March 20, 2001

India hold the advantage

As expected, the third Test at the MA Chidambaram Stadium produced high quality cricket over the first three days. The decisive Test has been absorbing with both the sides fighting hard to effect a result in their favour. Steve Waugh made a profound statement by saying that this game will decide what the Australians are made off. He was lucky for the third time with the toss and at the end of the opening day the Australian team did not let their captain down. Matthew Hayden continued to be the scourge of the Indian attack and his penchant for getting big scores is being carried into international cricket. He realised his childhood dream with some sensible shot selection and he almost carried his bat through the Aussie innings. It was his enterprising knock that set the tone for the visitors as he went after the Indian spinners. Ganguly might have had second thoughts about his decision of playing three spinners at the end of the first day's play.

The Indians had to get back into the game early on the second morning and Steve Waugh's rare mode of dismissal gave them the much-required breakthrough. From that stage the latest hero of Indian cricket, Harbhajan Singh held centre stage by picking up six wickets which enabled India to restrict the Australians within manageable proportions. One noticeable difference in Harbhajan's bowling this series has been his line, which is on or just outside the off stump. Quite often some off spinners have made the mistake of bowling the middle and leg line which has rendered them ineffective. He has not got sucked into the temptation of bowling too many "doosras" like he did early in his Test career. Harbhajan Singh once again exposed the frailties of the Australian middle order batsmen by running through them in a jiffy. The Australians in hindsight would rue the way they squandered away the advantage that was gained on the first day.

Having pulled back the game by restricting Australia to less than 400, the home batsmen had the task of batting really well. Ramesh and Das, the young openers provided the start that was required of them with great confidence. Das played a knock of superb quality and temperament and it was good to see Ramesh play himself in before venturing into his elegant stroke-play. It was a pity that both these openers got out after doing all the hard work. The middle order batsmen cashed in on the platform provided by the openers with solid performances. Laxman played a cameo of an innings and he perished at a time when he was on the verge of taking total control of the proceedings. It has to be mentioned here that McGrath bowled a fantastic spell on the third morning and even Tendulkar had to bide his time. Tendulkar, not one to miss out on opportunities, paced his innings in an organised manner to notch up yet another hundred. This was probably one rare occasion where he walked in to bat when India was not under pressure. Tendulkar, along with Dravid ensured that the Australians had to work very hard for wickets and their partnership got the hosts past the Australian score without too many problems.

Gillespie came back to work up some pace on this flat track and accounted for both Dravid and Tendulkar thereby doing some damage control for his side. The Indians lost wickets rapidly in the final session and are ahead by 89 runs with two days remaining. There is enough assistance for the spinners and that, coupled with the inefficiency of the Australian middle order so far, will have made the home side entertain ideas of winning this Test and along with it the series as well. The Indians have rallied superbly in this series under tight situations which has made them a different unit altogether. All things considered, it is advantage India and only a remarkable performance from the Aussies can prevent the hosts from winning at Chennai.