| Justin Langer glances en route to his 117 at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Sunday. (Reuters)
Sydney: After Sachin Tendulkar and V.V.S. Laxman’s class act, an engineering graduate and the teenage son of a muezzin helped India retain a stranglehold in the deciding Test at the SCG. Indeed, by stumps on the third day, Australia risked being asked to follow-on and hurtling towards defeat.
The Indians, though, will be having one eye on the weather: It began raining around 11.30 pm (local time) and Monday is expected to be cloudy. More discouraging, thundershowers have been forecast for Tuesday afternoon. So...
The engineering graduate, of course, is Anil Kumble with Irfan Pathan being the muezzin’s son. Generally, there’s little in common between the two, but both are passionate about cricket. And, while the senior pro is enhancing his reputation, Pathan is out to make one.
Four deliveries, two from each, served to confirm that Australia would find it difficult avoiding a series loss — that too for the first time in 11 years at home. Steve Waugh’s men are up against India’s highest-ever total. The previous best was 676 for seven declared versus Sri Lanka, in Kanpur (1986-87).
Kumble got the in-form Ricky Ponting with a faster one and, then, snared Damien Martyn with a slow googly. Later, Pathan bowled a beauty which moved late to Steve and, soon enough, evicted Adam Gilchrist with an in-swinging yorker.
The dismissals must have gladdened Wasim Akram, whom Pathan regards as his role model. Actually, both were Akramesque.
“This boy (Pathan) has an exceptional future... He can move the ball, besides bowling a nice line and length... Then, I like his attitude,” captain Sourav Ganguly told The Telegraph.
Mighty pleased, he added: “As for Kumble, never before has he bowled so well overseas... The difference he is making is pretty evident...”
Kumble, who has already taken 16 wickets — in three Tests only, as he was dropped in Brisbane — continues to make a point. It’s another matter he himself won’t speak on those lines. Yet, in an interaction with the Media on Sunday, he curtly said: “Everybody knows who the critics are... I don’t have to name them...”
However, Kumble acknowledged his performance was a “lift” which is required by sportsmen at some point in their career. “I’m happy it has come about in such an important series...” Well, that happiness is shared by millions.
The day began with India resuming on 650 for five — Sourav didn’t exercise the option of declaring overnight, but did so soon after the psychologically crushing 700 was crossed. In less than eight overs, the Indians hammered 55, with the young Parthiv Patel doing the bulk of the hitting.
Patel posted a career-best 62 (61 minutes, 50 deliveries, 11x4) before falling to Brett Lee. The latter added the diffident Ajit Agarkar’s wicket as well, with Sachin and Pathan staying unbeaten. Sachin, incidentally, climbed to the No. 2 spot in India’s highest individual scorer’s list — his 241 not out (613 minutes, 436 balls, 33x4) is now second to Laxman’s 281.
Given that the last time Australia conceded 700-plus was back in 1938 (at The Oval), openers Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden began sedately. Langer did try to capitalise on the aggressive field, but Hayden’s agenda — till lunch, at least — was not to invite trouble.
That changed after the break (taken on 49 without loss), with Hayden tucking into Murali Kartik. Playing his first Test in over three years, the left-arm spinner was smashed by the world record-holder and his first spell of three overs cost as many as 33.
Langer, whose contribution was negligible at the MCG, too picked up easy runs and, for a while, it seemed the Australians had launched a Rommel type counter. Both openers, though, got carried away when sanity was needed and became Kumble victims. Nevertheless, they put on 147.
Hayden scored 67 (139 minutes, 88 deliveries, 12x4, 1x6), with Langer posting his second hundred of the series — an attractive 117 in 194 minutes, 149 balls, 17x4, 1x6. Had Kumble not ‘intervened’, the Australians could have reached anywhere. In any case, the session between lunch and tea saw a whopping 161 added and, despite 700-plus in the bank, the Indians turned defensive.
Clearly, the momentum was lost with the openers’ exit. If anything, the position worsened with Ponting’s dismissal. Steve, given a standing ovation and also applauded on to the turf by the Indians, did respond like a cornered tiger, but fell to arguably the delivery of the Test.
Steve, who quits in two days, totalled 40 (90 minutes, 72 balls, 6x4). His dismissal was preceded by Martyn’s. Towards the close, extended once again, it was Gilchrist who lost his wicket. That has left Simon Katich to play a lone hand. With the Michael Clarkes breathing down his neck, he did well to remain unbeaten on 51.
Meanwhile, according to well-placed sources, medium-pacer Amit Bhandari (who played in the 2000 Asia Cup in Dhaka) may well be added to the ODI squad as the 17th player. While Sanjay Bangar, Yuvraj Singh and Hemang Badani arrived on Sunday morning, Bhandari could come with Rohan Gavaskar (Mohammed Kaif’s replacement).