December 12, 1999

Australians relentless in tightening the grip

A continuation of Shane Warne's fine individual form in the match, two controversial decisions by Umpire Daryl Harper, and some generally unremarkable batting from the tourists have all combined to consign India to a troubled state after the third day of the First Test against Australia here at the Adelaide Oval. Following another relentlessly tough day of cricket, the Indians face an overall deficit of 227 runs; Australia positioned at a scoreline of 71 for two in its second innings.

For the second successive day, the principal star of proceedings today was Australian leg spinner Shane Warne. Although India is a nation against which he has generally struggled at Test level, the Victorian showed no signs of being out of his depth at all today in this particular company as his teasing accuracy and control forced most of the batsmen to whom he bowled into a defensive mould. Closing in on Dennis Lillee's record for the most number of wickets ever taken by an Australian in Tests all the while (he is now just eight short of equalling Lillee's mark of 355), he returned the figures of 4/92 in a due tribute to how intelligently varied his flight, his line and his pace. So efficiently did he bowl, in fact, that it looked very likely for a long period that he would ultimately be able to claim his first ever five wicket haul in an innings of an Adelaide Test.

Possibly the highlight of Warne's day came in the middle of the post-lunch session when he bowled MSK Prasad (14) with a classically prodigious leg break. He had been threatening to make that particular incision for some time, and was duly ecstatic when he pitched a delivery well outside the right hander's leg stump and spun it back in stunning fashion to bowl a completely confounded Prasad around his legs. And ranking not far behind it in terms of spectacle - and certainly ahead of it in effect - was his dismissal of Saurav Ganguly (60). After an innings in which he had executed very few false shots, the lithe left hander advanced down the pitch shortly after lunch, only to be beaten by a ball which, having been deliberately directed well outside off stump on a flat fast trajectory, stayed low, travelled under his defensive bat and presented Adam Gilchrist with a gleefully accepted stumping opportunity.

Nevertheless, for the first 90 minutes of the day, the complexion of proceedings had looked entirely different. For this was the period during which India's two key figures with the bat, Sachin Tendulkar (61) and Ganguly himself combined brilliantly to frustrate the home team. In stark contrast to some dull, overcast weather at the Oval through the early morning, the duo constructed a lucent display. A mixture of front and back foot strokes were in evidence as they vented their considerable skills upon anything even vaguely erring in either line or length. Two stunning shots in succession from Tendulkar from the bowling of Michael Kasprowicz just after the first drinks break of the day - one an imperiously directed shot along the ground to the backward square leg fence and the other an audacious cover drive - were probably the enduring highlights, but their partnership of 108 for the fifth wicket was littered with superb strokeplay throughout.

In fact, it was only when Harper chose, 30 minutes before lunch, to uphold an appeal for a bat pad catch against Tendulkar that the Australians truly began to reassert their dominance in the game. Prior to Harper's decision - which came when the Indian captain tried to defend a fast, flat delivery from Warne down the leg side - the visitors had looked to be upon the verge of hauling themselves back into a competitive position in the Test. It was a hard call for the local umpire, and exhaustive replays neither seemed to prove or disprove the validity of his verdict that the ball had attracted the barest of inside edges. Tendulkar looked to be attempting to simply prod the ball into the leg side field before it crashed into his pad and flew straight to Justin Langer at short leg. The Australians were convinced that they had their man but Tendulkar himself remained unmoved until Harper's finger was raised. Together with another call by the same umpire to deny a convincing Ajit Agarkar lbw shout against Justin Langer before he had scored and with the Australians at 1/1 the second time around, it will likely prove a decision that will be debated for some time. Unfortunately, it also shapes as one that may have significant ramifications in the match.

This reality continued to be borne out after the Indians were eventually dismissed for 285. Indeed, although little conviction was evident in the Australian batting through the early stages of their second innings, the Indians remained pinned to the ropes for the rest of the day. They were able to induce Michael Slater (0) to fish at a Javagal Srinath leg cutter and afford Ganguly the chance to take an excellent catch moving to his left at first slip; to encourage Greg Blewett to play and miss repeatedly; and to force Langer (38) to tickle a catch to short leg off Anil Kumble in the very shadow of stumps but they were unable to translate this into the regular flow of wickets they so desperately craved.