India v Australia, 2nd test, Mohali, 5th day October 21, 2008

India's winning habit

Cricinfo staff
The second Test at Mohali was a rare happening as the Australians were toyed around and thoroughly dominated by India
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Fittingly the defeat in the second Test has been inflicted by India, who have stood up to Australia, competed against them more consistently than any other team in the past decade © Getty Images
 

Trucks in the Punjab are famous for the one-line messages they carry. One of the typically earthy ones is, "Vekhi ja, par chedi na [Keep watching my truck, but don't fiddle around]." For four days and a bit in Mohali, India were the runaway truck that Australia could only watch and do nothing about.

It is a rare happening: When was the last time a team toyed around with Australia? When was the last time Australia were so dominated? One has to go back more than 10 years, to the same opposition and country, to Eden Gardens 1997-98. So long ago that only five players, on both sides, from that Test played in this match. Between Eden Gardens and Mohali, Australia played 117 matches, losing 15, without being so completely outplayed even once.

What would be more satisfactory for India, though, is that this win didn't come on a crumbling dustbowl; home advantage counted for nought this time. It was a good batting track, looking like any Australian pitch, with a little less bounce, on the first day. Contrast this with Eden Gardens 1998, when India played with three spinners, and Sourav Ganguly opened the bowling. Over the last five days, though, and on the same pitch, the ball would lose all potency the moment it was handled by Australian bowlers.

To be fair to the Australians, this isn't the same team that dominated the world over the last decade. Some of the best players in that side - Shane Warne, Adam Gilchrist, Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer - have gone. Also, they embarked on this tour - possibly their toughest assignment of recent times - without Andrew Symonds; discipline problem or not, it's a mistake they may yet come to regret. Even so, it would take a special effort to put the boot in, simply because of their winning habit and the belief that they can pull themselves out of any kind of strife.

 
 
"Especially at one time in the first innings, they [Australia] were 22 from 13 overs. I said to Rahul [Dravid], 'Look at the board, we won't see that again'"Mahendra Singh Dhoni
 

It's perhaps fitting that this defeat has been inflicted by India, who have stood up to Australia, competed against them more consistently than any other team in the past decade. And India are the only team who constantly threaten to outskill them: once it was their mysterious spin bowling and imperious batting, here the biggest difference between the teams was the quality of the pace bowling.

While Australia struggled for any disconcerting movement, the Indian bowlers got prodigious swing, both conventional and reverse. A TV split-screen visual of the six-over-old ball being used by both the teams told a story. While the one Australia used was scuffed up all over, the one India used had two markedly different sides, shiny and rough. That meant the ball started reversing as early as in the ninth over at times, a sensational phenomenon. And since it's still hard and new that early, as MS Dhoni suggested, it was all the more difficult to face. "The ball [from Ishant Sharma] that got me would get me 95 times out of 100," Ricky Ponting confessed.

The batsmen and the spinners did their job too. Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag gave India two fiery starts, putting Australia on the back foot right away. The middle order revived them after a brief blip. Amit Mishra's debut was phenomenal, a throwback to the old days of classical legspin bowling. And Harbhajan Singh fast-tracked Australia to their demise in the second innings.

Right from the toss, India did little wrong. The one potentially distracting period was when Tendulkar moved towards his record but India regrouped well. They were aggressive throughout, and there wasn't a single player in the side they needed to hide. You could say they had nine potential Man-of-the-Match winners, something we rarely see with the Indian team. Perth, earlier this year, was a team performance, but not nearly as destructive.


Once it was India's mysterious spin bowling and imperious batting that undid opponents, here the biggest difference between the teams was the quality of the pace bowling © Getty Images
 

It can be argued the destruction started even before the toss. Perhaps Zaheer Khan had sensed in Bangalore that this Australian team could do with some dominating. The debate over who won the moral victory in Bangalore can continue but it's clear who gained more from that result.

Two moments summed up the match for India and Australia. One of them came early on the second day. India had contrived to keep Australia in the game on day one, even though the latter chased leather throughout the day. At 326 for 6, India were still capable of being bundled out for a below-par total. In walked Dhoni, and he got a bouncer first-up. He hooked that for four, then hit another for a six, and "the most defensive side in a long time" was being taken to the cleaners.

Then, on the fourth morning, India played Australia at their own game, applying ruthlessness and urgency - and clarity of thought - in their approach to setting the target, and giving themselves close to 130 overs to bowl out a side low on confidence. And when Matthew Hayden tried to intimidate the bowlers, they didn't take a step back. The inevitable soon happened and, as it usually happens in India, it happened too fast once it started.

Naturally Dhoni was pleased with his team's effort. "I've never seen anything like that," he said. "Especially at one time in the first innings, they were 22 from 13 overs. I said to Rahul [Dravid], 'Look at the board, we won't see that again.'"

The way this Indian team is playing, don't bet on it.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • vijit.khanna on October 22, 2008, 19:26 GMT

    India under Dhoni seem to display their winning traits in a fashion that they somehow lacked a bit in the 1st test. A deserving win with each member of the team chipping in. It was really commendable of Mishra to taker a fiver in his debut match. Unfair on him, that Kumble will be replacing him in the squad in the next match. But we have a ready replacement for Kumble after he choses to put down his papers the Dada way!! Sincerely hope that the daunting task of defeating India comprehensively must still be haunting Ponting.

  • mitwa4u2000 on October 22, 2008, 10:10 GMT

    what a great performance by indian cricket team that i have never ever seen. that was really great victory for india. All players had really contributed fantastic. Mostly our bowlers, they had really bowed well and as i saw last test match we can say that our batting,fielding and bowling performance have been improved. And one more thing is that our selectors had selected perfact team. And as we know that next test going to be played in "kotla" so i think kumble must be in the team because his perfoamence at that ground is outstanding. I think he got aroun 50 wickets only in 6 test match and we cannot ignore that. And after this tournament Saurav going to take retirement but i think he should not. in last test he proved himself and proved that he is still capable for test match. If seniors will think for retirement then i dont think there is another players who can replace them. Only yuvraj and rohit sharma are fit for test. so our senior players should play next 2 to 3 years.

  • RSG476 on October 22, 2008, 9:28 GMT

    I just hope that a sense of balance is shown post a major loss for India (when it happens). I also hope that Kumble gets the respect he richly deserves - we seem to have really short term memories. It is good to see Dhoni finally having a big score against opposition that matters. Just wonder how these articles will cope when he has a bad time. Just like the Indian cricket team, I think the sports media is at a crossroads - do they mimic some of the ficklemindedness of Indian fans, do they carry out other people's agendas (remember Chappell and the negative deluge on Ganguly), do they get into a media war amongst themselves to drive their business via selected favourites(witness the impact of agents). Would be interesting to see how this plays out

  • goutham.chakravarthi on October 22, 2008, 9:10 GMT

    Since 1995 when Australia became the unofficial Worl Champions they have ruled the world over but India. India has a split record with Australia since then (M:24 W:9 L:9 D:6). But for that unholy game at the SCG, we would be having a winning record against the most dominant side of the era, which, no team managed agaist the domineering West Indies sides of the 80s. Come the end of the series, we are sure to have a winning record against the Aussies and that will 'officially' signal the change of hands of official power on the field like it did when Australia beat the West Indies in 1995.

  • Cricketspirit on October 22, 2008, 9:06 GMT

    Please don't underestimate Kumble Australians have played Kumble a lot more and a good spinner is different by great by their longevity.Australians would have dissected kumble's each and every ball in every possible angle over the years.Many spinners have had a explosive entry and retired in obscurity because after a while people get used to them.As far as i can remember kumble has been exceptional when ever he played in India.I'm pretty sure come next test he will have a few tricks up his sleeve he is the best spinner India ever produced.

  • faizcricketfan on October 22, 2008, 7:58 GMT

    No doubt that it was a brilliant performance by India, but Team India will now have to build up on this. They have just won a test and series is yet to be won. They will have to perform even better the next time around because knowing the Australians, they will come back hard and will be full of vengeance. Indian selectors should also watch closely becasue the same thing can happen to India as well. Once the Fab 5 retire Indian selectors will have to look for adequate placements who can continue the good job.....

  • expiring_frog on October 22, 2008, 7:54 GMT

    A minor quibble: five, not four, players from this match played at the Eden Gardens in 1998: Laxman, Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly and Ponting. Kumble, of course, would have been the sixth if he had not been injured.

  • Howie_CrowEater on October 22, 2008, 6:59 GMT

    There is now alot of talk about the Australian selections in this series. I think that all the players that are there deserve to be there and definately deserve to have a go. Cameron White's inclusion would have been justified if he had taken 2 more wickets and made 50 more runs, but that didn't happen and now he is likely to go. If he was retained I wouldn't blame them either, a spinning pitch coming up may help him (but i doubt it). This is not Australia's best team but Australia is supposed to have the deepest of pool of talent in the world. We should be able to produce good quality players all the time. I'm positive the standard will get better from here. India should be very proud, it is a rare sight to see a full team effort from any country in test match cricket. I'm sure India will not forget this match in a hurry.

  • pragmatist on October 22, 2008, 5:40 GMT

    Great win but India - don't be complacent and be warned! Look what happens when your senior players go on for too long and all retire at once: Warne, Langer, Gilchrist etc. Kumble, Ganguly, Laxman, Tendulkar, Dravid are all coming to the end of their careers - India needs to be prepared for the future and start building some new stars now.

  • Anicha on October 22, 2008, 5:20 GMT

    Yes,i have read all the comments. But, all of you have forgotten to mention about the selectors. I mean now-a-days cricket teams are being made by our great selectors. So, it is there turn, who will choose their candidates. Now we have good batsman and bowlers too. If selectors are not keen to note the individuals performances and i am sure it will reflect in the coming test and onedays too. Without a good team spirit, no game will give a positve result. Yes, the present Indian team does have the spirit and i hope they will show the continuity in the coming years. Hope for the best of best to come from all our youngsters.

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