Ice vests. The Matthew Haydens practising on (tailormade) slow and low wickets. Steve Waugh drawing a parallel with the proverbial Last Frontier.
The Australians left nothing to chance in their tune-up for the series in India. But after five days (three in Mumbai; two here) of Test cricket, it’s apparent Steve’s team needn’t have been so thorough.
Unbelievably, they have had a cakewalk and the tour party is set for more opportunities (read: off days) to absorb “the sights and sounds of India” as captain Steve would put it.
Bottomline is by stumps on Day-II of second Pepsi Test at the Eden, today, Australia were within reach of their first series win in India since Bill Lawry’s success in 1969-70.
After allowing Australia add as many as 154 to their overnight 291 for eight, India crashed to 128 for eight in just a session and a half. No wonder, Steve described the extended day’s play as being one of his best Test days ever.
The last two India versus Australia Tests have ended within three days — in Sydney and Mumbai — and the possibility of a similar finish here isn’t remote.
V.V.S. Laxman (of the breathtaking 167 at the SCG fame) is around, having shown what being positive is, but with India requiring well over a hundred to avoid the follow-on, it’s not a question of “if” but “when” the home team’s capitulation will be complete.
As of now, it’s beyond even a miracle to bail out India.
However, strictly theoretically, the wicket has been playing true and, should the batsmen do the job they are being handsomely paid for, the unfolding of cricket’s most sensational script may surprise us.
For such a scenario, though, there are no takers.
In fact the jeers, as India collapsed unashamedly this afternoon, could have been heard for miles. Unless their basic approach changes, with somebody willing to take on the Glenn McGraths, or even the Michael Kasprowicz’, the jeers will reach Sydney.
Actually, India did an Australia, losing seven wickets after tea (32 for one). But the visitors had the model Steve to pull them through, with significant help from Jason Gillespie and even McGrath.
For the umpteenth time, then, Steve led from the front: A brilliant 110, his 25th century overall and first in India. If anybody needed a reminder that Steve carves out the most invaluable runs, it came during his five hours-plus innings.
Later, Steve dismissed opposite number Sourav Ganguly with a catch which summed up the Australian approach: Go for everything and be rewarded.
Only rarely does Steve show emotion. Yet, today, it was an overwhelmed Australian captain who acknowledged cheers from the around 70,000 privileged to see a legend produce an innings which has sewn the series.
“I did get emotional, yes, and for a number of reasons... The Eden Gardens is the Lord’s of the sub-continent, it’s here that we won the 1987 World Cup and, then, I have my own association with Udayan, which is just off Calcutta,” Steve remarked, laying bare his admiration for both the Eden and this city.
Steve’s principal comrade-in-arms, after the Harbhajan Singh hattrick yesterday, was Gillespie and they added a record 133 for the ninth-wicket (the previous best against India being 96 between Ian Healy and Gavin Robertson, three years ago).
Gillespie, though, ought to have been out on 11 (instead of a career-best 46), but S.K.Bansal gave the benefit of doubt (off Venkatesh Prasad) when there seemed to be none.
It would surely have been a different story had the appeal for caught behind been upheld but, then, umpires don’t have the benefit of replays and are human. In any case, the contentious decisions usually even out.
The Australian innings (an improvement on the previous highest of 442 here in 1979-80) ended exactly an hour after lunch, with Harbhajan, who idolises Anil Kumble and Saqlain Mushtaq, returning a personal best of seven for 123.
Sourav’s move of claiming the second new ball (300 for eight, 95.1 overs) didn’t force a quick end to the Steve-Gillespie partnership, but when the bowling itself is generally pedestrian, the captain can do little.
The need of the morning was to cut runs but, shockingly, the bowlers strayed in line and even full-tosses were gifted. That, too, with a champion bat out in the middle.
In effect, inviting disaster.
Sourav could never have imagined, not many hours earlier, that the Australian innings would stretch till it did. Sadagopan Ramesh and Shiv Sundar Das, therefore, walked out with the weight of a ton of bricks.
Ramesh, as has become his wont, made it worse for teammates by being dismissed in a manner which has became all too familiar. It’s time for the selectors to persuade vice-captain Rahul Dravid to open.
After all, the way things are, Dravid ends up doing the opener’s job.
Das, who has an opener’s temperament, was the next to go, an edge being taking superbly by Adam Gilchrist, diving to his left. That catch (as also Steve’s to end Sourav’s stay) lifted the Australian game even more, just as it made another dent in the Indians’ confidence.
It will be remembered as a defining moment of the series.
The death-knell, though, was sounded when Sachin Tendulkar was adjudged leg-before by Peter Willey. There probably was some room for doubt, but the umpire (himself a former Test cricketer) was promptly convinced the in-swinger would have rattled the timber.
Another round, then, to McGrath who does reserve his best for the present-day Don. Not that he allows lesser mortals breathe easy, though.
Sachin’s dismissal stunned the turnout to the extent that Sourav’s entry went largely unheralded. The captain’s exit, after an hour of batting, was more ‘eventful’: Plenty of boos and the threat of missiles being hurled.
But that was after Dravid had fallen, deceived by a well-flighted one from Shane Warne. The ball landed in the rough and went straight through as Dravid’s ambitious drive remained unfulfilled.
One way of deflecting much of the pressure is to take singles and rotate strike. This irritates both bowlers and fielders. Intriguingly, the Indians were happy to invite even more pressure.
After the captain, Nayan Mongia (getting an outside edge), Harbhajan — well, he can’t be blamed, can he? — and Zaheer Khan followed in reasonably quick succession.
The 35-year-old, who authored an epic at the Eden today, recently spoke to The Telegraph on matters as varied as the captaincy, his own future and whether life itself has changed after the 1999 World Cup.
Following are excerpts
On whether he stands by his 1996 comment that “captaincy isn’t everything in life”
(Smiles) I do. Of course, it’s an honour to captain your country, more so when it’s doing so well... Better being a successful captain than a losing one... But, yes, captaincy isn’t everything. I don’t see it as being the be all and end all of cricket.
On whether this phenomenal success (captain in 15 of the 16 Test victories in succession) has taught him something
That you’ve got to remain humble and not get carried away. As I’ve said earlier, while I’ve got lots of faith in our guys, the team and I respect all opponents. If you don’t, you’ll have to pay the price.
On having taken charge (full-time, early 1999) in the shadow of Mark Taylor’s legacy
I’ve always been my own man, have never looked at somebody else’s record... Indeed, I’ve tried to be the best I can be. When I finish with Australian cricket, or when Australian cricket finishes with me, I want it to be in the most healthy state.
On his approach to man-management
On one level, you’ve got to treat everybody the same way. At the same time, the treatment has to be equal differently. I mean, it’s not a question of favouritism, but as captain you’ve got to know what has made somebody tick for 80-100 Tests...
On whether the No.1 highpoint is winning the last World Cup or erasing the West Indies’ Test record (of 11 consecutive wins)
Both have been great moments, but I do believe our best is yet to come... In any case, can’t dwell too much on the past... Left to me, I would look back after retirement only. At the moment, I’m looking ahead... To the Ashes this summer and, then...
Still, the come-from-behind World Cup success will always have a special place... That would certainly be the defining moment for my captaincy. Let’s say I’ve grown into it.
On his own role in Australia’s incredible run
Look, that’s for the others to talk about. All I’ll say is that, overall, I’ve gone through tough and good times and I’ve learnt from both. (Adds emotionally) I know what it means to lose; I’ve been part of a set-up which didn’t play as well as it ought to have... I do think you’ve got to face the tough times to truly appreciate the good moments.
On his team being labelled invincible
It’s just a tag and, if the people wish it that way, I’ll accept it. However, I don’t think it’s a realistic label. Certainly, we’re very competitive and play hard cricket. We aren’t the sort to capitulate. Also, it’s not just the 11 on the field, but the reserves and the support team, too, who contribute. Our basic strategy has paid dividends and I don’t see why it should be changed.
On the home advantage
But, remember, the home team has the additional pressure of delivering in front of a home audience... For us, the time spent on batting (in India) is crucial... Patience is a key word... However, I’m not the sort to tell each batsman how to go about his job. Each one of them is talented; each one has to work things out for him- self.
On whether, as captain, he is happy that the focus this time isn’t just on Sachin Tendulkar and Shane Warne (as it was on Australia’s last trip to India, early 1998)
Both are great players and the public would like a Shane versus Sachin duel, but I don’t think one individual can decide a series either way. The difference will be made collectively... The team which has a more significant contribution from all 11 players... You’ve got to have this desire to excel, it has to come from deep within. It can’t, as I see it, be manufactured.
On whether he himself sets goals
(Grins) I’ve never been a big goal-setter... As a batsman, my only goal is to play the next ball to the best of my ability. It’s simple and I prefer it that way.
On just how much has life changed after the last World Cup
It’s got busier... There’s little spare time and one has had to compromise on family and social life. But, then, that I suppose goes with being the captain... The priority, though, is to score for Australia. That hasn’t changed.
On whether the person in him has changed
With experience you do get a little worldly... But I’m still in the process of experiencing things, in the process of learning. What’s most important is being a good father (to two kids, and the third on the way). As they grow up, I would like to be a great influence on them. (Adds after a pause) I would love to bring my family to India but that, I reckon, can only be after I’ve retired.
On his message to youngsters who see him as a role model
Have your dreams and try to realise them. Then, never be afraid to be your own person. Peer-group pressure is a dangerous thing in sport, and life itself, but just give it your best shot. It should be okay if you’ve given that 100 per cent but haven’t got the rewards. What won’t be okay is if you’ve given just 75 per cent.
On his own future
I’m not really looking too far down the road, certainly not beyond the 2003 World Cup, because you never know what awaits you. For example, my innings could have ended soon after the (1999) World Cup, when I had that injury (following a collision with Jason Gillespie) in Sri Lanka...
I think I can still improve, as a batsman... If I can’t, it will be time to give somebody else a chance. Age isn’t a factor. Just look at Colin Miller: He’s 37, but still remains the most enthusiastic player on the field... Basically, that desire to be competitive, to be right up there musn’t blow out.
Finally, whether given a chance after 15-16 years in the big league, he would do anything differently
Would probably be more professional, at the start of my career... I then didn’t know I could be more of a pro... At the same time, the early years taught me quite a lot. So, there still were benefits.
Unlike yesterday, when it caused roars, there was silence this afternoon as the collapse pushed India to the brink of possible disaster.
Some suggested remedies, while others felt it was still possible to fight back. None, however, could prescribe measures to halt the Australian juggernaut. Somehow, nobody felt that the pitch had anything to do with what may culminate in another humiliating defeat.
Among those in favour of changes was Maninder Singh. Taking a break from the commentary, the former left-arm spinner said that attitude let down Indian batting.
“Batsmen must be more positive and play their strokes rather than merely defending against this Australian attack which hardly allows them to get on top.”
Suggesting V.V.S. Laxman’s promotion to No. 3 in place of Rahul Dravid, Maninder said the former looks more comfortable in face of the Aussie onslaught.
“Apart from Sachin Tendulkar, Laxman is the only other batsman who looks capable of playing his strokes against this attack. So why not push him up? He, however, must be assured of getting a decent run.”
In bowling, Maninder feels there is lack of support for the few who do look penetrating. “Take Zaheer Khan or Harbhajan Singh. They looked sharp but there was hardly any support.”
Asked if he could contribute in some way to make things better, Maninder said: “I don’t know. I may, but I have no offer. The National Cricket Academy is there and people like Bishan Singh Bedi and Erapalli Prasanna are also there. So, somethings can be done.”
Hoping against hope
The batsmen failed to come through what Chetan Chauhan thought was a test of application, but the India team manager has still not abandoned hope.
“Somehow, our batting is not clicking, but we can still fight back,” he said after the day’s play. He agreed there was no sign of a devil baring its claws on the pitch.
The former opener, known for his stubborn temperament and ability to absorb pressure, was much more confident even a little earlier in the day, even after India had lost three wickets, including that of Sachin Tendulkar.
“There is a lot of cricket left in this game. The wicket is good, as shown by the Aussie batsmen, and we need two good partnerships to stay in the match,” he said when Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid appeared to have weathred the early storm.
Chauhan also said the caught-behind appeal against Jason Gillespie off Venkatesh Prasad, which was turned down, “made a lot of difference”.
He was confident India had a lot of batting left despite losing their key batsman and that it was possible to save the match. He tried to put up a brave front, but the wrinkles on his forehead perhaps reflected the writing on the wall.
“Even when they are down, there are 11 men out there believing their chance to come back is just round the corner. That something good is about to happen.”
Maxwell, who has witnessed 15 of Australia’s record 16 wins-on-the-trot (he missed the Harare Test, where it all began), points out that deep determination and discipline ensures that they are always working to create that chance and when it does come to happen, are ready to grab it.
“You saw the catch Ponting took in Mumbai to dismiss Tendulkar, and Slater’s commitment when he ran out Sourav Ganguly. Today you saw the catch Gilchrist took to dismiss S.S. Das and then the one Steve Waugh made to send back Ganguly...,” said Maxwell to make his point.
When drawn to a comparison with Clive Lloyd’s all-conquering West Indians, who had held the previous record of 11 consecutive wins, Maxwell pointed out that the two teams were very different.
“The West Indians came at you with four fast bowlers who threatened to knock your head off; there were batsmen who beat the daylight out of you. In contrast, the present crop of Australians will lay siege as a team, with persistence and determination, till the opposition gives up,” the 50-year-old observes.
The globe-trotting Maxwell, who launched a career in commentating in 1977, ranks the Mumbai victory earlier this month as the best of the 16.
“The turnaround was truely amazing,” he says. “The wins at Hobart (a big run-chase, in the second Test against Pakistan) and Hamilton (a recovery from 29 for 5 in the first innings) were special too, but I’d put the Mumbai win above them. Because of the conditions, and circumstances.”
Incidentally, Adam Gilchrist played huge roles with centuries in all three of them. Maxwell is all praise for the man.
“Most people consider him a good wicketkeeper-batsman, but he is right up there even if you are looking at him as only a specialist batsman,” he says.
With the promise of watching the Indians bat, sale of daily tickets was brisk this morning.
“We netted Rs 6 lakh from daily tickets today,” informed CAB treasurer Amitava Banerjee.
The second-day spectators may have been kept waiting for the Indian batsmen till well after lunch, but when they did appear, they came out in a procession.
The only one the crowd missed out on was Venkatesh Prasad. But, then, you can’t ask for everything.
According to the BCCI secretary, Jaywant Lele, who arrived in the city tonight, Agarkar has recovered from viral fever that kept him out of the Calcutta Test.
The selectors, however, have no news on Jawagal Srinath’s availability. The fast bowler, who had fractured his right index finger in Mumbai, was ruled out of the second Test on grounds of overall fitness.
The Indian performance so far has left the selectors speechless and severely embarrassed.
“We can understand this sort of a collapse, as witnessed today, on a green top. But given the conditions here, it has come as a surprise. It was just a matter of someone settling down with a cool head to play a long innings. This side has the potential but somehow things are just not falling into place,” said a selector.
With Agarkar available, it is likely that Venkatesh Prasad will face the axe.
Though the performance of Nayan Mongia has also come under the scanner, the selectors are likely to give him one more opportunity. In fact, Mongia’s experience on turning wickets may finally help him retain his place. Moreover, constant chopping and changing is not going to help the team’s cause.
That the Baroda wicketkeeper can also double up as an opener will also rule in his favour. Coming as an opener, Mongia got 152 in the one-off Test versus Australia in New Delhi in 1996.
According to sources, the selectors are looking at squeezing in an extra batsman in the form of Hemang Badani to give further solidity to the batting line-up. Unless there is a dramatic turnaround of fortunes in the second innings, Sadagopan Ramesh is unlikely to play the next Test at his homeground.
His poor footwork has always been a matter of concern and today’s failure has only worsened his chances of playing the third Test.
The selectors may again try to persuade Rahul Dravid to open. If he agrees, Sourav Ganguly will come in at No. 3. If Dravid is unwilling, Mongia will open.“It’s not a matter of Dravid’s likes or dislikes, accepting or not accepting the proposal. It’s a matter of the survival of the team,” the selector said.
Venkatpathi Raju may also have to make way for Nilesh Kulkarni.
But a lot will depend on how the events unfold tomorrow.
Like everybody else, Praveen Amre left the venue of his ODI debut with the dream unrealised. Back in India after a short stint of club cricket in South Africa, the middle-order batsman is now settled in Mumbai.
His presence, ironically, also reminded one of an absence — that of a batsman who could produce a gutsy hundred under pressure —as he had, on Test debut, against South Africa in Durban.
Amre had also produced a stellar show in his ODI debut against the same opponents which marked the African nation’s return to the international fold. He said he does not mind playing club cricket in the city if things can be sorted out. That won’t be new, as he has had a short Ranji Trophy stint for Bengal in the early 90s.
On the waterfront
Things were rather quiet on the ‘waterfront’ Monday. Perhaps because of the lower turnout, there was little discontent among spectators as drinking water pouches sold like hot cakes. CAB officials also assured of fresh supply and promised that paper glasses will be distributed free near drinking-water taps in all the stands. That water, officials informed, is ‘certified’ by several institutions including the School of Tropical Medicines.
The number of pouch-water outlets, however, continued to be a problem as there are just 22 of them in the entire stadium. But officials were hopeful that the problem will be resolved
Steve all the way
Those convinced that Steve Waugh is the best Test batsman in contemporary cricket are no minority. Today, former Bengal captain and ex-national selector Sambaran Banerjee, paid his tribute in a noble way. “For me, Steve is No. 1, the No. 2, No. 3, No. 4 and it just goes on. There’s nobody else in immediate vicinity.”
Thinking that the height of the sight screen near the Club House end is less than enough, the Indian team has requested the CAB to increase it by about a foot.
CAB joint-secretary Debdas Banerjee said late tonight that the plea has been accepted by the association and there is likely to be a taller sight screen tomorrow.
“I accept I was the most nervous for quite some time when I walked out to take guard yesterday afternoon, as there is always a buzz at the Eden,” the Aussie skipper said today.
But he was always confident of a turnaround even after the dramatic middle-order collapse. “Because the wicket is so good, I was always hopeful of a big partnership with Jason Gillespie. He has always had a sound defence and can also play shots.
“Initially, we decided to build the partnerships in tens — from 270 to 280 and so on.” That gave them the confidence.
Steve sounded a bit cautious despite being in a strong position. “Obviously, we are well placed but one can’t rule out the possibility of India too fighting back. As I’ve said, it’s a good wicket.
“Yes, we bowled exceedingly well and were very intense on the field and the catch Adam Gilchrist took is the type to lift a side,” he explained.
Does he feel the Indian captain should have claimed the second new ball this morning? “Well, I see no point in talking about such moves and the captain shouldn’t be crucified. Rather, give us credit for batting the way we did.”
Then, what is the visitors’ secret of success? “The answer is simple: No matter what the scoreboard shows, our manner of playing remains the same,” the skipper revealed.
What role did the ice vests finally have to play? “That, really, is our magic formula!” Steve quipped.
With a couple of key players missing, and some others carrying niggling injuries, the red-and-gold brigade will have to contend with a team buoyed by a remarkable rally to hold Mohun Bagan the other day.
Yet, with only a point ahead of second-placed FC Kochin, the pressure to win this home match, against Goa’s Churchill Brothers, will rest heavy on Manoranjan’s men.
The ‘missing men’ are Bijen Singh and Suley Musah, both booked out after picking up yellow cards in the match against Mahindra United — Bijen actually being booked twice for a ‘send-off’.
While the speedy Manipuri striker is an important member of the East Bengal camp, Manoranjan will be more concerned that Musah will not be available.
The absence of big-bodied players in a tiring Mohun Bagan defence had played its part in Churchill’s resurgence on Saturday. Manoranjan could have done with the big right-back, though fellow-Ghanaian Jackson Egygpong will be around to ensure Churchill do not enjoy the advantage they had against Mohun Bagan.
Jackson, however, is not fully fit and Manoranjan will be a trifle tentative in the knowlege that the stopper had to actually hobble out of the Mahindra match.
Though Dipendu Biswas and Omolaja Olalekan are likely to start as strikers, Srikanta Dutta, the man on the bench, is carrying an injury. Sur Kumar Singh will start as the right-back.
For Churchill Brothers, the good news is that Igor Shkvrin will be back after a one-match ban. His presence will lend that added edge to the attack, which can be pretty dangerous if the midfield gets going.
Brazilian Edson de Bastro has shown he can be pretty creative in the midfield.
In Edward Ansah, Churchill have a top-drawer goalkeeper and the big Osmanu Husseini looks solid in the stopper-back position though he has had his moments of embarrassment, especially against quality attack. East Bengal will have to try and use the flanks and stretch the defence. The battle should be lost and won in midfield, and East Bengal probably hold a slight edge in that region.
Ironically, Churchill have often looked their best in recent times when they have been down and forced to throw verything into attack. At those times, Husseini has played a bigger role upfront.
There will be no respite for East Bengal even if they manage to score first.
The trio, along with two time champion Ali Sher, will lead the Indian challenge in the 38th edition of the most lucrative Asian PGA event in India.
According to information received here, over 90 professionals from 17 countries will vie for top honours, which offers a total prize money of $300,000 with the winners purse being $50,010 while the runners-up will pocket $33000. Japan has fielded the largest contingent of 18 professionals followed by Korea (12) and US (11).