March 19, 2001

India make strong comeback on second day

There are some people who find a strong cup of coffee invigorating. South India, and Chennai in particular, is famous for its good, strong coffee. Sadagoppan Ramesh, brought up on a steady supply of the aforementioned brew brought the crowds to life at his home ground with a cavalier 61 (164 mins, 133 balls, 6 fours). And then there are others who will tell you that there is nothing quite as calming as a cup of tea. The best tea in India comes from the East, where Shiv Sunder Das learnt to play all his cricket.

In apt fashion, Das was the calming influence at the top of the innings with an unbeaten 84 (261 mins, 187 balls, 10 fours and 1 six). In the middle of all this, VVS Laxman, whose form has been pleasing as punch all season chalked up an unbeaten 59 (96 mins, 67 balls, 10 fours) and took India to 211/1 in response to Australia's 391. Perhaps it's the heat and humidity of the MA Chidamabaram Stadium in Chennai that's inspiring all these visions of beverages!

On a more serious note, the Indian batting had a chance to peddle their wares only because of that young man from Punjab who has been so successful in bowling off spin. Picking up his second seven wicket haul in as many innings, Harbhajan Singh reduced the Aussies from 326/3 to 391 all out. Matthew Hayden, resuming the day on 147, went on to make his maiden Test double hundred, standing tall among the shambles. Hayden's 203 (474 mins, 320 balls, 15 fours, 6 sixes) was the highlight of a day of almost no success for the visitors. Continuing to play the sweep shot with great control, Hayden accounted for 56 of the 65 runs scored on the day. That tells you how badly the rest of the team failed. Once more, the Indians had managed to scalp 7 wickets in a single session.

It all began when Steve Waugh, the most thoughtful man in the Australian team did something utterly thoughtless.

Steve Waugh (47 runs, 176 mins, 150 balls, 4 fours, 1 six) was rapped on the pad by a Harbhajan Singh off spinner. The loud shout for leg before wicket was turned down even as the ball looped up and headed for the stumps; in a momentary lapse of composure the Australian skipper knocked the ball away with his gloves. A renewed appeal for 'handled the ball' ensued and Steve Waugh was back in the pavilion.

A rather freak mode of dismissal, one that has happened only five times before got India its first breakthrough. (Russel Endean for South Africa v England, Cape Town, 1956-57, Andrew Hilditch for Australia v Pakistan, Perth, 1978-79, Mohsin Khan for Pakistan v Australia, Karachi, 1982-83, Desmond Haynes for West Indies v India, Mumbai, 1983-84, Graham Gooch for England v Australia, Manchester, 1993 are the previous occurrences of batsmen being dismissed 'handled ball')

Off the very next ball, Ricky Ponting's woeful run of form continued. Overbalancing completely to an offspinner from Harbhajan, Ponting (0) was well out of his crease when Sameer Dighe whipped the bails off to pick up his first dismissal in Test cricket. Adam Gilchrist made a solitary run before being trapped plumb in front by the offspinner from Punjab. Harbhajan, encouraged by the success on the second day began to give the ball a bit more air. Shane Warne, Jason Gillespie and Colin Miller all bagged ducks, the last two trying to hit Harbhajan Singh out of the ground. With Hayden in such good nick, all the tail needed to do was rotate the strike. Unfortunately for the visitors, common sense was left behind in hotel rooms and Australia were 385/9.

When Hayden was caught in the deep, Harbhajan Singh had his seventh wicket and Australia were all out for 391.

In response, India had a good outing in the field. Ramesh and Das posted an opening partnership of 123, India's first hundred plus partnership in three series, the last one coming in late 1999 when Ramesh and Devang Gandhi put together 162 against New Zealand at Kanpur. The pair combined well, Ramesh playing the role of adventurous schoolboy while Das was deadly straight in attack and defense. When Ramesh was caught close to the bat off Warne for 61, VVS Laxman walked to the crease with a confident swagger. None of that confidence was misplaced as he flicked wristily through midwicket, punched forcefully through the off side and lofted effectively straight down the ground. Once again dominating the spinners in imperious fashion, Laxman was unbeaten on 59 at stumps. Das (batting 84) will go out with him tomorrow to try and stretch the advantage. The Indians however, will not be complacent in the least. After all, if there's one side that never gives up, it's Steve Waugh's Australia.