Third Test

India v Australia

Paul Weaver

At Nagpur, October 26, 27, 28, 29, 2004. Australia won by 342 runs. Toss: Australia.

"Looks like home, don't it?" said umpire David Shepherd, in his familiar West Country burr, as he surveyed the strip at the Vidarbha Cricket Association ground on the eve of this match. And, indeed, it looked like an old-fashioned English green seamer. As Australia prepared to cross what had become known as "the final frontier" and win their first series in India for 35 years, even the return of Tendulkar, who had been out of cricket for two months with tennis elbow, was overshadowed by the preparation of the VCA pitch. Ganguly said he had asked the groundsman to remove the grass from the wicket the previous week. "But I don't think he has done much," he said, sounding miffed. "Our strength is our spinners but the pitch is up to him." India seemed dispirited and when Ganguly withdrew injured on the morning of the match they were thrown into disarray. They were also without Harbhajan Singh, who was suffering from gastroenteritis.

The pitch suited tall fast bowlers: Australia had three, India none. McGrath, who became the first Australian fast bowler to win 100 Test caps, bowled with astonishing accuracy, conceding barely a run an over in the first innings. But even he was upstaged by Gillespie, who bowled superbly to take nine wickets and was unlucky not to win the match award.

By the end of the first day Australia had scored 362 for seven. For the fourth time in five innings, Langer and Hayden got them off to a good start, but it was left to Martyn to score a handsome century. Zaheer Khan again bowled with great zest but Agarkar looked uncomfortable at this level, even on a pitch such as this. Kumble seemed disheartened by the nature of the surface, and India badly needed a third seamer; Tendulkar helped out but was more at ease bowling spinners. Apart from Zaheer, India's best bowler in Australia's innings of 398 was Harbhajan's replacement, the left-arm spinner Murali Kartik, who took three wickets and bowled with relative economy.

When India batted they were outclassed not just by McGrath and Gillespie but by Australia's thoughtful field placements. Kaif, whose place was in jeopardy despite his maiden Test fifty in the previous match, top-scored with 55 in India's total of 185. Tendulkar's keenly awaited return yielded just eight diffident runs from 36 balls. Despite a lead of 213, Australia once more declined to enforce the follow-on. When they batted again, they declared on 329 for five just before lunch on the fourth day. Katich was unlucky to fall one short of his century, though he was probably lucky not to be given out lbw before he had scored. Martyn played another elegant innings, failing by just three runs to score his third Test century in three innings, a feat last achieved for Australia by Bradman. But the best batting came from Clarke, a jaunty pre-declaration 73, which made up for Langer's curious ponderousness at the top of the order. India required 543 for victory. They were soon 37 for five, and only a late rally took them to 200. Tendulkar (McGrath's 450th Test victim), Dravid and Laxman made just six runs between them, and Gillespie added four wickets to his first-innings five. Australia, two up with one to play, had won in India for the first time since Bill Lawry's side triumphed against the Nawab of Pataudi's in 1969-70. Acting-captain Dravid conceded that Australia had been the better team at Bangalore and Nagpur. He made the point that a number of Australians had benefited from their numerous visits to the subcontinent since the 1996 World Cup.

Not even the cockroach Gilchrist found in his soy sauce before the match could put Australia off. The restaurant manager quickly swallowed it as if to destroy the evidence. "He took one for the team," said Gilchrist.

Man of the Match: D. R. Martyn.

© John Wisden & Co