heart.

As the Test wound down, the Indians appeared caught up in the Farewell to Waugh[tm], all too happy to be sharing in the glory of his final test, seemingly unaware they had missed out on a chance of glory for themselves. It was Waugh's last act of mental disintegration.

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

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Kumble vs Kartik on (January 26, 2011, 17:08 GMT)

No one has mentioned another bowler playing at Sydney, the villain of the piece: Murali Kartik.

In the first innings Kumble had figures 46.5/7/141/8, while Kartik had 19/1/122/0. I rest my case.

M Kartik 19 1 122 0 6.42

Posted by Dipak Basu on (January 26, 2011, 17:04 GMT)

How can you say Indians bowled defensively. I watched every ball of the closing over with the limpet-like Katich and Gillespie, with newly found batting ability, grimly held on. They were surrounded by fielders as Kumble bowled variation after variation. Every ball could have been a wicket. Even in the last over we could have won the game if Kumble broke through.

Posted by Debasis on (January 24, 2011, 19:22 GMT)

Hey all stop be critical of the God of Cricket. when India were shot out at 81 chasing 120 in WI, wht were other batsmen doing. As if BCCI pays Sachin only and others play free of cost. Why did not Saurav force follow on at Sydney, why he was waiting for Dravid to score century in second innings at Sydney, declaration in 2nd inns came only when Dravid was hit on head by Lee's bouncer. If you analyze India's great wins in past few years, you will find Sachin has contribution to India's win either with bat or bowl- take Adelaide-04, perth-08, Multan-03, Kolkatta-01. Please do not disrespect the great man, we should be proud of him

Posted by Abhinav on (January 20, 2011, 19:26 GMT)

guys..wat this fuss is all about...first..someone malik froom russia...brother...india are 2-1 up in series by th time m writing here..and u have got ur answers regarding our preparatioins..come 2011 WC and 2nd April..watch the result..then paste something here..and u talking about strong captain..it z about CAPTAIN who has always backed his players..Dhoni is going great..and he has that in him to deal with it..u stop giving those comments...ok

and regarding this miss..actually we start expecting alot always..india dominated that series..totally and we shouldnt forget that AUS was also a great team that time..they played well..and as catches win u games..so parthiv's deeds led to india not getting thaat glory...it happens..and people talkng about SACHIN nt a match winner...CHENNAI TEST century against england..that historic chase on 5th day..was nt it..???and against aussies in india..first innings second test..it z sachin who has been the god in indian cricket..so better respect him

Posted by Jitesh chandan on (January 20, 2011, 17:55 GMT)

what about the miss at the mohali test when only 3 wickets were required on a last day with also a first inning lead of about 150 odd runs in the hand and to register a series win against arch rival pakistan but opportunity lost.Abdul razzak and Kamran Akmal...............still have a pain..

Posted by Jitesh chandan on (January 20, 2011, 17:47 GMT)

one more miss i would like to mention was the match which gave the aussies there much wanted and awaited series win in india after about 30 years when the last day was washed away by the rain ,some 220-230 odd runs were required and sehwag the great was playing so efficiently at the end of fourth day but rain ruined and match drawn.Aus 2-1 but i would also like to mention here that if there are misses then there many gains also for india which are misses for other teams and especially here in India .i would like to have that article also.congrats to team india for there winning streak presently.

Posted by krayG on (January 20, 2011, 9:04 GMT)

@Bitter Truth I suppose Aussies wud nevr think they lost till they finally get whitewashed 5-0 in a test series by Bangladesh. Some wud still blame it to the unavailability of Warne and McGrath and Hayden and Gilly and so and so on till the country completes spelling all those who in the past wore the baggy green caps.

Posted by dipjyoti banik on (January 20, 2011, 6:18 GMT)

i completely agree with bharat.people dont miss asecond's opportunity to put the blame on Tendulkar..They forget the innumerable number of times he won or saved India the game,they remember Laxman's 281,but tend to forget the three magic balls Tendulkar bowled to get Aussie's three most priced scalps,they say Tendulkar was slow with a SR of 55 whereas Laxman was bliztering at a SR of 59.They forget Mumbai test which India won against England chasing a record total,Bangalore test against the Aussie.Someone even called Tendulkar selfish,in this thread,said he was chasing Gavaskar's 236..and i wonder,what else does he has to achieve,for people to stop criticizing him.Anyways,i don't mean to disrespect any player,because I know each and every great player has played for their country and WHEN YOU ARE OUT THERE IN THE MIDDLE,THERE'S NOTHING ELSE IN YOUR HEAD,NO NOT EVEN YOUR PERFORMANCE,AND YOU JUST WANT TO GIVE 100% FOR THE TEAM YOU PLAYING.

Posted by Gourab D. on (January 19, 2011, 20:02 GMT)

The article is not well thought, not well understood and lacks some facts. It is just an opinion which is not backed by facts. The real blunder in the test was the misses by Parthiv Patel. hat could have been one of the most major reasons for the miss. Hope the next time the entire match is scrutinized before readers are made to read quality things in the website.

Posted by Prashanth on (January 19, 2011, 19:47 GMT)

I remember Bridgetown 97, Tendulkar was out on a no ball in first innings when he was going good and was on some 90 odd. But that test was for taking and also 99-00 against pakistan in chennai.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He runs the blogs at samirchopra.com and Eye on Cricket. His book on the changing face of modern cricket, Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket has been published by HarperCollins. Before The Cordon, he blogged on The Pitch and Different Strokes on ESPNcricinfo. @EyeonthePitch

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