The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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India look to Dravid-Laxman
- Ponting hits career-best 242 - Kumble scalps 3 in an over - Bichel triggers collapse

Adelaide, Dec. 13: Yet again, Team India is looking to the pedigreed firm of Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman to avoid plunging into an abyss. The ask (reaching 357) is daunting but, as long as both are around, the possibility of avoiding the follow-on remains alive at the Oval.

After being steamrolled on Day I, yesterday, the Indians did well to restrict Australia to 556 (from the overnight 400 for five). Then, in reply, were a comfortable 66 without loss when a collapse more dramatic than anything on the local bourse occured.

Perhaps, openers Akash Chopra and Virender Sehwag were misled by the ‘defensive’ field quickly employed by Steve Waugh. Equally, they probably got carried away on seeing Andy Bichel marking his run-up. At the Gabba, after all, the Queenslander had gone for quite a few in the first innings.

As it turned out, Steve’s was a tactical move and Bichel was out to prove a devastating point. Chopra played loosely, while Sehwag got done in by the additional bounce. The worst, though, was to come. Ironically, on a wicket behaving like Santa.

Sachin Tendulkar, greeted by a ringing ovation, couldn’t resist nicking Bichel and, then, captain Sourav Ganguly was run out after an eminently avoidable mix-up with his deputy. Both must be blamed, but Dravid deserves a much stronger censure as his “no” after an “yes” left Sourav with nothing to clutch at.

From a confidence-enhancing start, then, it became a miserable 85 for four. As the venerable Richie Benaud observed bitingly: “Unthinking cricket has taken India to where it is...” Thankfully, we are blessed with Dravid (43 not out in 160 minutes, 107 balls, 5x4) and Laxman (an unbeaten 55 in 116 minutes, 103 deliveries, 6x4).

Incidentally, few have forgotten the epic they scripted at the Eden 33 months ago. Ricky Ponting, however, doesn’t want to “think about it.” It’s understandable. But, whatever the result in this second Test, he isn’t going to forget it in a hurry. Not after compiling a career-best 242 (568 minutes, 352 balls, 31x4).

Resuming on 176, Ponting was at the wicket till after lunch when an Anil Kumble top-spinner got him in two minds and that one moment of indecision proved fatal. Despite an outstanding innings, his 19th century, the Test captain-designate was disappointed — not from a personal point, but that he wasn’t there till the intended 580 was reached.

Still, Ponting’s effort invited lavish praise from all quarters. In fact, former captain Greg Chappell, himself a great of his era, had this to tell The Telegraph: “Watch out for Ponting... In two years, he will be No. 1 both in Tests and ODIs...”

Obviously, the Tasmanian — who acknowledged his wife’s presence with a flying kiss on getting to his second double century — has come a long way since managing a mere 17 in the 2000-2001 Test series in India and his 242 is the highest by any Australian against India. Justin Langer’s 223, at the SCG in 1999-2000, was the previous best.

Belatedly, Kumble also had his moment in the sun: He finished with five wickets for the 21st time (fifth overseas) in 79 Tests, with three coming in what became the innings’ final over. Actually, he is on a split hattrick.

“I don’t think I bowled differently today... At times, it’s just that the hard work doesn’t immediately get rewarded... I’m happy, but do realise that criticism will always be there,” Kumble remarked. In a fine gesture, he added it would have been nice had the injured Harbhajan Singh been at the other end.

While Kumble got four wickets on Day II, Adam Gilchrist became an Ajit Agarkar victim when brilliantly caught (off a pull to one pitched short) by Sehwag. If only, the Delhiite had taken Ponting on 17...

Well, if only Sachin had...

Indeed, it’s been quite a while since Sachin had a handsome score in Tests. Specifically, after 176 at the Eden 13 months ago (versus the West Indies), his sequence reads: 8, 51, 9, 32, 8, 7, 55, 1, 0 and 1. Even if Steve Bucknor’s decision in Brisbane was shocking, the figures don’t enhance his stature.

While Sachin’s form is a worry for Sourav and John Wright, Steve and John Buchanan will draw comfort from Bichel’s passionate spell wherein he took three wickets in 20 deliveries. And, to think he was about to be dropped! Instead, to accommodate Brad Williams, the axe fell on Nathan Bracken.

“Yeah, I didn’t have a good day at the Gabba (first Test), but being dropped for that would have been harsh... Is it intentional bowling outside off to Sachin' Absolutely... Lucky he nicked,” Bichel quipped.

Lucky that chief selector Trevor Hohns and his colleagues retained him.

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