Tuesday, November 11, 2008
by ADUR PRADEEP for KHALEEJ TIMES
DUBAI - India – Australia encounters are well known for producing scintillating cricket, and the latest one that ended on Monday proved no different either.
Though the initial days didn’t offer nothing more than dull draws, the last day of the final Test provided perhaps the best climax to the series, with the Indian spinners proving unplayable on a crumbling fifth-day pitch as they helped India crush the world champions by a 2-0 margin.
The entire series provided several moments of individual brilliance, lot of action, thrill and entertainment for the spectators. Khaleej Times takes a look at some of the decisive moments, turning points and key performances in the Test series.
There’s something remarkable about Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his captaincy. Many termed his Twenty20 World Cup triumph last year as just a fluke or lottery. But he proved them wrong with convincing victories in the following one-day series. Now, with a chance to captain the Test side after Anil Kumble announced his retirement, the wicketkeeper proved that there is more substance to his captaincy and tactics than mere luck and chances following a convincing 2-0 triumph over the world champions. It couldn’t be termed as a fluke any more that he led India to decisive victories over the world champions in the two matches (Mohali and Nagpur) that he led the team. The other two Tests, under the captaincy of Kumble, ended in drab draws. Despite the Australian Press blasting him for some of the ‘negative bowling tactics’ he adopted in Nagpur, he led the team superbly to victories in the matches he has led. If such tactics eventually lead a team to Test triumphs, many captains wouldn’t mind adopting those ‘negative’ tactics in the future too. His batting too improved significantly as he played some crucial knocks in Mohali and Nagpur when it mattered the most. He finished the series on a high note, scoring 307 runs at an average of 61.40. On the other hand, the Australian skipper Ricky Ponting started superbly by smashing a delightful century on the opening day of the first Test in Bangalore, but couldn’t retain the initial momentum in the latter part of the series. Ponting, with an average of 12.28 from his previous eight Tests in India before this tour, finished with a tally of 266 runs at an average of 38, including one century and half-century, each.
Although Harbhajan Singh didn’t pick up wickets in the first half of the series, he ensured that he ended up on a high note by taking 15 wickets – on par with the Player of the series Ishant Sharma – thanks to superb last day histrionics in Nagpur. He bagged 15 wickets at an average of 28.86 from three Tests. But it has to be noted that Harbhajan, through his batting, in the company of Zaheer Khan, was instrumental in saving the Bangalore match for India. That turned out to be the turning point of the entire series. He managed two crucial half-centuries, the first a match saving one, and the second in Nagpur ending on a winning note. The Harbhajan-Zaheer duo, with their gritty batting and 80-run stand, saved India from a precarious position in the Bangalore Test. Had India lost their initiative in the first Test, the outcome would have been different.
Man of the Moment
In an Indian series, no one would have fancied a pace bowler’s chances to emerge as the top wicket taker. But, after a sterling performance against Australia Down Under early this year, Ishant Sharma topped the charts again this time in India by taking 15 Australian wickets at an average of 27.06. His outstanding performance deservedly fetched him the Player of the Series award.
Not many would have placed their bets on Indian opener Gautam Gambhir to emerge the top scorer in a Test series featuring the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, VVS Laxman, Virender Sehwag and Matthew Hayden. But the Delhi opener made rapid strides in his Test career by scoring 463 runs from just three Tests, surpassing his illustrious team-mates.
Tendulkar took the second spot, scoring 396 from eight innings at an average of 56.57, with one century and two 50s. Michael Hussey took the third spot with an aggregate of 394 runs from seven innings for Australia as he scored a brilliant 146 in the first innings of Bangalore Test. Laxman too played his part by finishing fourth in the rank, scoring 381 from seven inning at an average of 95.25.
The Indian pitches, favourable to spinners, are considered graveyards for medium-pace and pace bowlers. It was also considered a luxury of including two pacers in the Indian squad, while playing at home. Not any more. The success of Indian pacers – Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan – even at unresponsive home pitches is indeed happy news for India, with the young spinner Amit Mishra, in the company of Harbhajan Singh, showing signs of learning the tricks quickly. He finished third in the top bowlers’ list by taking 14 wickets from three matches at an impressive average of 24.07 and economy rate of 2.76. Zaheer Khan too improved his performance at home, bagging 11 wickets, including a five-wicket haul in the opening Test. For Australia, Mitchell Johnson also put up a sterling show, taking 13 wickets at an average of 40.07. It was a remarkable achievement for him considering that even his place in the squad wasn’t sure because of poor form before the series. Facing pressure from his fellow left-armer Doug Bollinger, Johnson not only proved himself, but surpassed the lethal Brett Lee, who had a poor series with only eight wickets from the entire series. One player who made rapid strides for Australia in the series was Shane Watson, who bagged 10 wickets at an average of 32.10 and an economy rate of 2.77, plus 161 runs from six innings. But the surprise package was Australia’s Jason Krejza, who took an incredible 12 wickets on his debut.
On a High
The legendary Indian opener Sunil Gavaskar retired from international cricket when he was in supreme form. Justifying his retirement, he said, the fans should ask ‘Why’ instead of ‘Why Not’ when you announce your retirement, indicating that players should retire when they are in peak form. The Prince of Kolkatta Sourav Ganguly seems to be following the Gavaskar-principle as he announced his retirement when he has plenty left to offer Indian cricket. He left his game on a high note after scoring 324 runs at an average of 54, much higher than his career average, including a century and half-century in his last series. Kumble too announced his retirement, as he assessed his own career and the future of spin bowling in the middle of the series before announcing his retirement after the drawn New Delhi series.
Causes for Concern
India was one of the places where active crowd participation was a certainty for any thing associated with cricket. But if the attendance at the venues for the Test series were any indication, the Indian public is not that keen to watch the five-day affair, at least in stadiums any more. The next one-day series — this month against England — might be a pointer to Indian moods; whether people are now likely to watch only Twenty20 rather than limited overs or Tests. Despite India’s awesome 2-0 triumph over Australia, one big cause of concern for them would be the form of their middle-order batsman Rahul Dravid. The once dependable ‘The Wall’ only scored 120 runs at an average of 17.14, much lesser than the aggregate of fellow bowler Harbhajan Singh!