The first day of the second Test between Australia and India was a showcase of the kind of cricket worth traveling far to witness. And indeed, the 75,000 odd in attendance at the Eden Gardens got their money's worth. History was made as Punjab offspinner Harbhajan Singh became the first Indian bowler to take a hat-trick in Test cricket. After being left in the cricketing wilderness by selectors on suspicions that his action was less than perfect, Harbhajan announced his return to the big league with figures of 5/66. Riding on his performance, India restricted Australia to 291/8 at stumps.
Harbhajan - hat trick heroPhoto AFP
Harbhajan Singh's effort was easily the highlight of the day's play. However, as is often the case there was more to India's revival of fortunes than just one man. Charging in with great heart, not unlike one of the proud stallions that the mounted police rode outside the Eden Gardens, Zaheer Khan put the pressure back on the visitors. Pegging away on and outside the off stump on a wicket that offered little to a cricketer of his breed, the left arm speedster pushed the Australians onto the backfoot from the word go. Despite having two catches dropped off his bowling, the left arm seamer managed to end the day with the very respectable figures of 18.4 - 4 - 55 - 2. If he had not gone off the field late in the day with cramps, those figures might have been even better.
Spare a thought also for Sourav Ganguly. The Indian skipper has been under fire for both his personal lack of form and his unimaginative captaincy. Today, he made amends on the second score and he will soon get a chance to prove himself with the bat. Bringing himself on to bowl early in the innings, Ganguly showed that he was prepared to lead from the front. Following his early stint of bowling, Ganguly made aggressive changes in the field and juggled his bowlers around efficiently. At the end of the day, India were able to reap the rewards of Ganguly's much improved approach.
In all the excitement of India's strong fightback, one cannot forget the innings Matthew Hayden played. The southpaw made 97 hard fought runs, never dominating completely and never being bogged down either. Settling into a good rhythm against the mediumpacers early on, Hayden was able to make merry when the spinners came on. Taking on Harbhajan Singh, Hayden used his feet well, dancing down the track and lofting the ball over the infield.
Comfortable playing off either foot, he set up a strong platform for the Australians. Some of Hayden's hitting was so clean that it came as a surprise that he was circumspect against the mediumpacers early on. Despite being dropped by Rahul Dravid in the slips at 67, Hayden motored along unaffected. A lapse in concentration late in the day cost Hayden a century that was there for the taking. Pulling hard at a ball well outside the off stump, he holed out to substitute fielder Hemang Badani at midwicket. Hayden had played a valuable knock, falling just three runs short of what would have been a memorable century. Hayden spent just over four hours at the crease, and scored boundaries. In addition, the left hander managed to loft Harbhajan Singh well over the ropes on three occasions.
Mark Waugh (22) looked in ominously good touch. Playing the ball off his pads with the elegance of an Olympic gymnast, the New South Welshman dug his own grave by cutting hard at a ball close to his body. Mongia snapped up the catch and Harbhajan Singh had his second wicket of the day. Little could the 20-year-old off spinner know at that time that he was going to do something special. So special that even offspinners of the calibre of Ghulam Ahmed and Erappalli Prasanna fell short.
Harbhajan Singh really turned the magic on. Bowling his 16th over of the day, the Punjab offspinner claimed a hat-trick with the second, third and fourth balls. After trapping Ricky Ponting plumb in front with a straight ball, Harbhajan got Adam Gilchrist out first ball with one that kept low and struck the pad. Shane Warne coming in to face the hat-trick ball clipped one from leg stump to short leg where Sadagoppan Ramesh snapped up a smart catch. The matter was referred to the third umpire, Sameer Bandekar, who pushed the button on the red light and heralded India's first ever Test hat-trick.
Of the three dismissals, the one that sent the dangerous Gilchrist back to the pavilion was the only one that gave room for any doubt. The ball that got the Aussie stumper appeared to come off the inside edge. However, even given that, Harbhajan's effort was one that cannot be belittled in any manner.
After being in total control of the match at 193/1, the Australians collapsed to 269/8. Steve Waugh, attempting to piece together an innings with the tail, was unbeaten on 29 at stumps. Jason Gillespie with six to his name was keeping the Australian captain company.