This column is being written after the second day's play in the Bangalore test. Having wagered with one of my Australian cricketing mates that India was going to win this series four-nil, I am now in a very happy position. Sourav Ganguly is nothing if not a quick learner and, so far, he hasn't put a foot wrong in this match.
First, knowing that Australia beat Sri Lanka 3-0 despite low first innings totals in all three tests, Ganguly made jolly sure that no untoward Australian collapse occurred from their overnight score of 315 for 6. In fact, our man tricked them into making what the Aussies might imagine to be a competitive total, creating a false star in Michael Clarke in the process, and letting Gilchrist get a bit of a bat. A simpleton Indian captain would have shut down the Aussies under 375, ripped out Gillie and showed up Clarke for the ing'nue he is, but not SG the Second ' he made damn sure that young Clarko did enough to be selected for at least two more tests, which is when SG will get him, having exchanged a single nice-ish innings for at least five imminent disasters. Next, I'm positive Sourav today instructed his top order to give it away a little quickly ( I mean, who has ever seen Dravid provide a bat-pad gap to McGrath before') with SG himself, Sehwag and Laxman keeping up appearances. Obviously, tomorrow morning, India with the two canny Gujjus at the crease, will move towards that most difficult of cricketing gambits ' The Follow-on Trap ' invented by SG himself at Calcutta in that legendary 2001 test. Therefore, tomorrow, India will deliberately end about 200-odd short of Australia's total, tempt the firm of Buchanan, Ponting & Gilchrist into declaring, and then boom, the ambush will be sprung, the guns will open up, and the Australians will be facing an impossible target on Day 5 on a pitch that is already rapidly becoming a nightmare. After losing the toss, did SG have any intention of giving Shane Warne a bowl on this Iraq-of-a-track on the last day' No way. Going into the second test one-up, the Behala maestro will be ready to welcome Ricky Ponting back for what may be the Aussie veteran's swansong game. Brilliant.
I concede that all this is totally contingent upon Steve Waugh not picking up his cellphone and giving Gillie and Ponto a little tongue-lashing while pointing out the peril that awaits them, mostly in pithy Australian words of one syllable and four letters. Because, if I can see it coming, I'm sure the great man is way ahead of me. But both SG (or 'Le Prince' as I now refer to him, even when speaking to myself) and I are counting on Waugh continuing the tough and parsimonious traditions of Aussie cricket: 'Your soup, mate, so you drink it. I'm going to go hit a few golf balls.'
Talking about turnarounds, it looks as though John Kerry and his team have been watching a tape of the self-same Calcutta test. Therefore, the weak campaign up until the debates brought to the podium an over-confident Bush (though in no way do I mean to suggest any comparison between George W. and the sterling Aussies) and then, with the massive TV audience watching, bang!
And again, with the Cheney-Edwards face-off, kerplow! It's quite clear that, had Kerry been making a stronger showing, the Bush camp would have made some excuse and slimed out of the debates, but now, perhaps happily, it's too late.
Obviously, millions of Americans will celebrate if Kerry does pull off an upset in three weeks' time, but for some Americans and most of the rest of the world that result should bring a sense of cautious relief rather than any great joy. Listening to both Kerry and Edwards swallow Bushist coinages whole and then regurgitate them makes me sick. Phrases such as 'homeland security' and 'war on terror', macho proclamations suc h as 'we will go out and kill terrorists, of course we will', and the whole business of salute and swagger and 'This is John Kerry and I am reporting for duty', all pander nakedly to the wavering right-wing vote. But, for a world exhausted by violence and deprivation, this cheap theatre makes for more worry, not less. And even worse than the posturing are policy statements on issues such as Palestine-Israel, where the difference between the two tickets seems to be entirely of style and no substance whatsoever.
In the first debate, Kerry took on Bush about nuclear proliferation. While both men talked at length about dealing with North Korea, Iran and loose nukes in Russia and other former Soviet republics, Pakistan was hardly mentioned, and India and Israel weren't on the menu at all. In terms of reining in Ariel Sharon and other Israeli extremists, neither Kerry nor Edwards has said a word. In fact, they've both gone out of their way to reassure voters that they will continue to support Sharon and his lunatic cohorts in the name of 'the security of Israel'. Cynics will argue that it would be political suicide for a presidential hopeful to talk tough about Israel at this point, that the first priority for Kerry has to be to get to the position where he can actually do something about the Middle East. The retort to that is the record shows many Oval Office flip-flops on promises made during elections but rarely has a candidate become a president and then changed his views on this particular mess. The indications are that Kerry-Edwards will do exactly what they're saying they will do: ignore the needs of the Palestinians and the desires of secular Israelis, and it is evidence of this kind of appalling short-sightedness that will temper any relief that the Bush-Cheney gang is out of the White House, if, indeed, that happens.
Speaking of Australia and elections, there is one taking place there, one that may not have the attention of the world focussed on it, but a crucial election nevertheless. My hope is that, one by one, the cynical politicians responsible for the Iraq war, the leaders who formed the great murderous 'coalition', will be made to pay the ultimate electoral price by their voters. Spain has delivered its verdict, I hope America will too, and in Australia I hope the poisonous Howard and his Conservatives are made to bite the dust. If that actually happens, I won't even mind Ricky Ponting taking the current series 4-0, or, okay, let me be really truthful, perhaps squeaking through and winning it 2-1.