'Indian' Australians and spilt chances
Brett Lee despairs after Akash Chopra was dropped early on the first day
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Guess who flew down to boost the confidence of the Indian cricket team before the most important Test match of their lives? In keeping with current fashion, it was an Australian, of course. Dr Sandy Gordon, the Western Australian sports psychologist, was spotted at the breakfast table with a few members of the Indian team at the hotel this morning, and was then seen hopping into the team bus. He had arrived the previous day for a session with the players to ensure that nerves didn't overcome them on the big occasion, like it did during the World Cup final.
Gordon has been associated with the Indian team for a while now, and to him goes the credit for the team huddle. He had had a session with the team before the Tests began, and had devised the team theme which has described India's performance in the series so far: "Never take a step backwards."
Australians of course find it highly amusing to find so many of their countrymen in the enemy camp. There's Andrew Leipus, who is almost indispensable, there's Bruce Reid, who is also Nathan Bracken's coach, and there's Greg Chappell, who helped organise Sourav Ganguly's mind. "At this rate," said an Australian supporter, "you will have a few Australian players in the team four years later." Is Steve Waugh looking for a career after retiring from the Baggy Green?
After the gigantic MCG, the Sydney Cricket Ground feels decidedly more intimate. The SCG is the most uniformly circular ground in Australia. It was dressed for the occasion of Steve Waugh's farewell party, registering the highest turnout (44,901) since the reconfiguration of the stadium in 1978. The all-time record stands at 54,476, for the first day of an Ashes Test in 1962-63.
The SCG has retained the old architecture of its Members' Stands, but has yielded to commercialisation over the most historical element of the ground. Concrete was poured over Yabba's Hill, named after the legendary Aussie heckler ("Leave our flies alone, Jardine"), at the time of reconfiguration, and a few thousand bucket seats have replaced the patch of green. It remains the only open area of the ground, and it is still called Yabba's Hill. Only it doesn't feel like a hill any more, and much of the spirit flowing out there is of the alcoholic kind.
When great cricket teams are in decline, it is said, it's their catching that goes first. The West Indians plucked catches from the moon when they ruled world cricket in the '80s, but their catching deteriorated proportionately to their fall from grace, and it reached a point where their ageing bowlers had to get their opposition out about 25 times an innings to capture 10 wickets. Australia haven't plumbed such depths yet, but it will suffice to say that they have dropped more than three times the number of catches that the Indians have, and the irony wasn't lost on Sourav Ganguly, who used it tellingly to deflect a question at the pre-Test press conference about his poor ground-fielding: "They have dropped more catches than we have."
Australia's ground-fielding remains outstanding, but the catching has been a worry for a while now. A number of chances were missed during the last Ashes series, but England were perhaps not good enough to take advantage of it. In the current series the score stands thus: Adam Gilchrist: two, Simon Katich: two, Damien Martyn: one, Ricky Ponting: two (admittedly difficult ones), Justin Langer: one, Matthew Hayden: one, Brett Lee: one. Every batsman in the Indian top order has been reprieved once, and Virender Sehwag twice. The catch Katich dropped off Akash Chopra at gully this morning was perhaps the simplest. It left Lee squatting disconsolately mid-pitch, and Australia had to wait for over 100 more runs to get their first wicket.
Sambit Bal, the editor of Wisden Asia Cricket magazine and Wisden Cricinfo in India, will be following the Indian team throughout this Test series.