Random Thoughts On the First India-Australia Test

Abhilash MudaliarAnalyst IOctober 5, 2010

MOHALI, INDIA - OCTOBER 05:  VVS Laxman of India bats during day five of the First Test match between India and Australia at Punjab Cricket Association Stadium on October 5, 2010 in Mohali, India.  (Photo by Pal Pillai/Getty Images)
Pal Pillai/Getty Images

Poor umpiring, but no controversy. The umpiring was so-so. Both teams suffered; perhaps India slightly more. But the players played in the right spirit. No one has come out and complained about the umpiring. No doubt this is in large part the effect of neutral umpires: there’s no reason for any side to think bias might be deliberate.

Laxman shows a rare side. The pitch of Laxman’s voice approached that of a schoolgirl’s as the game reached its thrilling finale. One has rarely seen Laxman so emotional on a cricket field.

A runner can create havoc. That India won was less because of and more in spite of Laxman batting with a runner throughout the fourth innings. The chaos was palpable. The other batsman just did not seem to know who to look at or take cues from. Dhoni looked at Laxman while Raina ran. Ishant listened to Laxman say "no run" while Raina ran. Somehow there was only one run-out.

Where is UDRS? India nearly cost itself the game by its stubborn refusal to use the UDRS. The Indian had at least half-a-dozen occasions where a referral would have been upheld in their favour.  The Aussies had a couple too but, on balance, India would have benefited significantly if the UDRS was available. Why India refuses remains a mystery. Rumours are Sachin is not convinced.

Five days, but every single little moment matters. The Australians gave away 17 extras (excluding leg byes) in the fourth innings. There were also four overthrows in the last over. These 21 runs accounted for more than 10 percent of the total chase; only three batsman scored more. India, for its part, dropped Watson on zero and Paine on two in the first innings. Dhoni forgot to run across the pitch, so getting in way of the throw. Smith missed the stumps by an inch in that dramatic last over. Ishant had two catches taken off no-balls.

Five days, but every single passage matters. There were numerous ebbs and flows in this game. As soon as one team took its foot of the pedal for just a second, became just a tad complacent, the other pounced. It happened in Australia’s second innings when they went from 87/0 to 96/3. Suddenly India felt it was back in the game. It happened in India's first innings when they lost their last six wickets for 51 runs.

Simon Katich seems a player with anger issues. It won’t happen, but he should have been pulled-up by the match referee for deliberately pulling down the advertising boards outside the boundary rope. Katich seemed angry at not being able to reach the ball in time before it crossed the rope. And he took out his frustration on the hoardings.

MVP. Laxman has to go down in history as one of India’s most valuable ever players. He is the consummate finisher. Remarkably, he averages more in the second innings than the first. It’s been said oh so many times that when he’s at the crease, no matter what the match situation, the dressing room is relaxed. One can see why.

A future Aussie captain? Tim Paine seems the likely sort. Michael Clarke is certainly next in line for the captaincy, but I can see Paine holding it a few years down the line. He seems both to be a good cricketer and to have a mature head on them shoulders.

Zaheer gets away with one. It's surprising Zaheer Khan got away with his barb directed at Ricky Ponting as the Australian captain was walking back to the pavilion. With sledging the line depends on not just what one says but also when one says it. Zaheer may have said something quite innocuous—and it may have been perfectly fine in the normal course of play—but to deliberately step-out from the team huddle and call-out to a returning batsmen seemed a bit out-of-line (regardless of what was said). It doesn't set a good example for the young kids.

Improved spirit between the teams. After a couple of rancorous series, it seems both teams have settled-down a bit. The contest was intense, but the behaviour was, almost completely, well within the spirit of the game. Yes, Symonds and Sreesanth are missing. But Gambhir, Katich, Watson and Harbhajan are still around. I think it's a maturing. No doubt the IPL has helped.

Is it strategic to sometimes NOT try to take wickets? We all know that a change of innings with less than an hour left in the day can be fraught with danger for the incoming batting team. This is especially pronounced on the third or fourth days, when batting is typically tougher. One wonders then, when Australia was eight down on the fourth day afternoon, whether India might have considered bowling wide outside off stump—with a view to not taking wickets nor giving away more than 1-2 runs an over—for some 10-odd overs. 

Imagine chasing about 220 on the last day with nine or 10 wickets in hand versus chasing 170 with six wickets in hand. I'd be inclined to take the former. Somehow, starting your innings on the fifth morning (with the full day ahead) seems psychologically less daunting than starting it with 25 minutes left in the fourth afternoon (where all you're thinking about is survival).

What will the doubters say next? India played with one bowler short and one batsman short in the first two innings respectively. That 9th wicket partnership on day five will go down in history. Much has been written and said about India not being the deserved #1 test side. Another emphatic nail has been hammered into that coffin.

Test cricket is alive and well!