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There's been a similarity to tactics and outcomes right through this series. The first day in Delhi was no different, but will the remainder of this Test also conform?
March 22, 2013
Glorious uncertainties, please shut the door as you leave. The 2013 India-Australia series is being played for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy of the Predictive Path.
On the first day of the final Test at the Feroz Shah Kotla, it didn't matter who was in charge, who was playing, and who had done their homework or not. Australia won the toss, Australia batted and Australia had a top-order collapse that left them on 136 for 7.
David Warner slashes before the ground staff have had their first cup of relaxing tea. R Ashwin comes on in the ninth over, bowls a batsman around his legs on the sweep. Ravindra Jadeja has the Australian captain stumped after he rushed out of his crease. The tail holds firm for a few hours; there is no sign of Bhuvneshwar Kumar until the new ball. Been there, done that, happy to do that again.
No wonder Mitchell Johnson was left standing at his crease after having being bowled. It was more than just the carrom ball stuff. Johnson probably imagined he was caught in a time warp.
Australia end on 231 for 8, their lower order having gathered shreds of collective pride as they left the field on day one.
India treads the predictive path with metronomic foreboding, their captain MS Dhoni in his element, and with complete confidence because this is the environment ideally suited for him to be captaining from recent memory. If it ain't been rattled, never mind broken, he sure ain't fixing it.
Australia had gone in to lunch on 94 for 2. Ed Cowan and Shane Watson's determination to bat on was so fierce that their jaws could be seen clenched and their gritting of teeth heard even 90 yards away in the stands. After the break, Dhoni produced his most popular partnership-breaking trick.
In the course of an hour, he made four rapid bowling changes and was left with four wickets in his pocket. He shuffled his bowlers like a gambler does a pack of cards before picking out the trumps.
Ashwin bowled the first over after lunch and his line altered slightly to middle and leg, inviting on-side play, trying to turn Cowan square and disoriented against the spin. It took three eventful overs from Ashwin and Cowan, who had spent more than two hours sweating bullets, finally went for it. His sweep missed the line of the ball, which rattled on to hit the stumps. As he left, he looked ready to drive his bat into the ground in misery.
Two overs later, with Steven Smith at the crease, Ashwin was set aside and Ravindra Jadeja brought on for the first time, in the 37th over of the innings. On a pitch that was putting on quite a performance, who knows what Jadeja's tightly contained bowling could have done earlier.
He bowled seven balls at Watson, pushing him onto the back foot, inviting circumspect defence and no runs. Captain of Australia one Test match after being benched, Watson would have no more defending. He jumped out at Jadeja, and as it has done all series, the predictive path continued. Somewhere up in the dressing room, Clarke had no doubt closed his eyes. The ball turned and zipped past Watson's advancing bat and the stumping was completed.
The arrival of left-hand batsman Mathew Wade had Dhoni removing Jadeja from the attack, despite figures of 2-0-5-1, and bringing back Ashwin. Dhoni loves bowling offspinners to left-handers and it worked for the Indians as Wade was given caught at bat-pad on the fifth ball. From a distance, Wade's detachment from the appeal was the only sign that perhaps he had not hit it. Television showed that he had not.
The departure of Wade marked the departure of Ashwin, after a single over, Dhoni's spinning around the Indian bowling certainly made the Australian batsmen dizzy. Jadeja returned and within three overs had the attacking Glenn Maxwell caught heaving to Ishant at mid-on. Naturally, when the left-hand Mitchell Johnson turned up, so did Ashwin. Then came the mind-altering carrom ball that so stunned Johnson, who thought he'd been stumped when he'd actually been bowled.
There is, however, an element that could add a kink to the predictive path. It lies in what the Kotla pitch is going to do on the weekend, when crowds are expected to start filling in because India are batting. Before play began it looked like a piece of parched earth that had been through 180 overs of batting. When play did begin, it acted like an irritated snake whose hibernation was being repeatedly interrupted. It leapt at Philips Hughes' helmet, bit at Smith's ankles and had choked the Australian top order before the tailenders held together.
This is not going to be a high-scoring game, there's an excellent chance it could end in four days. On the weekend we will know if the predictive nature of the Border-Gavaskar trophy will abruptly end here.
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