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Fantasy
Australia v India at Sydney
2-6 Jan 2000 (John Polack)


Day1 | Day2 | Day3

Day1: Change brings no rewards for India

A new setting, a noticeably warmer and more humid tinge to the weather, a remodelled batting order, a revised design in their opponents' caps, a new year heck, a new millennium even. Changes abounded around India's cricketers as day one of the Third Test against Australia opened at the Sydney Cricket Ground, but the pre-eminent feature of this series (their inability to thwart Australia's domination of them) remained an intrinsic constant.

Notwithstanding the brilliance of the home team's performance throughout the opening two games of the series, it was hard in the lead-up to this match to envisage precisely what this day held in store. The general unpredictability of Sydney's weather; the suspicion that this pitch might continue its traditional love affair with spin bowlers over pacemen; and the dead nature of the series all rendered predictions difficult and raised the spectre that the opening six hours could have headed in a number of different directions.

In hindsight, though, the answer should have been obvious. Indeed, this whole series has been underpinned by the trend of Australia wresting the initiative from early in the piece and then squeezing the life out of the visitors. In that sense, therefore, the only surprise here - on an overcast day and upon a pitch more generously smattered with grass than any in memory for a Test at the SCG - was the sheer rapidity with which this pattern was effected.

After a special ceremony had been held on the field to recognise the occasion of Mark Waugh's one hundredth Test match for his country, India sprang two surprises. First of all, they won the toss and decided to bat (in murky conditions and on a hard, bouncy and fast wicket) and then they electing to install wicketkeeper Mannava Prasad as their replacement opener for the injured Sadagoppan Ramesh. Unfortunately for them, they were the only real shocks of the day.

It should be said in the visitors' defence - to the extent that a case might be made for it at a score of 8/121 - that the Australian bowlers performed very well throughout this day. The pitch was certainly on the capricious side (and one wonders what ever prompted the Indians to decide to bat first on it), but they again bowled with rhythm, fire and hostility. Glenn McGrath (3/34) was probably the pick but, in truth, they were all deserving of credit.

Together with VVS Laxman (7), a struggling Prasad was made to endure a torrid opening spell from McGrath and Damien Fleming when play began. McGrath set the tone for the day by beating a defending Prasad with a magnificent outswinger at the very outset and continuing to force him to struggle to find the middle of the bat consistently thereafter. Laxman was also troubled by the hometown hero - the superb leg cutter which beat his fishing defensive stroke in the fifth over typical of the early pattern. Then Fleming joined in, defeating a groping Prasad twice in succession in the sixth.

Around a three and a half hour delay for rain, wickets then duly began to fall with regularity. Prasad was the first to make an exit, edging a McGrath leg cutter to second slip after forty-three constantly uncomfortable minutes. Laxman did not see all that much more action, perishing when he meekly tried to fend a short ball from Brett Lee into the leg side but succeeded only in directing the shot into the hands of Michael Slater in the first of two gullies. The score was soon 3/68 - Rahul Dravid (29) unable to profit as well as he should have from several slices of fortune, his innings ending when he pushed forward at another ball wide outside off (this time from McGrath) and presented Ricky Ponting with a sharp catch at third slip.

Matters became even more inauspicious when Sourav Ganguly (1) again lost his wicket to part time medium pacer Greg Blewett at the end of a session. This time, he fell to the South Australian's very first delivery - a short ball which lifted and cut back in at him sufficiently sharply to ensure that he could not keep his bat out of its path and that he parried a simple chance into the gully.

And then a collapse was precipitated when another eminent probability - that Sachin Tendulkar (45) should again be the only one to offer any genuine resistance (albeit in the form of a more impatient hand than is customary from him) - met its own end. That came as he was beaten by an off cutter by McGrath, struck relatively high on the pad as the ball cut back, and fired out by Zimbabwean umpire, Ian Robinson. If consistency counts for anything, then it is likely the act of celebration which ensued might earn McGrath an appointment with Match Referee, Ranjan Madugalle, later in the match (as one from Venkatesh Prasad did in Melbourne), but one could well understand the reason for such jubilation.

Lee then rubbed salt into India's gaping wounds when he removed Hrishikesh Kanitkar (10), Vijay Bharadwaj (6) and Ajit Agarkar (0) in quick succession to three poor shots against quickfire deliveries. How fitting indeed that the dismissal of Agarkar for a fourth consecutive golden duck should have been one of the final acts before the onset of bad light at 6:19pm allowed the Indians the chance to seek such solace as existed in the comfort of the pavilion.


Day2: Indian punishment inexorably prolonged

At just prior to five o'clock on this second day of the Third Test between Australia and India in Sydney, a slightly frantic-sounding ground announcer was moved to make a despairing request for the safe re-unification of a lost child and his parents. Perhaps he should have gone on to complement it with a plea that someone come and rescue India too, for there seems little other way that their equally desperate predicament might be salvaged after another wretched day in a woeful series.

When bright beautifully sunny weather dawned for the first occasion in the last seven in this three match battle and an enormous crowd began to fill the Sydney Cricket Ground, all the preconditions for a day to showcase the most attractive and engrossing qualities of Test cricket seemed to be falling into place. In reality, though, that was not quite the way it proved. Instead, the abject failure of the tourists' batsmen to offer any sense of resistance to the Australians yesterday (and again fleetingly today) laid the foundations for seven and a half more hours of ruthlessly efficient and disciplined cricket from the home team.

At the core of the remorseless exhibition was a third Test century in this domestic season for Justin Langer (167*), but few among his team missed out on the opportunity to grind the Indians into the lush SCG grass as Australia made its way to a stumps score of 4/331 and a lead - already - of 181 runs.

As the audience filtered in to watch them at the earlier than usual commencement time today, the Australians soon showed themselves to be in no mood to ease the stifling pressure they had exerted upon their rivals; their bowlers again assuming command from almost the very outset. Javagal Srinath (3) was the first to feel their wrath, exiting in the second over of the day when he tried to defend a Glenn McGrath (5/48) delivery which held its line just outside off stump and ended in the hands of Ricky Ponting at third slip after attracting an outside edge. After indulging in the chance to relieve himself of some frustration by attempting some fierce attacking shots, Anil Kumble (26) then fell by playing in such a mode once too often. He became McGrath's fifth victim when he tried to blast a delivery from the paceman over mid off but merely gave Langer the chance to take an excellent running catch fifteen metres to his left from that position.

The Indians had accordingly been routed for the meagre first innings tally of 150 and handed a massive early edge to an opponent that rarely fails these days to punish an underperforming team. It was an advantage that they duly refused to relinquish.

Amid a plight so sorry as the one to which their batsmen had consigned them, the Indians immediately needed to respond by pressuring the Australians into errors on a consistent basis. For a time, such hopes were encouraged as they dismissed Michael Slater (1) and Greg Blewett (19) and beat Langer repeatedly through a early and very scratchy part of his innings, but they were soon stifled and then strangled. And while the pitch still served up plenty of encouragement to bowlers, neither the abilities of India's attack nor the cricketing gods offered anything like the requisite mixture that they needed to wrest back some sense of momentum.

Before he ultimately broke the shackles with two superb boundaries through the off side from the bowling of Ajit Agarkar in the closing stages of the first session, Langer enjoyed his fair share of early fortune. A number of plays and misses were evident and a beseeching lbw appeal (as he padded up at Srinath in the ninth over with his score at 7) was also turned down by Umpire Ian Robinson. He continued to play streaky shots through the slips for more runs, then went perilously close to gloving a hook through to the wicketkeeper. An even greater indication of the extent to which those above were smiling upon him came when he was on 45 - an inside edge to a Srinath delivery back on to his stumps cancelled in effect by Robinson's actions in signalling that it had been a no ball.

But somehow, as his evenness of temperament, coolness of head and steadiness of concentration so often allows, he weathered the repeated difficulties and then transformed a shaky innings into one of great durability for his team. It was his driving through the off side that was possibly the feature of his hand, but he was also able to direct a number of shots (with a skilfully angled blade) behind the wicket too.

Together with excellent innings from Steve Waugh (57) and a Mark Waugh (32) suddenly revitalised on the occasion of his hundredth Test respectively, Langer's peremptory efficiency brought the Indians all but to their knees. Srinath (2/81) bowled probably as well as he has at any stage of this tour, and there was a lovely touch in the middle of the afternoon when the crowd awaiting his arrival at the fine leg fence applauded him warmly upon the completion of an over in which he had serially defeated the left handed Western Australian, but he received precious little support from either his fellow bowlers or his fieldsmen. Almost apologetically, the Indians opened the post-tea session with part time medium pacer Sourav Ganguly and equally part time off spinner Vijay Bharadwaj and this, in itself, spoke volumes about their lack of aggression, enthusiasm and imagination.

As such, the Australians' path toward a seventh consecutive Test triumph continued to prove largely unfettered by obstacles of any description. So easy and unthreatening did matters appear to be, in fact, that they even found time to discard their helmets and bat in their infamous skull caps for a period in the middle of the afternoon! One can indeed only hope that the fate of the distressed lost boy was significantly more promising than the one which confronts the bedraggled tourists as a result.


Day3: Australia completes series clean sweep

In many ways, this series has represented both the best of times and the worst of times. Well nearly anyway, for Australia has played about as well as might be expected and the Indians have been about as poor by comparison. It was far from a surprise then that this was yet again the general formula in accordance with which matters transpired on the third day of the Third Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground, at the very end of which the tourists plunged to defeat by an innings and 141 runs.

For those who may have expected a more competitive and enthralling series, it also sadly served as yet another celebration of the twin abilities of Australia's batsmen to take toll of flagging attacks and for its own bowlers to work their way through an opposing batting list. Nevertheless, there was some time for three significant individual highlights all the while - Justin Langer chalking up several notable feats in the course of scoring his first Test double century, Ricky Ponting making an excellent century of his own and VVS Laxman registering his maiden Test hundred in bravely inspiring manner. There were also several bizarre curiosities late in the day - foremost among them a decision by Umpires Ian Robinson and Darrell Hair to grant the Australians an extra half hour at the end of the day to complete their seventh successive Test victory.

These seven and a half hours began amid brilliant sunshine with Australia again on the offensive with the bat. Around two run out chances which were badly fluffed by Rahul Dravid, Langer (223) and Ponting (141*) indeed opened in lucent style. In front of a crowd delighting in their dominance, Ponting was the chief architect of a run-spree in the course of which seventy-two runs were plundered in the first hour of proceedings and the rate rarely slowed thereafter.

Even by Langer's own admission, his was far from a great innings in terms of substance and, by its end, it had become difficult not to recognise the impact of a string of close decisions (at least four - at 7, 22, 25 and 55 - springing to mind immediately) that had gone in his favour. But one can not deny him considerable plaudits for his effort. It was another performance among many from him in recent seasons which offered a great testament to his powers of concentration, his reserves of energy and his ability to take toll of a labouring attack. Confirmation of the impact of the innings came in the notion that his is now the highest score ever made by an Australian against India, exceeding the 213 made by former captain Kim Hughes in 1980/81. What was additionally only the fifth ever double century by an Australian against this foe ultimately finished twenty minutes before lunch when he launched a tired off drive at the gentle off spin of Sachin Tendulkar but succeeded only in lofting a short distance to the right of Venkatesh Prasad at extra cover.

Whilst clearly not as productive, Ponting also performed a superb job for his team. Continuing a stellar run which has seen him now score three hundreds (ironically after three successive ducks!) in the space of four Tests, the young right hander incorporated sparkling power and timing in what was an excellent all round exhibition. His century, which came when he delightfully drove a Tendulkar delivery to the long on fence, was indeed in many ways significantly more impressive than the one made by Langer.

Once Langer was out, Ponting and Adam Gilchrist (45*) then permitted themselves the luxury of accumulating some of the easiest runs that might ever be granted them at this level before a declaration was mercifully enacted. Cuts, pulls and flowing drives were all in evidence as both Ponting and Gilchrist enhanced their Test averages with a rapid unbroken stand of 95 runs for the sixth wicket to take the score to 5/552 before the closure came at 2:27pm with their team's lead beyond 400 runs.

As if their plight had hitherto not been galling enough, the Indians then crashed headlong toward complete ignominy. From the manner in which they began, it seemed likely that the weary tourists must have already been completely rattled by the time that they then came in to bat. Or that is the way that it initially appeared anyway as they crashed to a score of 3/33 and illustrated barely even a scintilla of fight against some unremarkable Australian bowling.

Mannava Prasad (3) certainly heightened such suspicions when he meekly pushed forward at a Glenn McGrath (whose 5/55 gave him only his second ever Test ten wicket haul) leg cutter and angled a low catch to Mark Waugh at second slip. At the end of a miserable three Tests in Australia, Dravid (0) then reinforced them when he played a defensive shot at a straight McGrath delivery outside the line of off stump. The result was an outside edge straight to a juggling Shane Warne at first slip who, despite his best attempts to transform an easy catch into a difficult one, completed the honours to a roar of approval from the unashamedly partisan and noisy crowd.

And then even worse was to follow when superstar Sachin Tendulkar (4) seemed to take temporary leave of his normally perfectly assured senses in the following over. After a magnificently authoritative shot to the mid wicket boundary against the brilliant McGrath from his very first ball had provided the indication that he was in a mood to butcher the attack for one last time in this series, complete disaster soon followed. It came in the form of a loose cover drive at an outswinger from Damien Fleming, the result a spooned shot and the easiest of catches for Langer at cover.

With doubt surrounding the likelihood of the injured Vijay Bharadwaj's ability to bat later in the innings, that left the Indians with effectively only six wickets standing and still well over two days to play to avoid defeat.. But it was at about this stage that Laxman (167) seemed to sense that the time was right for someone to fill the breach. And so he did with a grace and an air of majesty that has not been apparent in too many of the innings played by him or most of his teammates in this series.

He did survive the odd slice of fortune (the most notable at 54, when he edged a McGrath no ball straight to first slip), but otherwise his fluency was uncompromising. Moreover, he played in exactly the fashion for which Indian supporters have been crying out throughout the series - with aggression, with pride, and with a myriad of glorious strokes to all parts of the ground.

One could almost detect gasps and groans from a stunned crowd as he also made Brett Lee (fifty-two runs brutalised from five of his overs at one point) suddenly look the mere mortal that few at this ground had believed him to be in the wake of weeks of success and favourable publicity. Still searching for the elusive five wickets which will confirm him as the greatest Australian wicket taker in history, leg spinner Shane Warne also took some unexpected punishment, especially through the leg side in the late afternoon. That the Australians were moved to introduce Ricky Ponting and Michael Slater into the attack late in the piece spoke of their sudden and unexpected sense of frustration.

Nevertheless, such frustration was not prolonged all that much longer in what remained a hopelessly lopsided Test. This reality was further encouraged by the strange decision - with India only having just lost its sixth wicket - of the umpires to extend play when the conditions apparently did not allow them to do so. Frankly, Robinson and Hair did not enjoy good games, they did little to quell the suspicion that the Indians had consistently been on the wrong end of several poor decisions in this series, and they regrettably did nothing but confirm the impression even more acutely with what was almost their final act amid the Australian whitewash.

 



Date-stamped : 04 Jan2000 - 13:59