April 1, 2001

Australians were clueless against Tendulkar's improvisation

Tendulkar vs Australia would be the appropriate label to describe the mismatch at Indore. The way the Aussies are playing, it would seem that they are physically drained out and they are not mentally focussed as well. However things had looked much brighter for the visitors after their victory at Pune in the second one-dayer. There I was simply unable to give the benefit of doubt to the Indian camp that any game plan was being followed.

Tendulkar's hastiness to get going at Pune indicated there was no attempt to impress upon him that the team's success depended largely on his staying at the wicket. The run out fiascos only served to highlight the pressure imposed by the fielding side. The unseemly exchanges of words and gestures to indicate who was at fault also did not suggest that all is well within the team as they would like the outside world to believe. Nevertheless 249 runs was a good score to defend given the condition of the wicket, but the Australians just eased through. I always felt that if they played our spinners so well on a wicket which offered considerable assistance, they should handle spin comfortably on a good wicket too.

But the story in Indore was totally different. Steve Waugh elected to field after winning the toss, which baffled me. Waugh should assess his team strength more accurately. With only McGrath and Fleming as frontline bowlers, the Indians will hardly be fazed by the back up at his command. Under such circumstances one should take the advantage of winning the toss and score 260 + runs to enjoy the psychological advantage, which is where he faltered.

In the end, 300 was a huge target without Mark Waugh. Tendulkar didn't take off in his usual blistering fashion but paced himself to a nicety. Having watched Tendulkar, I personally feel that only a bowler who can move the ball in off the seam can trouble him. One saw in the match how he sometimes tried to drive the ball on the front foot and got an inside edge. In the first two matches, Tendulkar's anxiety to establish an early dominance forced errors from him. He seems to pick a bowler to attack, usually the frontline bowler of the opposing team. Last time it was Shane Warne, this time he is intent on training his sights on McGrath.

The Australians had no clue how to handle Tendulkar as he crossed the milestone of 10,000 runs. This man has one of the sharpest cricketing brains; or else it is impossible to accumulate runs on such a scale. His improvisation was out of this world. The manner in which he was stepping across to guide for boundaries to deep fine leg frustrated the Aussie game plan of focusing on an off stump line. As long as Tendulkar is around, the Indian team looks unbeatable on easy paced wickets at home.

Despite their inability to restrain Tendulkar, if the Aussies had only batted sensibly and saw through Harbhajan Singh's spell of 10 overs, they had every chance of running the Indians close. Unlike Pune, this wicket was more favourable for batting, except that it was rather slow paced, which was to India's liking, since it requires an extra effort to hit slow medium pace bowlers out of the attack. In the process, the Aussie batsmen made mistakes. On such an easy paced pitch, you have to wait for the ball to come but instead the batsmen were playing their shots too early, the prime example being Ricky Ponting.

Srinath and Harbhajan bowled well and Agarkar reaped the harvest of their efforts. Harbhajan bowled a good line, aiming at an imaginary fourth stump which was too close to the body for comfort as Michael Bevan found. But by no means was he unplayable. The only unplayable delivery is the one that spins wide across the bat from a good length. But as we have seen Harbhajan is not a big spinner of the ball.

Like Tendulkar for India, Mark Waugh is a pivotal member of this Australian side. Indeed the series would have been more interesting and more closely fought without Tendulkar and Mark Waugh, unlike the current scenario where all three games have been fairly one-sided. I also fail to understand the logic of the rotation policy introduced by Australia, which saw Matthew Hayden being confined to the bench. You rotate players of equal strength but I don't see the Australian replacements to be of a comparitive standard.

Finally, let me note that in conditions like these, much different from what the Australians are accustomed to, the accent has to be on touch and skill. Rather than relying on power, the two operating words are placement and timing. Unless they appreciate these aspects, India will be on top in the rest of the matches as well.