March 22, 2001

The `Final Frontier' eludes the Aussies

Even for an absolutely composed person like Steve Waugh, it must be disappointing not to conquer the "final frontier" as the Indians just managed to scrape through to win the final Test at Chennai. There was high drama at Chepauk with a capacity crowd sitting on the edge of their seats as the visitors kept chipping away at the Indian wickets on the final afternoon. It has been impossible to keep Harbhajan Singh away from the limelight in the last couple of weeks and fittingly enough he got the winning runs for India. However, he would have preferred not to be at the crease as the tension was almost tangible and as he took guard there was a possibility of every result except a draw.

The hosts were cruising along after losing Das early but a mix up between Ramesh and Laxman gave the Australians that extra bit of inspiration they were looking for. The Australians were magnificent on the field and their never-say-die attitude almost pulled off a victory. Jason Gillespie toiled away relentlessly under humid conditions and he was rewarded with the wicket of Tendulkar. The little master was indecisive as he was trying to draw away from a short delivery but ended up giving a regulation catch to Mark Waugh. Not many cricketers make it look as easy as Mark does when he catches the ball. He brought off a blinder to get rid of Laxman and that threw the game wide open with just Sameer Dighe left to see the side through to victory. Dighe displayed exceptional temperament and with the wickets falling regularly at the other end, it made his task that much harder. He withstood the mounting pressure as also the needling from the visitors with great poise and determination. His contribution will be remembered not only by him but also by the entire nation for a long time.

This series has highlighted a lot of factors that have been ignored for too long. The practice of playing on under prepared tracks has done more harm than good to the overall improvement of the game. If there was any proof required, the recent sensational series has provided it. Except the pitch at Mumbai, the ones at Kolkata and Chennai were good tracks and yet there was something in it for the bowlers. It has taken a ruling from ICC (the centre providing under prepared tracks will be banned) and also the appointment of John Wright to get rid of the shortsighted policy of playing on under prepared pitches. Wright must be given a lot of credit for all the hard work that he has put in trying to bring the required cricket discipline into the Indian team.

Harbhajan Singh has performed in an unprecedented manner and partial credit should be given to Wright as he stressed upon Harbhajan bowling the right line regardless of the nature of the track. Be that as it may, Harbhajan Singh has come of age and he has realised that there are various ways to express his emotions. For one who has gone through a lot of trials both in cricket and in life, he richly deserves all the success.

Laxman is another affable cricketer who has cemented his place in the big league. Before the start of the home series against Zimbabwe, he underwent an identity crisis because he was not willing to open the innings. This series has seen him blossom and that too under high-pressure situations and at last he can now get rid of insecurity.

Laxman and Harbhajan are the two guys largely responsible for the home team winning the series against the formidable Australians. This duo has also enhanced the image of cricket in general and has provided the much-required self-belief to the Indians. Hopefully the Indians would keep up their good work in the one-dayers as well and thereby make winning a habit.

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