| Anil Kumble congratulates Rahun Dravid after the latter completed his double century in Adelaide on Monday. (AFP)
Adelaide: Nobody could have imagined a single day would see three innings on a wicket projected as batsman friendly. Yet, on Monday, the script unfolded exactly in that incredible manner.
By stumps (Day IV), of course, the Indians were formidably placed to embarrass pundits and force a 1-0 lead in the four-Test series. While Sourav Ganguly and Co. require a further 193 runs for the first win in Australia since 1980-81, Steve Waugh has 90 overs in which to stop the visitors in his farewell appearance here.
Clearly, on Tuesday, the best seats in town will be at the Oval.
For India, mediumpacer Ajit Agarkar became an unlikely hero, returning career-best figures of six for 41. Later, speaking to The Telegraph, he hoped this second Test performance would remove the fit-for-ODIs-only label.
“I haven’t given myself that but, somehow, it has stuck... Now, hopefully, I’ll be seen differently,” Agarkar, who dedicated his achievement to his parents and wife Fatima (incidentally, expected in a few days), pointed out. This is his 18th Test.
Landing the cherry in the right area and getting it to swing just enough, Agarkar proved much too hot. In fact, the Australians contributed to their downfall by injudicious strokes and, possibly, a touch of overconfidence.
It didn’t help the Damien Martyns that the catching, for a change, was top class. Martyn himself fell to a brilliant take by Rahul Dravid. A stand-out show is what made many forget that Parthiv Patel missed a stumping — Adam Gilchrist off Anil Kumble.
Then, it didn’t help that Sachin Tendulkar decided to make an impression with his leg-spin.
“Look, there are very few matches when Sachin doesn’t make a contribution... Bat, ball or in the field... Today, he decided to be noticed as a bowler,” is how Sunil Gavaskar applauded him.
Appropriately, coach John Buchanan crucified his batsmen at an interaction with the Media. “No excuses, our batting was immature.” He did attempt a brave front, arguing all “had not gone wrong yet,” but quickly agreed the odds favoured India. And, this despite Australia having been 400 for five at close on the opening day.
Given that India were cornered at 85 for four in their first innings, a victory will see this team hailed with the same reverence as the one which carved that epic win at the Eden 33 months ago. However, the one to be watched is Jason Gillespie.
Except when Steve (42) and Martyn (38) were in the act of consolidation and when Gilchrist (in Simon Katich’s company) threatened to take the Test away from India, Australia weren’t in the picture at any time.
Trouble began early, with Justin Langer beaten by Agarkar’s swing, and really there was no end. “One always has a chance, as the Australians are positive... But, yes, the line has to be right,” remarked Agarkar, who accepted that his “skiddy action” was a USP.
As it turned out, Gilchrist top-scored with 43 (59 minutes, 45 deliveries, 4x4, 2x6) before falling to a Kumble googly. Surprisingly for such a highly rated team, everybody was in a hurry to depart. Indeed, one got the impression each one of them felt the next man would do everyone’s job.
Well, that next man couldn’t even do his. Actually, Buchanan was spot on when he conceded his batsmen needed to “learn” from Dravid and V.V.S.Laxman’s 303-run partnership, an effort which has landed India in such a happy position.
The Australians won’t do themselves any harm by studying Virender Sehwag and Akash Chopra’s unbeaten stand in innings No. 2, as well. Both deserve more than the season’s compliments for ensuring no wicket was lost in the ten overs before stumps.
The home team, though, has been ‘buoyed’ by Brad Williams’ courageous return to action after a severe left shoulder injury the previous afternoon.
Earlier, resuming on 199, Dravid reached his fourth double century with a four off the very first ball. He was last out, on 233 (594 minutes, 446 deliveries, 23x4, 1x6), but only after breaking two records and improving on his own highest.
India’s first innings had continued till 75 minutes into the fourth morning.
Meanwhile, allrounder Sanjay Bangar may come into the frame (as the 17th player) if surgery puts Harbhajan Singh out of the tour completely. The picture should be clear on Wednesday.