October 16, 2008

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Bangalore provided good cricket but not much to take the breath away. Will Mohali be different?

Rabbits with teeth: Harbhajan and Zaheer's rearguard left Australia short of answers © AFP

At stumps on the opening day of the Bangalore Test match the Australians were confident of winning. Already two significant advantages had been secured. Ricky Ponting had won the toss on a pitch expected to fall apart as rapidly as an American bank that has given mortgages to anyone with a dollar in their pocket. And Ponting and his left-handed allies had laid the foundations for a substantial score. The visitors were confident of putting the squeeze on the Indian middle order, creating the sort of panic among local supporters otherwise detected in smoking theatres. Although none is named John or George or Paul, let alone Ringo, the middle-order men have been lumped together as the Fab Four. It is passing strange that they are not treated as separate cases.

At stumps on the second evening the Australians remained confident of taking a lead in the series. Admittedly the home side's openers had sent the score rattling in the hour or so permitted to them, but that was of little account. Admittedly the pitch had not deteriorated as much as anticipated, but the cracks were widening and puffs of dust had been detected by the more optimistic fieldsmen. Ponting and his think tank were convinced they could undo their opponents with full-length bowling supported an appropriately placed field. It was not so much a conceit as a conviction, one stubbornly retained in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary. Australia's tactics were out in place, and never convincingly reconsidered.

Not until after tea on the third afternoon did the tourists begin to doubt themselves. In every way the partnership between Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan was important. During the match, India's second saint was inaugurated. Bhaji is unlikely to be the third but he is a Punjabi through and through and a competitor to the core. In the past Zaheer has often seemed to regard injury as a welcome respite from the chore of bowling. He seemed to relish the life around cricket more than the game itself. All that has changed in the last two seasons. Now the fiery left-hander bowls with his head and bats with his heart. As a result his cricket has improved beyond measure. Few expected him to keep his eye on the ball for as long as he did at Chinnaswamy. And every minute lifted his colleagues and frustrated his opponents.

Australia's response to this tail-end resistance was surprisingly tame. In the past, governments knew how to deal with lower-order defiance: they sent in the army with full permission to wreak havoc. Ponting played a waiting game. Plans laid for the senior batsmen had been superbly executed, but suddenly it appeared that much less thought had been given to the supposed rabbits. Nor was Ponting able to think on his feet. Hereabouts Australia's cricket lacked urgency. Truth to tell, too many overs were given to willing but unthreatening spinners. That Cameron White bowled above expectations was irrelevant. There was a match to win and the visiting pace attack was streets ahead. Australia made the same mistake in the second innings, allowing the spinners to bowl half the overs. And it was not murky all the time, not even in the opinion of the absurdly cautious umpires.

Neither side looked like making a decisive break on the fifth day, upon which the game showed itself in a poor light, as a self-indulgent, self-important activity that thinks more about its highly paid but precious players than it does about spectators and the marketplace

By stumps on the fourth day India's chance of winning the match had come and gone. Between them the wagging tail and incisive pace bowling had changed the mood of the match so much that at 128 for 5 the visitors were in trouble. But the hosts too failed to recognise and seize the moment. As much could be told from the rapidity with which Anil Kumble spread his field, and the line bowled by Harbhajan, most of whose deliveries were directed at the batsman's pads. Since little was seen of the doosra in the match, an absence some put down to the presence of Chris Broad as referee, these deliveries did not present much danger. Kumble even bowled himself, though he lacked the menace seen in his pomp. Once inclined to skid or spit, Kumble's spinners took their time after bouncing and could be played off the back foot. An inquisitor in the past, Kumble now asked polite questions.

Neither side looked like making a decisive break on the fifth day, upon which the game showed itself in a poor light, as a self-indulgent, self-important activity that thinks more about its highly paid but precious players than it does about spectators and the marketplace. After losing two early wickets the Indians put up stiff resistance. Sachin Tendulkar played with characteristic skill, while VVS Laxman, whose backers include his captain and respectful opponents, presented a straight bat. It was a slow pitch upon which the ball kept low but did not move sideways. Moreover, Australia's spinners were ineffective. Before long the batsmen seemed to be more worried about the light than the bowling.

Now attention turns to Mohali. By the look of things the pitch is evenly grassed, except at the ends, which have presumably attracted the eye of passing locusts. Reports that it had been left as damp and green as Ireland by a late monsoon appeared wide of the mark. In any event the track is firmer than Chinnaswamy and not nearly as cracked. Bangalore provided lots of good cricket but not much to take the breath away.

Having survived their predicament in the first Test, with the pace bowlers forming a potent partnership, the tail wagging, and the senior batsmen looking fertile, the Indians must feel the time has come for them to turn the screws. Kumble and company have not lost any of their last three Tests against Australia.

Contrastingly the visitors must regard Bangalore as a match that eluded them. Afterwards Ponting said that he had expected more chances to be created on the final day, but that otherwise he was happy with the performance of his side. Overall Australia had been the better team. His batsmen played their parts, and spinners cannot be microwaved, so the improvement must come from the pacemen, among whom Brett Lee took few wickets and had little luck. But three of the bowlers Australia relies upon, Shane Watson and the slower men, do not move the ball enough to trouble established batsmen.

Peter Roebuck is a former captain of Somerset and the author, most recently, of In It to Win It

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Anoop on October 18, 2008, 23:11 GMT

    it was sad to watch Australian team playing such negative brand of cricket even in the 2nd day in a good batting track @ mohali.... their bowling and the field placements were far more than attacking... the only time they looked like having attacking intent was against Dhoni for a couple of overs (which quickly changed to a line wide of the offstump), and Ishant Sharma with the short balls.... Their batting in the whole series has been nothing like the agressive cricket that we've loved and respected as cricket fans.. truly disappointing.....

  • Damien on October 17, 2008, 18:09 GMT

    Love reading these articles, Peter. Keep it up! Like most lovers of this magnificent game, I too, adore watching great batsmen take a bowling attack apart. But if anyone tells me that the first test wasn't some of the most gripping drama seen on a cricket pitch.... well, you can't be alive! I've never been much of a fan of Katich, but his patience and determination to survive, in order to help the side prosper was sensational. I loved every minute of the contest. Yes, the Australian side is nowhere near as good as it has been in the last 15 years. BUT, now they actually have to rely on strategy and guile. The Indian team is in a similar predicament. I love watching the old guard struggle to maintain their reputations. Every supporter doubts they can, while knowing that a huge score is always possible.... Just love it! And really, to watch this same side with fearsome fast bowlers is just majestic. Sharma is the best pace bowler I've seen in a while! Mqy the series continue....

  • Mike on October 17, 2008, 10:14 GMT

    Peter, after reading all the comments read about this article i feel that only those who have a strong opinion write, therefore you are left with comments of an extreme nature, either way. Firstly i enjoy your ABC commentary during the Australian summer. I believe the first test left us with many questions, firstly when was the last time your saw a team attack a modest target on the last day, considering how the pitch played, where was the courage, for gods sake someone chase the target down. No guts! regarding our bowling lineup still not convinced with johnson, he's getting wickets but not well, and i believe that Lee is probably our weakest number one bowler for some time, no offence to him; think his last summer was great and he's fantastic, but needs much better support, where is Noffke? Im wondering if our selection panel has been hijacked by the english! Spinners did as well as could be expected; its the batsman from both teams that will win the series. Article - food for though

  • Bunty on October 17, 2008, 0:18 GMT

    Oh come on Peter! Your judgement of this Australian attack belies your understanding of cricket or lack of. Brett Lee averages a healthy 30+ .Mitchell Johnson less said the better. Stuark Clark is a decent trundler. Who when bowling wide of off stump looks good and when he bowls on the stumps he is usually found in the rafters. Look at his ODI and 20/20 record. So please let us not speak highly of this bowling attack. It might give shivers in English and SA teams who play them on reputation. An Indian team only sees them as an occasion to beef up their batting averages .Now Zaheer and Bhajji seem to have been let on to the secret too so beware! Take out the batting and this Aussie team is an average team. No more no less.

  • Dilip on October 16, 2008, 21:51 GMT

    India surely has the upperhand on paper at Mohali.Their pace battery is looking all the more dangerous and is even slightly better than the one played in Australia a year ago.Their senior batsmen had their time in the middle and its time fo them to show what they are made of.But saying that no one write off Australia.Hayden is due and if India doesn't get first up then its trouble.Also it would interesting with Dhoni at the helm,his tactic have done wonders for India in the shorten version and so we expect the same here.I doubt whether Kumble would play and this might be blessing in disguise for India considering his recent form.Depending on the picth either Munaf Patel or Amit Mishra would get a chance and with Bhajji in form it would be interesting how Australia deals with it.Hussey and katich are still the thorns in the flesh for India as they can really get stuck in.We are in for a treat in Mohali

  • Sumit on October 16, 2008, 18:00 GMT

    I've read some reports and articles declaring this australian side as one of the weakest in recent times. But I rate this Australian side very highly. Although team lacks services of Andrew Symonds but they have the best pace attack in the world cricket. Watch out for Siddle and Bollinger. From India's point of view, Zaheer was super and Sachin was divine to watch.

  • Sharad on October 16, 2008, 13:06 GMT

    As much as I agree that this article is boring, there's one mention that I didn't quite comprehend - the relation between the absence of the doosra and the presence of Chris Broad. I'd appreciate if somebody can help - I find these stories fascinating :).

    To be honest, I agree with most other comments - Peter's article made painful reading despite his masala tactics - American banks, India's second saint and Ireland's greenery.

  • Anushan on October 16, 2008, 12:44 GMT

    I thought at the end of the 4th day, this game was going to be another 2005 Edgbaston thriller, with all three scenarios (Australia win, India win and a draw) on the cards, however it didn't quite pan out to be the thriller it was shaping up to be, no thanks to bad light. I thought it was a cracking game, but the Aussies definitely played the better cricket with a inexperienced team, for which credit should go to the Australian senior members, Ponting, Hussey and even Hayden in the field. India played alright, but certainly not to their capability, however they are renown for bad starts to series. I am concerned about their fielding though, they really do lack the enthusiasm in the field shown by their T20 and ODI players (Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj Singh etc.). I thought this artice was a brilliant read. Thanx Peter. I cant wait for the rest of the series, its going to be a cat fight to the end, lets hope we get some good weather and good light, and more drama too, it adds to the ambiance.

  • Tushar on October 16, 2008, 12:26 GMT

    Tell us something new Peter, or don't write. Are these reporters reading what their colleagues are writing? Everyone who can type or write churns out the same story and cricinfo publishes it. The wine is not even old to put in new bottles. The test was not thrilling and these article are even more boring. Try weather reports.

  • Andrew on October 16, 2008, 11:57 GMT

    I think in criticising Australia's use of the spinners for so long, Peter Roebuck has overlooked the fact Ponting was forced to by the atrocious over rates of the quicks. My recollections may be wrong, but isn't Ponting, as captain, under threat of suspension after being fined previously for allowing slow over rates?

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