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October 19, 2003
The Indians tried to "out-Barnacle" Trevor Bailey
An entire day's play: 90 overs for 187 runs, and five wickets. If you weren't clued into what was going on at Mohali, you might have been forgiven for thinking those were figures from some fantasy (nightmare?) Test involving such batting-crawl luminaries as Trevor Bailey, Mudassar Nazar, Chris Tavare and Rizwan-uz-Zaman.
But when you delve closer and realise that Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman were at the crease for most of the day, you begin to understand why proceedings went from farcical to surreal as the shadows lengthened. On October 19, 1956 - 47 years to the day - India had crawled to 117 for 5 on the opening day of a Test against Australia at the Corporation Stadium in Madras. They were up against Ray Lindwall, Pat Crawford and Richie Benaud then, and not even the most one-eyed New Zealand fan would dare compare this attack to that trio.
It would be patently unfair to pin all the blame on the Indian batsmen. For much of the morning and afternoon, New Zealand's approach was so defensive that you wondered whether it was them that faced a 300-run deficit. But for their part, the batsmen showed no initiative either, monotonously finding the fielders on the rare occasions when they were forced to play strokes of intent.
The biggest myth about Australia's current dominance of world cricket concerns their scoring rate. Those who haven't watched them at length blithely assume that run-rates of 4 and 5 an over are the result of swashbuckling hitting. Those who know the real story will tell you that cleverly-tapped singles and aggressively run twos form an even bigger chunk of the foundation. It's that refusal to dawdle that makes them great, the urge to floor the pedal all the time that makes them a pleasure to watch.
Of course, India can't be bothered with such trivialities. Why look for minor pickings when the fours and boundaries await? But even with such an attitude in place, New Zealand weren't good enough to take advantage. For much of the past two days, defending a score of 630, they have looked to counter-punch, and adopt Muhammad Ali's rope-a-dope tactics to the cricket pitch.
With the exception of Virender Sehwag - who went early in the piece today - though, not one of the Indians showed any inclination to deliver meaty blows, a la George Foreman. In effect, New Zealand hugged the rope for four sessions waiting for punches that never came. The only people to get doped, and duped, were the poor souls who paid the price of admission on a Sunday, when they would have been better off boating on Sukhna Lake.
Were it not for a minor flurry of strokes from Laxman and Parthiv Patel towards the end, India might have finished the day averaging less than two runs an over. It seems a bit rich that a fast bowler can be banned for a Test match and two one-day games for giving vent to his frustration, while this sort of crawl is considered wholly in keeping with the "spirit of the game".
Then again, we really shouldn't expect much more from two mediocre sides who have constantly given the impression of being rudderless ships. And can we please stop insulting Steve Waugh by comparing Stephen Fleming, or anyone else, to him? One team is obsessed with winning, everyone else seems satisfied merely to survive. Until that negative mindset changes, Advance Australia Fair will continue to resonate, and irritate, in the rest of the cricketing universe.
Dileep Premachandran is an assistant editor with Wisden Cricinfo in India.
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