Michael Slater clouted him for six at the stroke of lunch; Matthew Hayden gave him the similar treatment around tea.
Yet, it’s off-spinner Harbhajan Singh who laughed his way to a hattrick (in his 16th over) —- the first by an Indian in Test cricket and the first-ever in India.
Given a chance, the 20-year-old Jalandharite would even have enacted the bhangra. He certainly made the Australians dance, repeatedly deceiving them in the air, on Day-I of the second Pepsi Test.
With the impressive Zaheer Khan and a fired-up captain Sourav Ganguly also picking up wickets in a sensational final session, which went over half-an-hour beyond the scheduled close, Australia lost seven wickets.
The hottest team in contemporary cricket isn’t used to this (mal) treatment and, so, the gains are probably more than just the wickets taken.
From 193 for one (at tea), Australia plunged to 269 for eight, before captain Steve Waugh and Jason Gillespie (no bunny, really, with the bat) played out the remaining 44 minutes.
Missing half-chancesFor the first time in the series, then, India had a great day —- strictly speaking, though, one session. But they will still rue dropping Hayden on 67 (Rahul Dravid made a rare mess) and not being able to capitalise on a couple of half-chances.
Otherwise, Steve would have been embarrassed somewhat over his decision to bat first. The wicket, of course, began as an absolute featherbed though it has begun slowing down a trifle.
The ‘juice’ early on, however, wasn’t as appreciable as expected. That helped Slater and Hayden add 88, without being separated, till lunch.
The openers proceeded to put on 103, a cushion which came in very handy once the afternoon-collapse occurred.
For the record, there was some doubt over Slater’s dismissal (verdict by Peter Willey), while Adam Gilchrist (one of Harbhajan’s hattrick victims) will take time to recover from S.K.Bansal’s decision.
Forget the bat-contact, the ball had pitched outside leg.
It can either take one indiscreet shot or a super delivery to turn tables and, for all his solid work, Hayden must accept responsibility for letting Australia down.
Hayden himself suffered, following that weird shot after tea, missing century No. 3 by a whisker. This disappointment is unlikely to leave him in a hurry.
Unlike in Mumbai, where he was largely a grafter, Hayden went for his shots and his off-drives, in particular, were of the highest order. To the uninitiated, this burly Queenslander was quite a revelation.
Sadly, at the receiving end was Shiv Sundar Das as well, a victim of a blood-clotting blow around the right shoulder, fielding close-in. It’s a bad bruise and it remains to be seen whether he will open.
On his innings’ disappointing end, Hayden had himself this to say: “I was probably a bit lazy... I tended to lose the (thought) process...”
Sportingly, Hayden didn’t forget to compliment Harbhajan: “He’s given us something to think about.”
Sure, but treading a cautious line is Sourav, whose body-language was as it used to be before the Mumbai washout.
“Oh, it’s a long way to go... The Australians are already close to 300...” Sourav told The Telegraph, preferring not to read much into the visitors’ post-tea blues.
The captain, though, had much praise for his principal wrecker. “I’ve always regarded Harbhajan a quality bowler. Today, he justified everyone’s confidence.”
Harbhajan, the picture of modesty, smiled and remarked: “This, after all, is cricket... One team can always bounce back. Kaam lekin abhi khatam nahin hua hai... Test jitwana hai.”
It’s this spirit which may, eventually, make all the difference over the next few days.
However, the speedy eviction of Steve is a must. Place him alongside the Rock of Gibralter and chances are he will be as big a draw if not bigger.
Though the support-base is thin, the stage is ideal for Steve to author another innings of supreme character. Equally, this is Sourav and India’s best chance to halt the Australians’ phenomenal run.
On the morrow, Sourav will be relying on Zaheer, who had good spells (moving the ball both ways and conveying he meant business) on either side of tea. He did go off with cramps, but that’s been taken care of.
Not consistentVeteran Venkatesh Prasad, playing his first Test in well over a year, wasn’t as consistent as he ought to have been. And not quite at it was another comeback man, Venkatapathi Raju.
Both, however, have the second innings to try and share the spotlight thus far claimed entirely by Harbhajan and, to a lesser extent, Zaheer.
Though the middle-order crashed quicker than the proverbial house of cards, the Australians would have drawn comfort from Slater’s partial return to form.
That he is desperate to be back among the runs in a big way, was evident.
But while Slater missed his fifty, Justin Langer didn’t. Positive from the start, Langer did his bit to ensure whatever total Australia reached wouldn’t take much time.
Significantly, though no more than 27 overs were bowled between lunch and tea, Langer and Hayden added 105.
As it was with Hayden, Langer’s dismissal was a ‘soft’ one. Actually, he should really have been out earlier, caught behind off Raju.
At least 80,000 packed the Eden terraces and the final session, at least, gave them their Sunday’s worth. The icing, clearly, being provided by the historic hattrick.
The turnstiles should be busy on the working days as well.
For Harbhajan Singh, the script unfolded in a manner he didn’t quite anticipate. Besides the usual fanfare, there were many, among the thousands waiting outside the Club House, seeking to catch a glimpse of the hattrick man.
The Jalandhar boy was the toast of the Sunday gathering which was witness to a piece of history. A great comeback for the 20-year-old, whose action was deemed to be suspect three years ago.
“The main contributing factor behind his five-wicket haul today was his line and length which I’ve always been insisting on,” Erapalli Prasanna told The Telegraph this evening.
Speaking from Bangalore, the great off-spinner recalled his stint with Harbhajan a couple of years ago. “I got an opportunity to work with him and started from the basics. I always stressed on varying the line.
“The ball was not turning today but he bowled exceptionally well. It was his persistence that finally paid off,” Prasanna explained.
Maninder Singh had similar things to say. “He bowled an excellent line. During his entire 24-over spell, there were only six deliveries that went down the leg side. These wickets are a reward for his hard work,” the former India left-arm spinner said.
Prasanna feels Harbhajan dismissed Ricky Ponting with the best delivery of the day. “He had the batsmen in two minds before finally forcing him onto the back foot.”
The one which got Mark Waugh was also “marvellous”. “He deceived Mark in the air. It was a reward for his probing line,” Prasanna said.
Adam Gilchrist’s dismissal may have been surrounded by controversy but the member of the famous spin quartet declined to go into the details. “All I can say is that the ball would have definitely hit the stumps.”
Reminded of 100th wicketPrasanna would, however, give due credit to Sadagopan Ramesh for that “brilliant attempt” at forward short-leg which helped Harbhajan complete the hattrick. “It reminded me of my 100th Test wicket when Srinivas Venkatraghavan brought off a similar catch against Australia at the Ferozeshah Kotla in 1969-70.”
He also feels Venkatpathi Raju bowled a good spell and that made Harbhajan’s task of keeping up the pressure easier. “In fact, towards the end when the going was good, Steve Waugh should have been attacked a little more. He never looked settled and a double-spin attack could have made the batsman’s task tougher.”
National selector Ashok Malhotra, too, was effusive in praise. “All credit to the bowler who got very little help from the wicket. A great day for Indian cricket,” was how he summed it up.
The 80,000-odd knowledgeable fans today saw an Australian who relies more on drives despite coming from a land where most batsmen’s bread-and-butter shots are the cut and pull.
A left-hander sans most of the grace a bird of his feather is normally associoated with, Hayden demonstrated the value of concentration in the longer version of the game before a lapse stopped him three short of what would have been his third Test hundred.
“That’s the way he plays... Can’t blame him for playing that kind of a shot even after he had done all the hard work,” David Hookes told The Telegraph after the day’s play. “He perhaps wanted to go straight but his feet didn’t move well.”
Hayden looked well on course for his second successive Test hundred before jumping out and mistiming a lofted shot to be caught at widish mid-wicket. It stuck out like a sore thumb because he was stroking the ball sweetly and a few drives through the mid-wicket region were particularly pleasing.
“He’s that sort of a player... More of a ‘driver’ and that’s his natural game,” said Hookes, the former Australian left-hander of a more adventurous kind.
There was one more blemish in Hayden’s otherwise disciplined knock when he slashed at Zaheer Khan but Rahul Dravid floored an easy chance at first slip. Hayden, had 67 against his name at that time.
Very much a grafter who waits for the ball which can be hit rather than creating scoring chances, Hayden did not hide his disappointement. “Yes, I do play to make hundreds and obviously am disappointed. At the same time, I’m not the type who keeps looking at the scoreboard,” he said.
The rush of blood was surprising as he had offered a very straight bat to almost everything in the morning session. His drives off the seamers were not always very elegant, though they were extremely effective. His test, of course, was going to be against the spinners.
“I wouldn’t say I had trouble against Harbhajan (Singh) and I could pick his variations,” he said. There was just one occasion when he could not get to the pitch of the ball after stepping out and that led to his downfall.
“I was probably a bit lazy and I just tended to lose my (thought),” was how he explained his dismissal.
Having arrived here with the intention of cementing his place in the XI, the burly opener could not have done better. He now thinks that there is plenty for the Australians to look forward to in this Test.
“We can still scratch out and reach 350. And though the wicket is good, the ball is going to reverse swing. There will be something for our bowlers too,” he said.
For about 80,000 crowding the Eden Gardens stands today, drinking water in plastic bottles was strictly prohibited, as was announced earlier, and there were plastic sachets instead.
While there was no scarcity of those sachets, what made life difficult for spectators was the number of outlets selling them.
The entire L block and parts of K block, accommodating 6170 and 3394, respectively, had just two shops, with two-three counters each, selling the precious packets.
There were plenty of ‘drinking water’ taps and soft drinks were also available in paper cups but the only way to carry water to the stands was to buy those packets. Naturally, it resulted in swirling cues at lunch break. The spectators, at that time, were perhaps struggling more than the Indian players at that period of the game.
CAB officials said it had come to their notice and many other shops, selling solids, will be asked to sell water as well.
Things were different in the club house which has a capacity of about 3,500. Not all seats were occupied but for those doing so, there was not even water packets!
A soft-drink company was in charge of putting up refill jars at various points but for whatever reason, they were far less than adequate. An improvement tomorrow, however, was promised.
Cop in the actInterestingly, a policeman was ‘caught’ carrying two plastic bottles, an absolute no-no as per police directives. One contained mineral water and the other a soft drink. Noticing this at the upper tier of the club house, a CAB official ‘seized’ it from the cop and complained to higher authorities. No explanation was received, only an assurance that it won’t recur.
It also occurred to many that plastic packets with water can be used as more effective ‘missiles’ than bottles as far as distance is concerned. “Less chances of injuries”, it was learnt, was the idea behind this.
While CAB authorities maintain “there will be enough water sachets to meet the demand”, distribution to thousands of thirsty fans remains the real challenge. If the police have decided to ban water bottles from the ground, it should be upon them to ensure spectators are not denied this precious fluid. One move that would really help is to allow vendors to sell water sachets in the stands.
The heat has really been turned on the spectators.
Cutting temptationIn their attempt to prevent throwing of objects onto the ground, the cops also checked tiffin boxes and one of the suggestions stood out. “You can get in with apples only if they are cut. The whole ones can be misused!”
Ramesh on nebuliserHaving seen opening partner Shiv Sundar Das take a nasty blow on his back, Sadagopan Ramesh has had to contend with his own discomfort on the opening day of the second Test. Diagnosed with a bronchial problem during the team’s routine check-up yesterday, the southpaw had to use the nebuliser after the end of day’s play today.
Dr Subrata Goswami of CAB’s medical unit has advised him to use the nebuliser before tomorrow’s play and, if nescessary, during lunch and tea breaks as well.
Ramesh may have had a little breathing problem today, but it hardly did anything to prevent him from taking a breathtaking catch at backward short-leg, to send back Shane Warne.
Sprinkling of VIPsThe Eden had its share of VIPs Sunday. Former chief minister Jyoti Basu, governor Viren J. Shah, mayor Subrata Mukherjee, Union minister Tapan Sikdar and WBIDC chairman Somnath Chatterjee joined the fair sprinkling of cricket stars to lend the occasion its importance.
“I’m leaving a little disappointed as no wickets fell while I was there,” Jyoti Basu quipped after a one-hour viewing in the morning. The governor, who too left while the Aussies were having things their way, said he was “hopeful” things would change.
But if there was anyone really being missed on the Club House terrace, it was Pankaj Roy. The legendary batsman, who died only last month, used to have time for everybody as he held court with his wise and often witty comments.
One that slippedWhile the VIPs were welcome, their names lingered too long on the elctronic scoreboard. It took away time to supply spectators with interesting information. And, on a day Harbhajan Singh made history with his hattrick, the scoreboard was mum about it.
1. Flight Of Fancy Plate, Div-II: Boldwin (Shelar) 1; Maestro 2; Godlen Sparrow 3. Won by: 3/4; 3/4; (1-31.8). Win Rs 217; (P) 47; 38; 53; (Q) 1,509; (T) 59,170. Fav: Shanillo (1).
2. Flight Of Fancy Plate, Div-I: Castle Grey (Rajendra) 1; White Lie 2; Top’m All 3. Won by: 6; 1-1/2; (1-29.9). Win Rs 29; (P) 16; 20; 29; (Q) 72; (T) 407. Fav: Special Selection (3).
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9. Reason To Smile Plate: Scandalise (Kamlesh) 1; Discover 2; Thunder Clap 3. Won by: 3/4; 1-1/4; (1-3.8). Win Rs 250; (P) 43; 38; 17; (Q) 1,163; (T) 10,942. Fav: Thunder Clap (4).
Jackpot: Rs 3,72,912; (C) Rs 11,901.
1. Play On Handicap 1,200m (Cl V; Rt. 00-28) 1.40 pm: Googy Gangster 60.5; Bhuthnath 60; Stately Honour 60; Tsaynen Blue 58; Floral Path 57; Heaven’s Blessing 56.5; Go With The Wind 55; Go India Go 49.5; Three Good 47.5.
2. Long Tom Handicap 2,000m (Cl IV; Cl V, eligible Rt. 00-50) 2.20 pm: Arco Europa 60; Aragrove 57.5; American 57; Alembic 55.5; Blessed Spirit 52.5; Crest Star 52; Flying Scot 52; Royal Ruler 52; Supreme Desire 52; Consul’s Secret 51.5; Scavenger’s Son 50.5.
3. Madras Race Club Cup 1,200m (Cl II; Rt. 66-94) 2.55 pm: No Surrender 60; Quickdraw Mcgraw 58; Alsheim 57.5; Best In Show 57; Mameena 55.5; Auctioneer 54.5; Princelene 54; Arctic Fancy 53.5; Addab 53; Sadaf 53; Splendid Star 53; Added Asset 51; Soviet Port 51.
4. Governor’s Cup 1,600m (Cl I; Cl II, eligible Rt. 66-94) 3.30 pm: Freedom Dancer 62.5; Stately Don 61; Arendal 58; Illustrious Reign 58; Alyssum 56; Prince Obolensky 47; Giorgio 47.
5. Calcutta St. Leger 2,800m (Terms, 4-y-o only) 4 pm: Andestine 56; Andreyev 56; Harry The Horse 56; Alvarada 54.5; Surfside 54.5.
6. Lumination Handicap 1,100m (Cl III; Rt. 44-72) 4.35 pm: Ispahan 60.5; Winning Hand 59.5; Kansai 58.5; Crimson King 57.5; Master Bold 57.5; Santillana 57; Peace Envoy 52.5 Smokey Bear 52.5; Cavala 52; Raaz 52; Sovereign Bullet 52; Bird’s Empire 51.5; Kargil Soldier 50.5; Ardon 48.5.
Jackpot: 2; 3; 4; 5 & 6.