First Test Match

India v Australia

Toss: India. Test debuts: Harvinder Singh; G. R. Robertson.

The head-to-head contest between Sachin Tendulkar and Shane Warne was the key to this opening encounter. Warne's quick conquest of Tendulkar in the first innings gave Australia the initial advantage. But Tendulkar retaliated so devastatingly in the second, scoring 155 not out, that India were able to declare with a lead of 347, and 105 overs to bowl Australia out on a spinners' pitch. They had three men out overnight and won in comfort on the final afternoon.

On the first day, Tendulkar had been as much a victim of Warne's guile as of his own daring. He drove his first ball with scorching power past the bowler. But the fifth dipped as he rushed forward, and turned to take the edge of his flailing bat; Taylor completed a marvellous slip catch. In the second innings, however, when Tendulkar scored his third and highest century in seven Tests against Australia, he was as severe on Warne as on the rest. Warne followed up his first-innings four for 85 with a deflating one for 122. Tendulkar's belligerence was awesome and his shot-placement enthralling.

Both sides batted erratically at their first attempt. After an opening stand of 122 between Sidhu and Mongia, three Indian wickets went down for eight and the last five for ten. They were saved because Dravid batted four hours and built respectable stands with Azharuddin and Kumble. On a bare pitch of little pace, the quick bowlers could only contain. But it readily offered purchase to spin and was so generous with lift that Mongia was wearing a helmet to keep to Kumble by the second day. Warne and the tall debutant off-spinner Gavin Robertson skilfully exploited the batsmen's indiscretions. Each picked up four wickets; Robertson struck back admirably after being severely mauled by Sidhu in his maiden Test spell.

In reply, Australia stumbled to 137 for six: only Mark Waugh, who lasted three hours, batted with distinction. They were hauled back into the game by the indomitable Healy. He made a fighting 90, and put on 96 with Robertson, splendidly accomplished for a No. 10. They looked so much at ease as they set up a lead of 71 that the pitch seemed to have dozed off.

This impression stayed when India resumed on the third evening. Warne had already been softened up by Sidhu before Tendulkar came in at 115 for two. He and Dravid almost doubled that. Then, when Australia rather fortuitously prised Dravid out, Azharuddin joined Tendulkar to pound a wilting attack for another 127 runs in even time, a stand reminiscent of their epic in Cape Town 14 months earlier. In all, Tendulkar batted for 286 minutes and 191 balls, and struck 14 fours and four sixes.

Azharuddin's declaration gave Australia 15 overs on the fourth evening, in which India grabbed three wickets. Slater drove expansively at Srinath and played on; Kumble had Blewett caught at silly point; and Taylor bottom-edged a pull on to his pad and was caught on the ricochet.

These disasters extinguished Australia's hopes of winning. But a calm start on the final morning did raise their prospects for survival before four wickets fell for 42 runs. All four batsmen looked displeased and television suggested three decisions were harsh and the fourth dubious. The umpires did have a difficult task with the ball turning the fielders clustered round the bat; referee van der Merwe, who had reprimanded Mongia for excessive appealing earlier, took no action now, attributing the Australians' reactions to more disappointment.

But with seven down at lunch, Australia were sunk. Again, Healy batted as if to gag the proverbial fat lady; he was undefeated after an hour and a half when Kumble completed victory with his eighth wicket of the match.

Man of the Match: S. R. Tendulkar.

Close of play: First day, India 232-5 (R. Dravid 42*, A. Kumble 19*); Second day, Australia 193-7 (I. A. Healy 31*, S. K. Warne 13*); Third day, India 100-1 (N. S. Sidhu 55*, R. Dravid 18*); Fourth day, Australia 31-3 (P. R. Reiffel 0*).

© John Wisden & Co
 
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