Ponting counters Indian dominance, again
The Australians wouldn't exactly have been craving it, but a tour to India is not quite complete if you haven't experienced the home side getting on a roll. That's when the Indians go mad. The ball starts turning and jumping, or reversing, the fielders start diving and throwing accurately, faltering keepers don't let anything through, thousands of people appeal along with the 11 on the field. In that crazy atmosphere, that mad dance, that mayhem, the opposition melts. As though they are caught in the headlights and have nowhere to go.
It was something South Africa faced at Eden Gardens earlier this year. South Africa had reached 218 for 1 in 58 overs but they also lost eight wickets for 53. Harbhajan Singh took three in two overs, VVS Laxman ran backwards to take a catch, three from their middle order got themselves out, and Zaheer Khan got one with a pick-up-and-throw.
Australia haven't experienced that kind of roll on this tour. They have only been at the receiving ends of two semi-rolls, in the second innings of both the Tests. In the second of those, today, credit should go to Ricky Ponting for not freezing when wickets were falling around him, and not letting India develop it into a full-fledged roll.
That India started to get on one came as a bit of a surprise. Following Sachin Tendulkar's dismissal for 214, an innings that put India into a position from where they could bat Australia out, India ambled without any direction into the second session. MS Dhoni and the tail looked to neither preserve wickets to waste enough time nor hit out and go for a win.
The immediate result was a collapse of 5 for 9, and it was followed by an average bowling start. As Shane Watson and Simon Katich added 58 without trouble, it seemed Australia would have to make an adventurous declaration on the fourth morning to make something out of this situation.
Suddenly Pragyan Ojha produced an accurate arm ball. Suddenly Harbhajan got one to bounce and turn. Suddenly the crowd was woken from up from a collective power nap. The whole Chinnaswamy Stadium appealed almost every ball.
Dhoni, in ordinary form behind the stumps so far, held on to a sharp catch. He then followed to show the effectiveness of his newly acquired habit. When he is keeping to the spinners nowadays, he has zero follow-through. And every time he collects the ball, he whips the bails off. That might have seemed a bit unnecessary to some, but when - post routine - he saw Michael Clarke stranded on the line, sucked there by an offbreak, he erupted in joy.
Three wickets had fallen in six overs, and India were in their mad dance now. Cheteshwar Pujara hardly let anything go past his close-in positions, although nothing carried to him. Suresh Raina often made one-handed pick-ups-and-throws. The umpires were under pressure with extremely close shouts in almost every over.
Between this semi-roll and roll, though, stood Ponting, with his third score in the 70s out of four innings. He batted with resolve, scored off anything half loose, and managed to get the fielders out of his face. He seemed to be on his way to playing his most important innings in India, but then Zaheer intervened. His third solid innings on the tour may have ended in disappointment, but Ponting has given Australia something to bowl at.
India, though, will be pleased that Zaheer and Sreesanth came back the way they did. That all four bowlers, for the first time in the series, worked together as a unit would have pleased them the most. That the pitch still hadn't quite become a horror to bat on. Sachin Tendulkar later credited the bowlers for coming back from the early wobble, but wasn't taking anything for granted.
"It's going to be a big day for us tomorrow," he said. "The Test match is at a critical stage. It's all about how we deal with pressure and apply ourselves.
"We don't want to take anything for granted. It's going to be exciting and that's what I can say. It's going to be a wonderful day."
Wonderful day indeed, but also the last of the "series".
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo