Steve Waugh stands tall as India flicker and fade out
From the euphoria and exultation of yesterday, India were brought back down to earth by a display of attacking cricket that Australia may as well patent as their own. At the helm of Australian cricket Steve Waugh is a veritable Goliath. A Goliath that no David has been able to slay in 16 Test matches. When his troops fail him, Waugh steps up to the war front himself.
On the second day of the second Test at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata, Waugh notched up his highest ever Test score in India, got his 25th Test hundred and passed Javed Miandad in the list of all time run getters - in one innings. Only Allan Border, Sunil Gavaskar and Graham Gooch have scored more runs in Test cricket than Waugh. And only Sunil Gavaskar, Don Bradman and Gary Sobers have got more hundreds. But it's not about personal milestones for Steve Waugh. It's about grim situations, survivors and true champions. After posting a healthy 445, Waugh's Australia reduced India to 128/8 at stumps.
The visiting captain showed clearly that there was no such thing as doing half the job against Australia. Either you knock them over completely or you pay the price. As Steve Waugh (110) and Jason Gillespie (46) put on 113 runs for the ninth wicket, India were slowly but surely paying the price. The partnership was a record for the ninth wicket against India, beating the 96 put together by Ian Healy and Gavin Robertson at Chennai in 1998. Record or not, it certainly put paid to India's plans of knocking the Aussies over quickly.
Coming out from lunch, Waugh proved himself a worthy leader of a team that has won 16 Test matches on the trot. Mixing abundant caution with calculated risks, the Australian captain notched up his 25th Test century. Having never made a Test hundred in India, Waugh was more emotional than normal as he tugged at the red handkerchief in his pocket, took off his helmet and raised his bat to a full house Eden crowd. In turn, the mass of swaying spectators too were forced to stand up and applaud a true champion. Moving from 93 to 99 with a crisp hit over midwicket for six, Waugh then worked the ball away to point to get to his century. In the process of getting to his hundred, Steve Waugh passed Miandad's tally of 8832 Test runs.
When finally, Waugh (110 runs, 203 balls, 11 fours, 1 six) was trapped leg before wicket by Harbhajan Singh, the Australian innings had ended on a rather imposing note. Harbhajan Singh, easily the pick of the bowlers had secured returns of 7/123.
Yesterday the crowd of around 75,000 went home happy at a spirited Indian performance. Today however, the crowds were considerably larger at the start of play, certainly thinner and more disappointed at the end.
The cause for that is there for all to see. In a last session that yielded 96 runs, seven Indian wickets and with it the slightest chances of victory was were lost. Collapses happen in Test cricket. But when a team limps off the ground like an errant pet dog whipped by its master, tail between its legs, there is no grandeur in the defeat.
That Sadagoppan Ramesh (0) and Shiv Sunder Das (20) should fail against high quality fast bowling is not something that will cause huge surprise around the country. However, when Sachin Tendulkar (10) plays across the line and is trapped plumb in front, Rahul Dravid (25) plays all over a drifter from Shane Warne and loses his leg stump and Sourav Ganguly (23) is snapped up by a diving Steve Waugh at gully against the bowling of Michael Kasprowicz, the façade of the great Indian middle order is shattered. The triumvirate of Indian cricket had fallen. After that, even the die hard Indian fan from Kolkata who paid good money for his ticket could stand it no more. An emotionally drained crowd poured out of the Eden Gardens with the words 'let down' on their minds.
The tail succumbed meekly as VVS Laxman showcased his own penchant for strokemaking in lost causes. Hues of his 167 at Sydney against the same foes in a dire situation were there for all to see as he helped himself to 26 of the finest runs, flicking and driving with ease. Aesthetically his innings might have been pleasing. At the end of the day however, India need a further 118 to avoid the follow on. Looking down the barrel, one can already hear travel agents welcoming customers with yet another Test match heading for an early finish.