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Ten conclusions from the Border Gavaskar Trophy 2008: First Test
by Chetan Narula
Oct 16, 2008
So, the first test is over, with the score reading 0-0, and none seems the richer. It was all about enduring those hours in the first game, as both the hosts and the visitors were content on winning sessions, nobody really going for the kill, but they still managed to somehow set up an intriguing draw. And thus we look at the ramifications of the same.

Indian pitch curators are unpatriotic, greedy people. Does MS Dhoni need to gift them a couple of twenty thousand rupees every time we need good turners, replete with good bounce? Otherwise, why didn't the pitch at the Chinnaswamy break down inspite of threatening to do so from the first ball? There may be an argument going that these curators walk a double edged sword when it comes to preparing tracks; for on the one hand we want sporting tracks, while on the other we want to bamboozle the opposition on square turners. One thinks, let them prepare turners for this series, lest we forget that we weren't exactly gifted dry wickets in Perth earlier this year. And there is the whole payback for Sydney to talk about. They can prepare sporting tracks when we play England in December!

Ricky Ponting is now a true Test legend! Now, because he needed this ton to silence his critics, and 'Test' because whatever Greg Chappell, or Ian for that matter, may think, he is but a shadow of what Sachin Tendulkar has achieved, considering both ODIs and Tests.

Coming back to the issue at hand, the Australian batting still has that sinking feeling about it. Hayden was a bit unlucky in Bangalore, and Katich may have got runs, but the Indian spearheads are on fire right now. And we will have to wait for the moment when Ricky Ponting comes out to bat when the spinners are on song, to see if he can really get a start then. Hussey will continue to plunder runs unless the Indians stop leaking singles on the field. It's the rest that are worrisome, though. Clarke, Watson, Haddin and White all contributed in the two innings, especially in the 400 scored in the first essay. But these runs came in six sessions, school kids could have scored quicker!

Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma are the definite trump cards in this series for India. The rest of the bowling attack is yet to come to the party, but these two have continued the good work over from Sri Lanka. Getting early swing and then the reverse later on, they bowled long spells in the first test, and their workload was only compounded by Kumble's poor performance. They will have to wait the entire Indian cricket winter to get favourable tracks though, for India lands in New Zealand only in mid-February; where they will find more grass on one pitch than all pitches in India combined. Only if they stay fit till then, that is!

Which brings us to the spin department! While the Aussies lack anything with such a name, the Indians have two of the most accomplished spinners in the world in their ranks, and a couple of upcoming ones, sitting pretty in the shadows. But they couldn't get twenty wickets on a crumbling pitch. While Anil Kumble is altogether a separate case study, it is in Bhajji that we ought to find faith when the going gets tough. Will he be able to repay it, is the big question. Not if he is hit for some early runs, for then he will predictably bowl a lot quicker, taking the loop and spin of the ball away, and bowl from just one point on the wicket, cutting out any variations he might have. Coupled with the generosity in fielding, expect Hussey and company to add more tons to their name!

If Anil Kumble thinks that poor bowling is his only problem, he needs to think again. For, it is more like the root cause of the problem. A captain in strife means the team is in strife and vice-versa. Just look at Ponting and how his team was lifted almost instantaneously.

Jumbo is a senior bowler and he needs no one to tell him how he has to solve his problems. But coach Kirsten has to probably make him realize that his poor form with the red cherry is now starting to affect his other on-field duties. Fielding was never really his forte, but the good captain one saw against Pakistan last December and then against Australia in Australia is lost somewhere. Horrid field placements, predictable bowling changes and waiting for things to happen maybe cliché when it comes to poor leadership, but, maybe just maybe, Kumble has already crossed that threshold.

What if it comes to playing a third seamer, who will sit out then? It should be Bhajji playing, but then that would mean the skipper has to admit defeat, something he doesn't like doing. Suddenly that exit door doesn't seem that far, glorious or no, only time will tell!

The key to the series will be the Indian batting. If they bat well, Australia may well book their tickets home now. If they don't, we have retirement plans written all over the middle order. But the Bangalore Test seemed to be a watershed for these ageing legs. All of them got starts. Dravid made a fifty (not that it was his first!), Ganguly and Laxman batted with concentration and even Sachin played out more than forty overs in the second innings. Now when did that last happen?

Continuing with Sachin, his first innings dismissal evoked a strange thought about walking without the umpire raising his finger. This deed was something that set apart legends from good players, Tendulkar from a Ponting or Gilchrist from a Clarke. Yes, it sometimes happens that there is a lingering doubt about certain dismissals, but a batsman knows best. In the coming age of umpire review systems - where touch and go decisions that would have gone in the batsmen's favor, but no longer - have we seen the last of the walkers?

Having said that it all bodes well for the Indian batting, there might still be a few hiccups on the way. Sehwag will always be Sehwag (read foolish) indeed, but some one just needs to slap him silly for that first innings dismissal, which resulted in yet another collapse. Gambhir always looks to commit suicide while going for quick singles. The openers need to bat as if they were in Sri Lanka, as blunting the new ball will bring rich dividends.

This series will be a swan song for one of Indian cricket’s all time greats. Sourav Ganguly will have played his last international game at Nagpur in about a month's time and, but any doubters that he should have continued, ought to take a hike and now! For they would have failed to notice that the Aussies were stealing singles off him even as he was fielding at cover.

If you score 50 runs, and your fielding gives 35 away, what addition is that to the team cause? A younger player might not get those fifty runs, maybe getting 35 odd, but he certainly won't be sliding around in a slip-shod manner in the field. Dada made the right decision and don't you Dada fanatics dare say, no!

Last but not the least, the flipside of the first match of a series being drawn is that both sides then claim to be the better side. India were better for they couldn't be bowled out twice, while Australia were better since they ran up 400 runs and India were always behind ever since. In this case, both Zaheer and Ponting are right!

However, the Indian spearhead ought to know that he and Bhajji won't be rescuing the team every time, that it is the batsmen's job to put runs on the board. The Australian captain needs to know that India might not be lagging behind again in the series, and that he just blew his best chance to win a Test in India this time.

 
More Views by Chetan Narula
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