March 12, 2001

Indians have played themselves into a corner

The first two days of the second Test match at Kolkata proved the old dictum that international cricket is about mental toughness. Two cricketers belonging to different generations and disciplines, Harbhajan Singh and Steve Waugh succeeded by displaying commendable temperament but with contrasting support from their respective teammates. Steve Waugh on winning the toss, opted to bat on a pitch full of runs and his openers went about laying a solid foundation. Hayden who is seeking to establish himself in Test cricket has come good on this tour stroking the ball crisply and authoritatively. He started off from where he left in Mumbai playing some handsome shots against the opening bowlers. His partner, Slater is struggling to come to terms with the relatively slower pitches in India. He scratched around and survived the opening session and just about when the Australian openers were looking like creating major problems for the hosts, Slater was adjudged caught behind. Zaheer Khan bowled with a lot of aggression and was unlucky not to pick up more wickets in the opening session of the Test match.

The post lunch session saw Hayden dominating the Indian spinners with some lusty blows over the ropes. The Indian captain Ganguly would not have been a very happy man at teatime and the pattern was somewhat similar to the one in Mumbai with the Australian top order establishing authority over the hosts until the dramatic turn around in the last session. Just about when things were slipping away from the Indians, Harbhajan Singh got into the serious act of taking wickets. It was heartening to see the young off-spinner come back strongly after a very ordinary performance in the first two sessions. Harbhajan has shown that he has got rid of his misconception of what aggression is all about and his success would have gladdened the people responsible for his staging a comeback. The youngster was under tremendous pressure to perform and he has acquitted himself superbly. His historical hat trick enabled the Indians to come back into the game but the overnight batsmen Steve Waugh rewrote the script on the second day with his characteristic determination by scoring a century. Waugh's century ensured that the Australia would not lose the Test match and the Indians were expected to reply in a fitting manner.

The Indians started their innings during the best part of the day but the way they succumbed was something incredible. This was one good opportunity for the Indian batsmen to get runs, as the conditions were ideal for batting. A good display in this innings would have given them a lot of confidence and a draw would have boosted the morale of the entire side. A combination of some loose shots and good catching brought about the collapse of the innings. Tendulkar's failure added to the woes of Ganguly's gang and the captain perished after playing himself in. By close on the second day the Indian batsmen have batted themselves into a corner and the match at the moment is as good as lost unless of course one were to hope against hope that the Indians will bat over two days in the second knock.

Given that the Australians are playing at their best, it has to be admitted that the Indians are hardly putting up a fight. So far, the difference has been the inability of the Indians to drive home the advantage whenever they had their nose in front. Of course, a few umpiring decisions in this Test have gone against the Indians which made matters worse for them, but as the adage goes fortune favours the brave and it does not take a genius to make out which of the two sides is courageous.