Cricket can be a character building game. Yesterday’s day of cricket presented the opportunity to build character for over 41,000 fans and 11 Australian cricketers, in particular, Stuart MacGill (more on that later).
Exactly one year ago, I made my annual pilgrimage to the SCG and experienced “a perfect day” as Steve Waugh smashed that final delivery to the fence and celebrated a famous century. Realistically, I don’t expect to experience such an occasion again. But expectations are natural and come to everyone. And expectations can lead to disappointment, especially when they are based on events that you have absolutely no control over.
India started the day very well placed at 3/284 with Tendulkar on 73 and Laxman on 29. I was looking forward to seeing “The Little Master” in action, having never seen him before. But to be honest, I was hoping not to see him for too long. I, along with most other people were hoping to see Steve Waugh bat some time on Day 2. Of course, this was a long shot with only three wickets down and Steve Waugh coming in at number five. Still, India’s dramatic collapses in Melbourne gave some hope.
Tendulkar, Australia’s long time nemesis, has had a quiet series and not performed until Day one of the final Test. His very patient and risk free 73 was ominous. With Australia’s other nemesis (or should that be “one of Australia’s other nemesis’s” – with Dravid Australia does have at least three batsmen to truly fear in the India line-up), VVS Laxman – at the other end, India would have been hoping for big things.
And big things were delivered. Australia did not strike for almost five hours, and only after the scoreboard displayed the one and only previous time that a pair of batsmen had batted through a day of Test cricket in Australia. So, many thanks to the scoreboard management for applying the kiss of death to the partnership.
Laxman started on fire, probably because he was facing Brett Lee. The ball was just 10 overs old at the start of play, and although it did offer some assistance, it sure came onto the bat well. Lee and Gillespie each started with a maiden. Gillespie’s first over to Tendulkar was a beauty, beating the inside edge of the little master on two occasions (which would be half the times the bat was beaten all day). Lee’s next two overs conceded five boundaries as Laxman opened his shoulders to numerous half volleys, while Gillespie bowled another three maidens. It’s hard to imagine in a score of 5/650 that one bowler could have been magnificent but Dizzy was. He has bowled over 40 overs in the innings already, had conceded just over 2 runs per over and has been treated with great respect by the Indians.
Laxman and Tendulkar went on to conduct a batting clinic. I think that they were determined not to repeat the mistake of Melbourne, where they let a position of extreme supremacy, and ultimately the match, slip away. The heads were down and the ball never left the deck. The spinners were lofted not once. I was amazed at the amount of balls that were left. I don’t have the stats but I wouldn’t be surprised if close to half the balls faced were allowed to pass through to Gilchrist. I can’t remember the ball being fielded in the slips, and two slips were employed for a long time – probably too long.
And the Indians were murderous on any bad balls, and they were numerous. Laxman’s majestic 178 came from 218 balls and contained 30 boundaries. That is 150 in boundaries – a ratio of 84% – which is quite incredible! Aside from the obvious things that impress about Laxman – he is all style, superb timing, outstanding use of the wrists, I think it is his placement that really sets him apart. And once you hit the gaps in the field at the SCG, it is all over – the outfield is like glass.
Australia did have one chance in the first session, in the second last over before lunch. It came in the unexpected chance of a run out. Laxman carved the ball into the covers, and seeing that the fieldsman to beat was MacGill, must have decided that it was safe to start running. MacGill made a magnificent diving safe, and took the ball cleanly. Laxman, more than half way down the pitch, then found that Tendulkar, rightly, was not running and had to stand on his heels and return to his own end. It was a huge chance but MacGill, lying down was unable to generate sufficient pace or accuracy, the ball bouncing several time before reaching Gilchrist, who had to gather smartly and throw the stumps down. Even then, Laxman only made his ground by about 30 cm.
The second session offered no opportunities and the crowd became restless. Langer, the bastard teased the crowd with a “crowd catch” and sucked many in. Which I though was rather cruel under the circumstances. Still, it was good to see the players maintaining a sense of humour. I couldn’t tell if Steve Waugh was laughing.
In the first over after tea, Tendulkar, on 149, chipped a ball to MacGill at mid-wicket. MacGill had to dive forwards and to the right and spilled the catch, much to the dismay of the crowd. The catch was not simple, but on account of the slowness of the ball, could not be classed as difficult. Stuey got a real razzing from the crowd. We had to wait another 45 minutes or so, and the third new ball for another opportunity. This time it was VVS Laxman, absolutely smashing a pull shot form Gillespie. It went straight to MacGill – he didn’t have to move (nor did he have time to) – it went straight into the hands at about face height. And straight out.
I think I would have to describe the crowd as irate. I have never experienced such anger and venom in a crowd reaction. The jeering, booing and abuse was lengthy, to say the least. I felt greatly for MacGill, reportedly a proud man, as it must have been incredible humiliation (as he hadn’t redeemed himself in any way with his bowling). Even so, I found myself laughing at the extreme reaction of a dropped catch and the palpable disappointment of the packed house. Needless to say the next ball was hit into the deep where it had to be fielded by MacGill. He had to run a long way and didn’t he run hard and rip in the return.
Mercifully, Gillespie almost immediately knocked over Laxman’s off stump with a sizzling off cutter and a wonderful innings was over.
Ganguly made a quick fire (aside from a toilet stop) 16 from eleven balls. With India five down, the crowd may have been expecting some more wickets. I was. Tendulkar survived a very good lbw shout from Gillespie but then India really put the foot down.
Young Patel, contrary to the great Hasha Bogle’s assessment (Hasha said he only scored between point and third man), smashed all bowlers around the ground to be 45 not out at stumps, from just 40 balls. The last session saw 2/150 from just 30 overs.
Will India declare or bat on? I would suggest that they will bat on. I’m a big believer in first innings runs. The Indian pair did appear to “shut up shop” for the final 2-3 overs.
Tendulkar is on 220 – his highest Test score – and counting.
One thing is certain: Australian cannot win the match and give Steve Waugh a victorious send off. That being said, I was proud of our team. As they left the field yesterday, after a very long, hot, hard day, they did not leave with heads down. They seemed enthusiastic – they bounced around doing a lot of back slapping and encouraging of each other. The day had been character building.