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December 30, 2003
Rahul Dravid: masterful in adversity, and the lynchpin of India's batting
Australia have drawn level, but India can draw heart from their performance at Melbourne. The scorecard will point to an overwhelming win for Australia, but the truth is that India were not rolled over. With only 95 runs to defend this morning, they refused to bow to the inevitable, and Australia's path to victory was not a march. The first 40 minutes produced tense cricket when Ajit Agarkar claimed Justin Langer for the fifth time in the series, and Ashish Nehra should have had Mathew Hayden but for David Shepherd's steadfast reluctance to hand out lbws in this Test. India, if they can get over the regret of blowing it on the first evening and the second morning, can go to Sydney with their pride intact.
The scores are even in more ways than one. It was a day of crazy batting that cost Australia the Adelaide Test, and it was two hours of poor application that lost India the Test here. Though their collapse during the first hour of the second morning looked more woeful, the three wickets during the last hour of the first day were more crucial, and none more than Rahul Dravid's wicket, which came from nowhere.
On a pitch that was supposed to be Australia's paciest, Virender Sehwag had battered Australia's bowlers to the point where Steve Waugh had been forced to use two spinners by the 55th over, and had brought himself on for a prolonged spell. India were 278 for 1 and Dravid had batted with the serenity of a sage in a divine trance, when he committed the folly that could haunt him forever. Waugh had persisted with a short midwicket and Dravid managed to find him with a loose flick played in front of his pads. Loose is not a term that can be often applied to his batting, and his disgust at himself was instantly apparent.
It is a measure of Dravid's centrality to India's batting that his dismissal in both the innings have hastened their downfall. His resistance yesterday was another masterful exhibition of Test-match batting in adversity. Shortly after tea, he had played his 1000th ball of the series, and after a solitary run in his first innings he has now amassed 489 runs from his next five. He fell to another lapse of concentration in the second innings, and somehow, India's resolve wilted with his departure. But it was a loss with honour, not of abject surrender. Australia have been the undisputed champions of the world and India have proven themselves to be worthy opponents. Each of the last six Tests between them have produced cricket of the very highest quality. The fact that India have won three of these to Australia's two should render even more poignancy to the last Test, if it was ever needed.
Matthew Hayden: saving the gigantic innings for Sydney?
© Getty Images
Waugh made it a point to mention that all three Tests in the series have gone to the fifth day, which was tribute to the competitiveness of the cricket so far. Australia were made to work for their victory, but they earned it by being superior on four out of five days. Matthew Hayden has powered on, and though he has had four good knocks in this series, India must still be wary of the gigantic one he hasn't produced so far. But the supreme batsman of the series has been Ricky Ponting, who, apart from a second-innings duck at the Adelaide Oval, hasn't been out for less than fifty. He is a man at the top of his game now, having ironed out a technical flaw that had him falling over while playing straight, and having worked on his powers of concentration.
The only problem Australia will face in Sydney is one of plenty. Jason Gillespie was limbering up on the field yesterday after his colleagues had bowled out India and he is the 13th member in the squad announced for the Sydney Test. Though Brad Williams got the wickets in the Indian second innings, it was Nathan Bracken who Waugh singled out as the outstanding bowler on the fourth day. And to think that Andy Bichel was considered unlucky to miss out at the MCG after being Austrlia's highest wicket-taker at the Adelaide Oval. But it is not a problem that Waugh will lose sleep over before his farewell Test.
India have a serious problem though, with Zaheer Khan being ruled out of the tour. The Sydney Cricket Ground is no longer the pitch on which spinners just had to turn up to grab a bagful of wickets. Even though Ray Price took six wickets in the last Test here, the pitch doesn't break up as readily as it used to a few years earlier. India might still opt for two spinners, but not having two of their top bowlers nullifies whatever advantage they might have had due to the absence of Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne.
Sambit Bal, the editor of Wisden Asia Cricket magazine and Wisden Cricinfo in India, will be following the Indian team throughout this Test series.
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