| Virender Sehwag in action at SCG on Friday
Sydney: John Buchanan wasn’t off the mark when he described India’s opening day performance at the SCG as a “carbon copy” of Day I of the third Test. Sourav Ganguly, though, is keeping fingers crossed: The “carbon copy” bit should be confined to the opening day alone.
It was exactly a week ago, at the MCG, that India stroked their way to a commanding 329 for four by stumps on Day I. Yet, the next morning, the last six wickets fell for 16 runs — a collapse which sowed the seeds of a big defeat. And, so, India lost by nine wickets and, with that, the 1-0 lead.
“It’s definitely a case for crossed fingers... But, this time, there’s a difference as all four bowlers are fit... Given that we will have to stop Australia well short of what we muster, it’s a plus...” Sourav told The Telegraph.
He was alluding to Zaheer Khan, who suffered a hamstring muscle tear in the midst of his first spell itself.
There’s another difference as well, with Sachin Tendulkar making a significant contribution. In fact, at the close on Friday, he was unbeaten on a series best of 73 (202 minutes, 156 deliveries, 12x4). The innings drew praise from all quarters, with Greg Chappell summing it up perfectly: “It’s been a determined and disciplined effort... The signs are good.”
[Incidentally, Greg confirmed having had a “chat” with Sachin in Melbourne. That was preceded by a “brief interaction,” again in the same city.]
For India, the signs were good from the morning itself, when Sourav won the toss and Simon Katich (at fourth slip) dropped a sitter from Akash Chopra off Brett Lee. The opener was on eight, with the total just 18. Understandably, the capacity turnout of around 45,000 found that incomprehensible and the Farewell Man, Steve Waugh, must have reacted the same way.
Eventually, Chopra and Virender Sehwag added 123 for the first-wicket, their second 100-plus partnership in three innings. Sehwag, of course, was his belligerent self — he smashed Lee for a six and two boundaries in one over — and powered to 72 (169 minutes, 115 balls, 10x4, 1x6) before falling to Jason Gillespie.
Impressed by outrageous shots from Sehwag, coach Buchanan went to the extent of saying his strokeplay was “limitless.” Clearly, the Australians are struggling to contain somebody who isn’t exactly conventional.
Chopra was the next to go, on 45, when Lee got one of his deliveries to reverse lethally. He did serve the team’s interest admirably, more than seeing off the shine, but must convert starts into handsome scores. “I’m sure a big one isn’t far away,” Chopra quipped. For the record, he took to this Test with scores of: 36 and four; 27 and 20; 48 and four.
The only other wicket lost was a prized one — Rahul Dravid’s. He became Gillespie’s second victim on a day when wickets were as hard to come by as kangaroos in Calcutta. His dismissal ought to have brought Sourav to the middle. However, the captain decided to promote V.V.S. Laxman for two reasons.
First, because his last (Test) innings at the SCG had seen him smash that incredible 167 and, then, Sourav felt he would be better off lending muscle to the tail.
The second ‘explanation’ may not satisfy everybody, but the fact remains Sourav has changed his order twice in less than a week. In the second innings at the MCG, he promoted himself to No. 4 after Sachin let it be known that he wouldn’t like to take guard with just a few overs remaining that afternoon.
Whether one agrees or not with the captain, Laxman did a good job. Indeed, by stumps, he had collaborated 90 for the fourth wicket with Sachin. The pair even saw off ten overs with the second new ball.
The Kookaburra did seam early on, helped no doubt by the moisture. But, with the sun out in full glory — probably saluting Steve on the first of his last five days with the Baggy Green — the moisture quickly became history and the bowlers had to sweat it out.
Bowling off a shortened run-up, Gillespie didn’t allow liberties. As for Lee, in seeking that extra yard or two, he overstepped as many as 15 times. Still, Buchanan didn’t tear into him, at least not publicly during an interaction with the Media. He is hoping everybody’s act will improve a notch or two when Day II gets underway.
To start with, the cynosure will surely be Sachin, who has shunned flamboyance for the percentage type of cricket. He deserves a century.