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The Wisden Bulletin by Anand Vasu
December 4, 2003
Close Australia 262 for 2 (Langer 115*, Ponting 52) v India
Where's the ball, Justin? Langer wasn't at his fluent best, but he was still too good for India
© Getty Images
The best part of Sourav Ganguly's day lasted for a few minutes, first thing in the morning. He won the toss and put Australia in. But winning the toss against Australia is about as useful as using an umbrella to keep dry under the Niagara Falls. Australia rattled up 262 for 2, on a rain-interrupted first day in which Justin Langer clattered 115, and the closest thing to batting failure was Matthew Hayden's breezy 37.
Langer's innings formed the backbone of a strong Australian score, both literally and figuratively. He was gritty, solid, no-frills and vitally important for the stability of the innings. Around him there were batsmen of greater panache and ability who played dreamy drives and powerful thumps. But no runs look better than the ones on the scoreboard. The way Langer paced his innings put the Indians on the back foot, and kept them there all day.
To begin with, Ashish Nehra and Zaheer Khan bowled too full, floating the ball into just the right place for Langer and Hayden to drive. And drive they did, in contrasting styles. Hayden stood tall and bludgeoned, Langer punched and pushed, almost apologetically. Hayden's booming drives pinged the advertising hoardings, while Langer's shots trickled over the ropes, often with a ragged Indian fielder in tow.
When Akash Chopra caught Langer smartly at short square leg off a Nehra no-ball, and the Indian fielders had to rein in their delight, it set the tone for the day. Lady luck turned her face away from the carnage. The ball beat the bat more than once, when Zaheer bent his back and produced a good spell, but did not result in an edge. The ball tricked the bat and hit pad more than once, but did not result in an lbw.
But, as they say, you make your own luck. Australia kept their run rate hovering around the four mark with unwavering certainty. Hayden reached 37 from 52 balls before flashing a delivery from Zaheer into VVS Laxman's lap in the slip cordon (73 for 1).
India needed to tighten the screws at this stage. They had to slip in a few quiet overs and put pressure on Ricky Ponting, the new batsman. Ajit Agarkar achieved the exact opposite, with a string of half-volleys that Ponting pummelled back down the ground for boundaries. Ganguly, frustrated and sheepish in equal measure, removed Agarkar from the attack after a first spell of 5-1-40-0.
Matthew Hayden: got off to a sparkling start but couldn't keep going
Since pace clearly did not work, Gangly turned to Harbhajan Singh, his lone spinner. Harbhajan, picked ahead of Anil Kumble for this Test, was welcomed to the attack with a savage Langer cut that raced to the point fence. Ponting, who was dismissed no fewer than five times by Harbhajan when Australia last toured India, made a bold statement by coming down the track and smashing Harbhajan into the stands over long-on.
Spin and pace had both failed in the face of the Langer-Ponting combination, which added 89 runs for the second wicket. Almost against the run of play, Ponting (52) then dismissed himself, when he top-edged a pull to Parthiv Patel behind the stumps (162 for 2). Zaheer allowed himself a smile, having taken Ponting's wicket with the unlikeliest of deliveries, a short one.
Damien Martyn began his pleasurable stay at the crease with a tickle down to the fine-leg boundary. He waited on the ball, was in no hurry, and built his innings. With Australia scoring as quickly as they were, Martyn didn't need to take any risks. Playing his natural game, treating the bowling on merit, Martyn helped himself to 36 runs. Langer, unbeaten on 115 (175 balls, 16 fours), was happy to walk off the field when Steve Bucknor offered him the light. Although only 62 overs were bowled in the day, Australia scored quickly enough, at 4.22 runs per over, to reach 262.
The Indians were also happy to walk off, as that was perhaps the only way they were going to get any respite from this onslaught. Ganguly walked off just behind Langer, applauding him as he crossed over the ropes to a waiting Hayden. That might be just about the shape of things to come for the Indians in the gruelling weeks ahead.
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.
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