Keeping the faith
Andy Bichel: lifting himself for the occasion
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One word best describes Australia's modern-day cricket tradition: faith. There's a false notion that true greatness is born, rather than constructed with buckets of hard work. That's especially true in India where talent - even in individuals with all the character of blank paper - is extolled above all else.
Steve Waugh, Matthew Hayden, Glenn McGrath, Damien Martyn - what do these names have in common? They were slow starters in international cricket, men whose careers survived only because those in charge believed in second chances, and sometimes third ones. Waugh took 27 Tests to score his first hundred, Hayden and Martyn were patently unprepared at the first time of asking, and McGrath was a medium-pace non-entity for much of his first half dozen Tests.
Waugh and McGrath were persevered with, while Martyn and Hayden were sent back to that great domestic crucible, the Sheffield Shield, in order to develop the mental maturity required at the top.
You can add another name to that list now. Andy Bichel had the noose halfway round his neck after the Brisbane Test, having finished with figures of 1 for 142 in front of a home crowd that never stopped cheering for him. When Brad Williams was pulled out of the last day's play in a Pura Cup match against Tasmania in Perth on Thursday, and flown to Adelaide, the writing was on the proverbial wall. After all, Nathan Bracken, who made his debut at the Gabba, had nailed Virender Sehwag all five times that he had faced him, and taken two wickets in a stirring burst on the final day of the first Test.
But Australia didn't become the best team in the world by having selectors who bend like straws in the wind. They plumped for Bichel and Williams to partner Jason Gillespie, leaving out Bracken. Both men had outstanding first-class figures at the Adelaide Oval, with Bichel having taking ten in a Pura Cup game last month.
Needless to say, it was a huge gamble. Bichel had played three previous Tests here, taking just five wickets at 62 apiece. The only highlight in the reel was the delivery that caught the edge of Michael Vaughan's bat - Shane Warne, now in the commentary box, took the catch - at the fag end of the opening day's play last summer. That delivery ended a brilliant innings, changed the course of the Test match, and decided the destiny of the Ashes prematurely.
It was also typical of Bichel. Never blessed with express speed, he bounds in and gives the arm a full tilt. With the effort that he puts in, hitting the deck over after over, you can understand why the spectators love him. It was the same again today, bowling in conditions that can only give bowlers sore back and rib muscles, and aching hearts.
Where India's bowlers had sprayed it all over like a water cannon, Australia's bowlers generally bowled keeping their fields in mind. Early in the piece, Steve Waugh decided that caution was the name of the game. Short cover was employed, and there was often a silly mid-on too, but for the most part, it was a field placed to staunch the inevitable flow of runs. For Sehwag, once he started stroking the ball well, there wasn't even a slip, just a man at gully - the very man who snaffled the chance offered once he'd raced to 47.
It was cat-and-mouse out there, and the Indian batsmen - the great Sachin Tendulkar included - fell into the trap too easily. On pitches like this, raw pace and enthusiasm don't get you wickets, patience and tactics do. And it was there that the gulf in class between the two sides was evident.
India's tail-end batsmen would also do well to watch how their Australian counterparts batted. When India's tail makes runs - once in a Rip van Winkle period - it's usually the result of manic, reckless hitting. The way Bichel and Gillespie batted today - combining attacking intent with plenty of resolve - there was no pressure on Ricky Ponting to do anything but play his natural game. The days of shepherding the tail should rest with the dinosaurs and the amateur age, but unfortunately most teams have tail-enders who insist on batting like sheep. They don't wear baggy green caps.
Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo. He will be following the Indian team throughout this Test series.