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November 4, 2004
The day ended with India having regained some of the ground they lost in the morning due to their shoddy efforts with the bat, but throughout, there were displays by the batsmen of the two teams which brought out clearly the mood and confidence levels in the rival camps at the moment.
The pitch was a veritable minefield - the fact that 18 wickets went down in 95 overs is a clear indication of how ball held sway over bat - and the Indian batsmen's approach to their job suggested that it was every bit as hard as it looked. Batsman after out-of-form batsman pottered around at the crease, unsure of the pace, bounce and movement in the track, and of his own ability to tackle them. Rahul Dravid battled the demons in the pitch and in his mind, but even his was a far-from-fluent effort, as he was repeatedly rapped on the front foot stretching forward and across to counter the movement.
When the Australians came out, though, they showed all the confidence of having a series win and plenty of runs under their belts. The pitch continued to play tricks, and the batsmen continued to have a go at the bowlers, confident that their skills would be enough to counter the conditions. These were hugely different mindsets, from teams undergoing hugely differing fortunes.
The Australian attitude was best epitomised by Michael Clarke. Coming out to bat after Simon Katich had been dismissed, Clarke jauntily advanced down the track to his first ball, from Anil Kumble, and thumped it back to the bowler. He didn't get any runs for that stroke, but it spoke volumes about the intent. Chasing such a paltry score, the Australian approach was clear - attack the spinners and get a few quick bursts of runs to ease the pressure. Matthew Hayden did that when he thumped Kumble and Murali Kartik for sixes in successive overs. He got out soon after, but unlike most teams, Australia don't believe in easing up when a wicket falls - they go even harder at the bowling. Clarke and Adam Gilchrist did just that, and even though they didn't make huge scores, each blow was a significant dent given India's minuscule total, and ensured that the Indian spinners never got on top.
Up till Gilchrist's dismissal at 167, the Australians had faced 253 balls, and eked out singles from 51 of them (20%); India's total innings lasted 250 balls, and only 21 of them yielded singles (8.4%). On the other hand, India played out 210 dot-balls (84%) to Australia's 177 (70%). In their first spells this morning, there were only ten scoring strokes from the 17 overs bowled by Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Michael Kasprowicz - that's 92 scoreless deliveries out of 102. It was relentless, it was accurate, and it was too much for a bunch of struggling batsmen.
If India's batting was an embarrassment, then their effort in the field was little better. Four chances went down, and it was just sheer good fortune that only one batsman made India pay for their lapses. Virender Sehwag, especially, had a shocker in the outfield. The miss off Justin Langer was a tough one, but then he dropped an absolute clanger to reprieve Clarke, and bungled repeatedly with misfields and poor throws.
The only redeeming feature in India's performance in the field was Dinesh Karthik's wicketkeeping. He had his share of fumbles, but then, on this pitch, any wicketkeeper would - Gilchrist had a bemused look on his face more than once, and he didn't even have to stand up to the spinners much.
Showing soft hands while gathering the ball, Karthik did enough to suggest that he has the skills for the job. He effected a smart stumping - his first Test scalp - but the standout moment was when he dived down the leg side and came up with a clean take when Harbhajan Singh speared one wide at nearly 100kph. Dravid, so used to giving Parthiv Patel a commiserating pat on the head, did the same to Karthik, with obviously different sentiments this time. Karthik shaped up well with the bat, too, in his 28-ball stay at the crease. He deserves a fair run in international cricket.
India aren't out of the game yet, thanks to Kumble - who has bowled much better for much less reward plenty of times in his career - and Kartik, who continues to blossom under Dravid's captaincy. What the team needs now is for the batsmen to make use of their final opportunity in this series. Immediately after play, VVS Laxman came out for an extended net session. A failure tomorrow, and it might be his final international innings for a while.
S Rajesh is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.
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