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At Sydney, January 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 2008. Australia won by 122 runs. Toss: Australia.
On a melodramatic final day in front of a smallish crowd of just under 11,000, Australia won with just nine minutes of the last hour remaining, when occasional slow left-armer Clarke took three wickets in five balls, helping his side equal the world record of 16 consecutive Test victories which they themselves set in 2001. However, they would never have done so but for a series of umpiring blunders. Most of these went against India, who were so incensed that their board successfully asked the ICC to remove Steve Bucknor from the Perth Test (Mark Benson was not rostered to stand there).
Australia's victory was overshadowed by the row that erupted over the allegation that Harbhajan Singh had racially abused Andrew Symonds, the only non-white player in the Australian side. The original decision of referee Mike Procter to suspend Harbhajan for three Tests incensed the Indians, and there was talk of the tour being called off if his appeal was unsuccessful. In the end, wiser counsel prevailed, although the decision to delay the appeal until after the Tests - which left Harbhajan available for selection - smacked of expediency.
India's sense of injustice was compounded by three aspects of Australia's overall conduct at Sydney. First, what appeared at the very least to be gamesmanship with their appealing on the final day. Secondly, two incidents concerning Clarke, who refused to walk when caught at slip in the second innings, and then claimed a disputed low slip catch himself on the final day. Ganguly, the batsman, felt the ball did not carry but, after Benson gave him out without consulting Bucknor at square leg, he honoured the pre-series agreement between the captains that the fielder's word would be taken (this was jettisoned after Sydney). India's final gripe concerned Australia's gracelessness and triumphalism in victory, when they celebrated at length after taking the last Indian wicket. And the tourists' rancour deepened when the Australians' word was taken ahead of theirs in Harbhajan's four-and-a-half-hour disciplinary meeting for alleged racial abuse.
The match had begun so well for India: they reduced Australia to 134 for six in good conditions for batting. There was some first-day life in the pitch, which gave the Indian pace attack, weakened by the loss of Zaheer Khan with an injured heel, some early encouragement. Jaques was the victim of extra bounce, cutting injudiciously in the third over, and then R. P. Singh swung the ball away from the left-handers from an ideal line to give Tendulkar three sharp catches at first slip. Harbhajan chipped in with a brace of lbws - Ponting was given out by Benson despite getting an inside edge, while Clarke padded up to a straight one. Benson's error was his second involving Ponting: when 17, he should have been given out caught behind down the leg side off Ganguly.
A much worse decision - a howler that had a major influence on the match's outcome - came from Bucknor after Australia had rallied to 193 for six. Symonds, then 30, got what he later admitted was a thick outside edge when he tried to force Sharma off the back foot. Bucknor failed to spot it. By the time the excellent partnership between Symonds and Hogg was finally broken, they had put on 173 in 36 overs, a record for the seventh wicket in any Test at Sydney (previously 160, by Richie Benaud and Graham McKenzie against South Africa in 1963-64). Hogg launched the counter-attack with some fine cuts and drives, while Symonds held up an end; then, after Hogg reached a maiden Test fifty 11 years after his debut, Symonds turned aggressor, with some thumping drives as well as two short-arm jabs that brought him leg-side sixes off Harbhajan. Another incorrect decision provided Symonds with another life, on 48, when a stumping off Kumble was referred to the TV umpire. Bruce Oxenford, a former Queensland spinner, failed to spot that one camera angle showed Symonds's back foot behind the crease but in the air when the wicket was broken.
Capitalising on his good fortune, Symonds cantered to his second Test hundred. Importantly, Lee stayed with him, using his feet well to the spinners and forcing the pace bowlers off the back foot to complete what was his own fourth Test half-century. Another 114 were added for the eighth wicket and, with Johnson swinging the bat usefully, in all 329 runs were burgled by the last four wickets. Symonds, given a third reprieve on 148 by Bucknor, who inexplicably failed to refer a very close stumping, finished with a Test-best 162 not out, which included 18 fours as well as those two sixes.
On a pitch that had flattened out, India batted outstandingly. Dravid, with another painstaking innings, and Laxman laid an ideal platform, putting on 175 for the second wicket. Laxman, driving elegantly through extra cover and on-driving wristily, raced to fifty in 43 balls before consolidating to complete his third hundred in successive Tests at the SCG. Dravid, badly dropped when 18 by Gilchrist off Clark, crept to a rather more sedate fifty from 158 balls.
For all Laxman's brilliance, though, Tendulkar's 38th Test century - also his third at the SCG, where he averages 221.33 - was a masterclass, virtually without flaw. Unlike Laxman, he gave no chances in 429 minutes at the crease. Wary of big offside shots, he preferred the leg. That he hit as few as 14 fours (and a six off Hogg) and as many as 66 singles was largely because Ponting stationed permanent boundary sweepers square on both sides of the wicket in an attempt to restrict him. Content to let Ganguly outscore him at first, Tendulkar was left with the tail after Lee filleted the lower middle order during a top-class spell with the second new ball.
Harbhajan came in, and Tendulkar - who had 69 at the time - had no qualms in allowing him the strike, which brought out the best in the tailender. Harbhajan responded with his first Test fifty against Australia, which included some pedigree shots. They put on 129, a record for India's eighth wicket against Australia, beating the 127 of Syed Kirmani and Karsan Ghavri at Bombay in 1979-80, then the last two wickets collected another 58 valuable runs.
All this ought to have made the game safe for India, who appeared the only possible winners at the start of the fourth day. More bad umpiring decisions, however, allowed Australia to prosper in their second innings. Hussey appeared to have been trapped in front by Kumble when 22, and he should also have been given out caught behind off Singh when 45. He went on to his eighth Test century, before accelerating to allow Ponting to declare 332 ahead, with a minimum of 72 overs to bowl India out.
Until Dravid was fourth out, to the first ball of the 34th over, it did not look as if Ponting had left himself enough time. A concerted appeal for a caught-behind, led theatrically by Gilchrist, was upheld by Bucknor despite the fact that Symonds's offbreak had only brushed the front pad, with the bat hidden behind it. India still had a good chance of saving the match, for even though the pitch was offering turn and bounce, Hogg was ineffective and Ponting was obliged to employ his part-time spinners Symonds and Clarke. To lose six wickets to them was carelessness, at best. Ponting admitted that the introduction of Clarke - who once took six for nine in a Test against India, but had managed only two other wickets - was "a last roll of the dice". Clarke responded with three wickets in his second over, two of them caught at slip, to complete the victory that gave Australia a 2-0 lead in the series and maintained their hold on the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
Man of the Match: A. Symonds.
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