| Anil Kumble dives to stop the ball as Simon Katich takes evasive action in Adelaide on Friday. (AFP)
Adelaide: Sourav Ganguly was preparing for a muscular ‘comeback’ by Australia, after the No.1 side conceded first innings points in Brisbane, but the Team India captain hadn’t bargained for such ferocity from Steve Waugh’s men.
“The (second) Test is a day old, but we’ve already got a battle on our hands... The wicket did offer everything to batsmen, but we ought to have bowled much better,” a somewhat weary Sourav, weighed down by hit man Zaheer Khan’s non-availability, told The Telegraph a couple of hours after stumps.
With captain-designate Ricky Ponting leading with a professionally crafted unbeaten 176 (364 minutes, 245 balls, 24x4), Australia smashed their way to 400 for five — the highest on any single day of a Test at the ethereal Oval here. Indeed, with 55 boundaries and three sixes unleashed, few cared to notice the Indian huddle.
[The effort was well timed as Friday saw the eastern stands being christened after the Chappell Brothers, the South Australian Cricket Association’s manner of honouring Ian, Greg and Trevor. The ceremony, during lunch, was emotional.]
The previous best, incidentally by the home side, was 387 (for the loss of six wickets) back on Day II of the 1968-69 match against the West Indies. This time, 135 runs were posted in the opening session, 106 between lunch and tea (taken early owing to rain) and 159 in the extended final session.
Except the opening partnership, the rest saw at least fifty being added. So much so that Ponting and opener Justin Langer featured in a 113-run stand for the second wicket, which was bettered by Ponting and Simon Katich’s 138 for the fifth. A lightning outfield added to India’s woes.
Matthew Hayden, debutant Irfan Pathan’s maiden victim, was the only one who didn’t get his eye in. A couple, however, fell to soft dismissals. For example, Katich, who went hooking Ajit Agarkar. By then, though, he had collected 75 (140 minutes, 101 deliveries, 9x4, 1x6).
Seeing Katich’s innings, Darren Lehmann must have revised his comeback date...
While all the pre-Test attention was on Steve and Sachin Tendulkar, Ponting coolly hijacked the spotlight. He was neither impressed by the bowling, nor curbed by the field placements. Later, Ponting acknowledged being in a position for a “real big score.” He added: “In this team, nobody gets satisfied with what is achieved.” Quite an extraordinary remark that.
Ponting, however, did say: “Just how much is enough will only be clear once the second day is underway... We’ll be looking at a position to enforce the follow-on but, at the same time, we’ll have to think of our bowlers... It’s not easy on this wicket.”
Actually, the ball didn’t roll India’s way from the beginning. Sourav lost the toss and, then, Virender Sehwag dropped Ponting on 17 (55 for one). It’s anybody’s guess how the innings would have unfolded had Australia’s limited-overs captain become Pathan’s second victim.
The Indian attack, though, was short on experience and firepower and stood exposed. If not anything else, given that conditions were overcast for much of the day, Agarkar and Ashish Nehra should have responded enthusiastically. The latter did bowl Steve with a beauty, after dismissing Damien Martyn, but didn’t have much else to show.
As for the sole spinner, Anil Kumble, he was anything but biting. In fact, Langer (58 in 117 minutes, 72 deliveries, 7x4, 2x6) launched into him in the lead-up to lunch, taking 20 off one over. The veteran got his own back, not much later, but that onslaught was as much a statement as an indictment.
Sourav, perhaps, would have done better by employing less attacking fields for Kumble. In any case, in the afternoon, the Pontings found the gaps with ease. Asked why he didn’t himself come on, Sourav replied: “Because I’ve not been bowling well after the two surgeries...”
While the Australians’ spectacular launch was the talking point at lunch, people also noticed 19-year-old Pathan. Ponting apart, he should have had Martyn as well. The latter escaped a stiff chance as Kumble couldn’t hold a furious square cut.
Pathan, who was far from overawed when asked to share the new ball with Agarkar, went for runs after a splendid first spell (7-1-27-1), but is bound to learn with each over.
“The boy has lots of promise... He began bowling into the wind and, while that’s never easy, he accepted the challenge,” observed former Pakistan captain Wasim Akram, who is around as a TV commentator. Significantly, Pathan has modelled himself on Akram and spent time with him on the eve of this Test.
The Indians and Akram are in the same hotel.
Meanwhile, Harbhajan Singh’s immediate future is going to be known on December 17, when the touring party leaves for Hobart. As Sourav and Co. will be flying via Melbourne, Harbhajan and physio Andrew Leipus will break journey to consult the specialist who has treated Shane Warne.
“What happens thereafter — surgery or not — will be determined by what the specialist says,” informed manager Shivlal Yadav.