By Sunil Gavaskar
Sydney seems to be Australia's lucky ground for they win games from impossible situations at this ground. Their latest win over Pakistan was a stunning one especially after conceding a lead of over 200 runs. That Pakistan got to that lead was a surprise in itself looking at the way their top order threw their wickets away. After the openers had given them a good start all that was needed was for the rest of the Pakistani batsmen to bat normally and stay at the wicket and get as big a lead as possible. When you have batsmen being caught at deep cover, yes deep cover, off a new ball bowler and then looking at their bats as if to suggest that it was the bat rather than their shot selection that got them out was ridiculous to say the least.
Even in the second innings the top order apart from Salman Butt looked as if they had only a few overs in which to get to the winning target and not the whole of the next day too. All the wonderful effort of the bowlers was nullified by careless batting and a wonderful opportunity to win in Australia after 1996 was lost. If they had won then who knows what sort of pressure the Australians would have found themselves under in the third and final Test. There will be some who will blame Yousuf’s defensive field placing on the fourth morning for the loss but the blame lies fair and square with the batsmen and if the Pakistani selectors don’t take action against those who threw away a golden chance then Pakistan will keep wasting such opportunities which don’t come too often especially against the Australians. A lot of players in the team are staying on past reputations and if a team has to lose then it’s better to do so with a young team than old ones who don’t seem to care too much.
What teams can learn from the Australian’s is how number 10 Peter Siddle batted with great determination to add more than a 100 runs with Michael Hussey to give the bolwers some runs to defend. Many bowlers think that their only job in the team is to bowl and if the batsmen have failed then they should not hang around too. What it actually does is prolong the hours they have to field rather than keep the opposition in the field. Siddle is not the first Aussie tail-ender to stick around with a recognised batsman and help him and the team to add valuable runs to the total. Steve Waugh used to get to his centuries with the tail for company and his immense confidence would rub off on the tail-ender too. Every run matters in the match and since a bowler hardly gets wickets free so also when it is his turn to bat he should make it hard for the oppostion to get his wicket easily.
Some of India’s bowlers seem to have learnt this and so its a refreshing sight to see the likes of Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan hang around and make the bowlers earn their scalps though the feisty Sardar does sometimes attempt shots beyond his ability and gets dismissed and its not a pretty sight when that happens.
In Umar Akmal Pakistan have found a top batsman in the making and though its early days, yet the confidence that he shows tackling all kinds of bowling on all kinds of pitches is amazing. The beauty of youth is that they believe in themselves and feel that there is always another day ahead and so are fearless. Once a bit of experience comes in and he realises that chances to score Test hundreds are not there everyday he will become a more consistent player without losing any of his natural shotmaking ability. He will realise when to take risks and when to bide his time and the sooner that happens the better for world cricket because he is an exciting talent alright.
Ricky Ponting got a lot of stick for his decison to bat first on an unusually grassy Sydney pitch but he believed in his team and they proved him right. He may not look like a cerebral skipper but surely he must have some special qualities which make his team members support him and are ready to run through a wall for him. He has become the skipper with most wins in Test cricket and congratulations to him for that.
Congrats also to the Australian selectors for keeping the faith in Mike Hussey. Its staggering how his place in the team was being queried after he had a few century less matches while others in the team with no better performances were not under the hammer. That however is always the lot of the grafters who, the moment they have a few ordinary games, are under pressure for their place in the team while the so called carefree batsman with equally low scores are seldom under the same hammer. Hussey may have been lucky with Kamran Akmal dropping him three times but he showed the steel he is made of by crafting a century that will rate among his finest efforts and certainly the most satisfying.
Australia are making a strong bid to regain their number one ranking in Test cricket and don’t be surprised if they achieve it sooner than later.