McGrath, Warne put Australia on top
Hurdles keep confronting them and yet Australia's cricketers continue their eminently successful negotiation of most obstacles in their contemporary Test cricketing path. That is again the bottom line after another uncompromising six hours of cricket from the home team on day two of the First Test left India 123 for four in response to their 441 by stumps here at the Adelaide Oval today.
In essence, this was a day when two of Test cricket's key defining ingredients - namely, steely competitiveness and the ability of the game's great players to rise effortlessly to the top - were in abundance.
After medium pacer Ajit Agarkar (2/86) had revived India's flickering hopes of dismissing the Australians for a modest first innings total by sensationally claiming the wicket of Adam Gilchrist (0) with the very first ball of the day's play, it was Steve Waugh (150) and Shane Warne (86) who were the first to underscore these principles when the action began.
Although they were tested by some accurate bowling at the outset and were not always in command, the pair at first resisted the Indians' best attempts to launch a decisive wicket taking burst before unleashing a withering assault.
Around two sweeping showers which forced the players from the field for a total of 37 minutes, Warne, in particular, was in cavalier touch. Whilst he rarely conformed to the copybook in the course of equalling his highest Test and first class score, he played some tremendously forceful shots. On a pitch which showed increasing signs of developing into the sort of true batting surface for which Adelaide Oval wickets are renowned, the Victorian trusted his attacking instincts almost from the outset of a lustily belligerent innings which spanned just 126 minutes and contained 13 fours and one six. Signs of his ruthlessness were especially evident as he hammered four boundaries in the space of six balls from Venkatesh Prasad (3/83) and Javagal Srinath (1/117) in the middle of the first session. The noisy, if small, crowd was also delighted by a contemptuous slog sweep for six over backward square leg off fellow leg spinner Anil Kumble (2/101) five minutes prior to the lunch adjournment.
At the other end in their partnership of 108 runs for the seventh wicket, Waugh also continued to pose problems for the manful, albeit largely disheartened, Indian attack. Like it had been yesterday, it was his easing of the ball into gaps in the leg side field which earned him many of his runs but he also showed a willingness to drive powerfully through the off side when permitted the opportunity. His vigil finally came to an end only moments after he had become the eighth most prolific runscorer in Test history, a loose, tired-looking drive at an Agarkar outswinger heralding his demise.
When India's turn finally came to respond, more woe followed. The first blow came in extraordinary fashion as Sadagoppan Ramesh (2) was run out in the third over attempting a fourth run from a shot played by opening partner Devang Gandhi through mid off from Glenn McGrath's bowling. Having leisurely run each of the first three, Ramesh was caught short by a freak direct hit by Greg Blewett, who had pursued the ball toward the extraordinarily long straight boundary at the River Torrens end of this ground. Worse was to follow as Gandhi (4) himself fended nervously at a short McGrath delivery in the fifth over of the innings, succeeding only in directing the ball into the waiting hands of Michael Kasprowicz at short backward square leg.
While they continued to be pinned down by some brilliant bowling from McGrath (2/11) and Warne (1/43) throughout the remainder of the day, it was then that India's own stars took to the batting stage. The elegant VVS Laxman (41) and Rahul Dravid (35) were the first to answer what had, at that point, become a deafening call for some steadfast resistance with a stylish liaison of 81 runs that threatened to substantially frustrate the Australians. Both executed a classical mixture of defence and attack and alternated between the back and front foot as they gradually wore down a lineup suddenly prone to operating more erratically than normal. Paceman Kasprowicz's display was reflective of the Australians' fleeting loss of focus, 15 runs coming from his first over and a profligate eleven no balls delivered in his eight overs in total.
Although the Indian fightback suffered bad lapses when Laxman ultimately slashed McGrath's first ball of a sublime second spell into the gully and Dravid inside edged a Warne delivery to short leg, the key figures of Sachin Tendulkar (12* in 89 patient minutes) and Saurav Ganguly (also 12*) then attempted to continue the act of consolidation. McGrath presented them with few opportunities to score in an eight over burst which netted him the extraordinary figures of 1/1 but they survived and will duly be there again in the morning to try to resist the almost indefatigable Australians through what might conceivably represent the Test's most crucial phase of all.