Australia in India 2008-09 November 11, 2008

Dhoni and Gambhir show the way

After what was India's most dominant performance against Australia since the 1998 series at home, Cricinfo rates the performance of the Indian players


Gautam Gambhir finished as the leading run-getter in the series © AFP
 

Mahendra Singh Dhoni - 9
Mahendra Singh Dhoni led India in both their victories in this series. He infused energy into India's approach with creative field placements in Mohali and displayed ruthlessness in Nagpur by choking Australia's run-flow with a restrictive eight-one offside field. He was criticised severely for his unattractive tactics but didn't care a jot. Heading into a tense final day, Dhoni stayed calm even when Hayden briefly threatened to destroy India's best-laid plans. Dhoni also made invaluable contributions with the bat. In Mohali, he batted aggressively and his two half-centuries helped India gain time. In Nagpur his 56 in the first innings was part of a 119-run stand with Ganguly and his 55 in the second rescued India from 166 for 6 and helped take the target out of Australia's reach.

Gautam Gambhir - 9
Australia possessed a fast-bowling attack that was inexperienced in Indian conditions and Gautam Gambhir took advantage of it. His form was consistently excellent and he shared two half-century partnerships and one century stand with Virender Sehwag. He had a vital role in India winning the Mohali Test, scoring 67 in the first innings and 104 in the second. His attacking approach was best captured by the shot with which he brought up his first century in India: a jump down the track against Shane Watson, followed by a savage pull into the stands at wide long-on. He followed that performance with a maiden double-century in Delhi, an innings which helped India eliminate the possibility of Australia winning the Test. A blot, however, was Gambhir's altercation with Watson which resulted in a one-Test ban. But despite playing only three Tests, Gambhir was still the top-scorer of the series with 463 runs at average of 77.

Ishant Sharma - 8.5
Ishant Sharma was the first Indian fast bowler to win a Player-of-the-Series award at home since Kapil Dev in 1983. He took 15 wickets at an average of 27 and struck significant blows in every innings apart from the first in Delhi. Ishant is India's most-improved bowler over the last year and he displayed the ability to adapt on unresponsive pitches. He surprised Australia's batsmen with a surprise slower delivery on the sluggish surface at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, and bowled cross seam in order to get the ball to reverse early in Mohali. He broke Australia's second innings in that match by dismissing Ricky Ponting and Shane Watson during a terrific spell of reverse-swing bowling.

Sachin Tendulkar - 8.5
Sachin Tendulkar began the series on the verge of becoming the highest run-scorer in Test cricket and, during the course of achieving the landmark, he made important contributions when his team was vulnerable. His gritty 49 in the final innings in Bangalore helped India bat out the final day to save the Test; his 88 in Mohali came after three wickets had fallen for 17 runs; his 68 in Delhi helped India recover from 27 for 2; and his 109 in Nagpur consolidated the innings after a top-order wobble. He was as reliable as ever in the middle-order and was the second highest run-scorer of the series with 396 runs at an average of 57.

Virender Sehwag - 8
Virender Sehwag usually scores one big hundred in a series but he missed out this time, scoring three half-centuries in his tally of 351 runs. Sehwag's performance after the first three Tests was average: he had either got out early or failed to convert a start, with the exception of a second-innings 90 in Mohali. His biggest challenge was in Nagpur when India were without Gambhir. Sehwag responded superbly, scoring 66 and 92 at rapid pace, contributing to his overall strike-rate of 82 in the series. He was also India's fifth bowler, bowling 82 overs in the series, and took his first five-wicket haul in Delhi.

Sourav Ganguly - 7.5
Ganguly ended his career on a high. He had announced that this series would be his last before the first Test in Bangalore and went on to score 324 runs at 54, far higher than his pre-series average of 32 against Australia. He scored at a steady clip and helped India build formidable first-innings totals in both their victories, scoring 102 out of India's 469 in Mohali, and 85 out of 441 in Nagpur.


Ishant Sharma was the first Indian fast bowler to be win a Man-of-the-Series award at home since Kapil Dev in 1983 © AFP
 

Harbhajan Singh - 7.5
Harbhajan Singh was the joint highest wicket-taker with 15 at 29 apiece but his most valuable contributions came with the bat when Australia were poised to take grip of two Test matches. In Bangalore, India were trailing by 198 runs in the first innings with three wickets in hand when Harbhajan scored a half-century to help whittle Australia's lead to below a hundred. In Nagpur, India had lost six wickets for 50 runs and were in danger of setting Australia a below-par target; Harbhajan scored another half-century - his fourth against Australia - in a 108-run stand with Dhoni which helped secure the Border-Gavaskar trophy. He followed that up with 4 for 64 in the final innings.

VVS Laxman - 7.5
VVS Laxman begin the series with a duck in Bangalore but his 42 off 142 deliveries in the second helped India save the Test. He didn't play a major role in India's victory in Mohali but scored an unbeaten 200 in the first innings at the Feroz Shah Kotla and followed it up with 59 in the second. Laxman played his 100th Test in Nagpur and scored a half-century to help India recover after losing three wickets quickly in the first innings. He averaged 95.25 at the end of the series.

Zaheer Khan - 7
Zaheer Khan's stats aren't impressive - 11 wickets costing 43 apiece - but he ensured that Australia lost an early wicket by dismissing Hayden cheaply in the first three innings of the series. He completed his first five-wicket haul in India by mopping up Australia's tail in the first innings in Bangalore and was Harbhajan's partner during that vital rearguard partnership, contributing 57 runs to India's bid to save the first Test. In Mohali, Zaheer executed Australia's tail on the final day in a breathtaking spell of swing bowling but his form dipped in Delhi where he took no wickets. He was wayward at the start of the decisive Nagpur Test too but recovered on the third morning and bowled long spells with precision to back up the eight-one strategy.

Amit Mishra - 7
Amit Mishra would not have played in this series were it not for Anil Kumble's shoulder injury. Mishra grabbed his opportunity and took a five-for in the first innings and seven overall on debut in Mohali. His performance prompted a raging debate over whether he should make way for Kumble in Delhi. As it turned out Harbhajan missed the third Test but Mishra had a poor game, taking 2 for 146. Dhoni didn't seem to have much confidence in the legspinner in Nagpur and brought him into the attack late in the first innings. Mishra, though, made a significant contribution in the second: his direct hit dismissed Ponting and he broke an intimidating partnership between Michael Hussey and Hayden in his first over.

M Vijay - 7
Vijay was celebrating his double-century in a Ranji Trophy match when he received an eleventh-hour call-up to the Test squad as a replacement for Gambhir. Less than 48 hours later, he was facing Brett Lee on debut. A performance in one Test isn't much to go by but Vijay batted with poise and calmness in Nagpur. He didn't try to do anything flash - he rarely went after deliveries outside off stump - and played with a predominantly straight bat. He made contributions of 33 and 41 but the time he spent at the crease allowed Sehwag to bat aggressively and resulted in opening partnerships of 98 and 116. Vijay was outstanding in the field too and ran out Matthew Hayden and Michael Hussey in the first innings.


Rahul Dravid's lean patch continued © AFP
 

Anil Kumble - 4
Kumble was India's appointed captain of the series but a shoulder injury ruled him out of the Mohali Test before a gash to his finger prompted him to retire after the third Test. He struggled to have an impact with the ball in the series. The fizz, skid and bounce - factors that are crucial to his success - were missing and he bowled 51 overs in Bangalore without taking a wicket. He wasn't the force he used to be at the Kotla either for he picked up only 3 for 112 in 43.3 overs. Kumble, however, couldn't be faulted for effort. He bowled despite his shoulder injury in Bangalore and toiled in Delhi after needing 11 stitches to sew up a cut on his left hand. His last wicket in Test cricket was a caught and bowled.

Rahul Dravid - 2
Rahul Dravid had a miserable series. The pitches at all four venues were relatively placid, yet Dravid's slump continued and he was the weak link in the batting line-up. He had a promising start, scoring 51 in the first innings in Bangalore, but finished with 120 runs at an average of 17. He ended the series with 0 and 3 in Nagpur. Dravid appeared to time the ball well in several innings but he either got a good ball, or he lost concentration and played a loose shot. Dravid's fragility at No. 3 meant that the middle order often had to consolidate after a substantial opening partnership was followed by a couple of quick wickets.

George Binoy is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo

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