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Ben Hilfenhaus, the most skilled of the Australian bowlers, out-thought the most destructive batsman in world cricket
Sidharth Monga at the Chinnaswamy Stadium
October 10, 2010
It was a high. You were not sure how long it would last, but that actually was the thrill of it. As it turned out, it lasted for just 28 balls, but those 28 balls were worth remembering - both for Virender Sehwag's brilliance and Australia's acumen to get him out - as much as Marcus North's career-saving century or Sachin Tendulkar's serene saunter past 14,000 runs to stabilise India.
The near full-house - and that is a scheduling lesson for the BCCI who gives Tests to venues that don't really care about them - had seen and appreciated the visitors work hard for two sessions to get runs on board when all they actually came to see was Sehwag bat.
They had been patient, and cheered the Aussies. There was a sense of making up for Saturday when they booed every batsman that came out. When the Australian innings finally ended, they threw the niceties out and were ready for some real cheering. But there were only a few minutes to the tea break, and if hell would break loose, it would do so only after 20 minutes.
Sehwag came out to a typical Sehwag field. Square third man, deep point, fine leg, short leg, leg gully. It would all be short, mixed with the odd sucker ball. Sehwag upper-cut the first ball he faced, but deliberately in front of deep point. The crowd, it will be an understatement to say, went wild.
If Australia had the plan, Sehwag had the counters. He has done that to Kumar Sangakkara and Graeme Smith again and again over the last year, and was ready to do it to Ricky Ponting too.
What summed up Sehwag was neither an individual shot nor the strike-rate. It was the reaction on the faces of gully, slip and short leg when he upper-cut Mitchell Johnson. Michael Hussey at gully and Simon Katich at short leg were like men who were watching a prey enter the trap. Hussey jumped back expectantly, looking at the third man, only to see it sail over. Katich was sure that that was the wicket, but was left with an "aah" on his face. The prey had not only slipped away, he was creating havoc. Shane Watson at slip, perhaps more perceptive of Sehwag's methods than others, just laughed.
Johnson pitched up later, and Sehwag punched him through the covers. Peter George, the debutant, was then asked to bowl his first over to Sehwag of all the people. Twice in first over he was driven between the non-striker and mid-on. As the noise in the stands became louder and louder, the conferences between captain and bowler lasted longer and longer.
The decisive one was between Ricky Ponting and Ben Hilfenhaus, the most skilled of the Aussie bowlers. In his four earlier overs, he had managed just five deliveries at Sehwag. Now he had possibly a full over to work at Sehwag. There was a new plan here. There would be square legs in the circle, and another one in the deep. More accurate, more aggressive short deliveries would be bowled. And in Mohali he showed he has a mean bouncer to go with his outswing and occasional cutters.
|If this was going to be short, Sehwag was going to pull it in front of square: he was going to be ready deep in the crease. Sure enough the ball was short, but it was the slower bouncer, and Sehwag ended up dragging the pull straight into the lap of the man waiting in the deep|
The first one was so accurate it got Sehwag in the helmet. A hush fell on the ground. It sounded like a boo, but it like the nasty ones of yesterday. Hilfenhaus would have liked it. Nasser Hussain, one of the more successful captains in India, has spoken about the importance of silencing the indian crowds. It was perhaps that silence that let Hilfenhaus think more clearly.
If this was going to be short, Sehwag was going to pull it in front of square: he was going to be ready deep in the crease. Sure enough the ball was short, but it was the slower bouncer, and Sehwag ended up dragging the pull straight into the lap of the man waiting in the deep. For a moment, only Hilfenhaus could be heard in a stadium holding at least 30,000 people. He deserved to be. He had out-thought the most destructive batsman in cricket today.
Australia had jolted everybody out of the Sehwag high. Not for the first time in the series, a team had come back with the other threatening to dominate. Had Sehwag stayed for much longer than those 28 balls, India would have come back holding the advantage. Had Sehwag not got off to that start, Australia's energies would have been completely different.
A little spell of play where Australia planned to trap Sehwag, who broke free, but was dismissed before he could cause irreversible damage, summed up the series beautifully. Seven days of the series have been over, and neither side can claim it dominated the other by the end of any of those days.
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