December 13, 1999

Australians punish wilting Indians

Other than for one session at its very outset, this first Test between Australia and India here at the Adelaide Oval has been characterised by the home team's indomitable capacity to wear down its opponent. And, aside from the odd moment of anxiety and one notable individual failure, there was little disruption to the trend on day four. Indeed, if anything, there was an acceleration as India plummeted headlong toward disaster, yet another controversial Sachin Tendulkar (0) dismissal featuring as they plunged to 76 for five by stumps in their second innings in an already grave looking bid to avert defeat.

Under sparkling blue skies, the Australians nonetheless did start tentatively today in a pre-lunch session that came to be dominated far more by incessant appealing from the Indian bowlers than by convincing strokeplay. The tone was set on the very first ball of the day when a nervous-looking Mark Waugh (8) survived a beseeching lbw appeal from Anil Kumble and was reinforced as they scored just 51 runs in the first two hours of play.

Around Waugh's fifth successive dismissal for a single figure score (one which left his shaky Test berth hanging gravely in the balance), and his brother Steve's departure for five, the Australians were indeed well contained by some tight Indian bowling and fine ground fielding during that phase. Following yet another scratchy innings, the former perished when he fiddled at an Ajit Agarkar outswinger and edged a low catch to VVS Laxman at second slip. That setback ensured that the New South Welshman, now a veteran of 98 Tests, has tallied a mere 18 runs in those last five innings. Consequently the calls for the inclusion of either Darren Lehmann or Andrew Symonds in his place will become ever more deafening in the lead-up to the Second Test of this series in Melbourne in two weeks' time.

But once the shackles were broken shortly after the twins' respective exits, the same insatiable will to win that has seen Australia triumph in each of its last four Tests became spectacularly evident again. Whilst they were never entirely assured, Greg Blewett (88), Adam Gilchrist (43) and Ricky Ponting (21) each capitalised sufficiently on the opportunities for easy runs permitted them by an Indian team increasingly looking to play defensively. Their efforts ultimately led to a declaration 25 minutes into the final session of the day, Gilchrist's dismissal bringing a cessation to the innings with the score at 239 for eight and setting India a massive victory target of 396. More to the point, it consigned the visitors to the ardour of having to survive a little under four sessions to clinch a draw.

If India's position was accordingly not disastrous enough, it was then that it began to unravel even more horribly as the Australians moved in on their prey with ravenous intent. In the space of the first nine deliveries of the innings, Devang Gandhi (0) and VVS Laxman (0) were comprehensively undone by deliveries from Glenn McGrath and Damien Fleming. Rahul Dravid (6) was gloriously beaten not long after by a sharply spinning Shane Warne leg break which brushed his glove on the way through to Gilchrist. And the tourists' rapidly sagging spirits were then completely crushed by another dubious decision from umpire Daryl Harper. This came a mere 45 minutes into the innings when a short McGrath delivery which stayed much lower than expected struck the crouching Indian captain on the shoulder and evinced Harper to rule against the only man who probably had any capacity at all to save the tourists' cause.