Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Hansen Judgement - Fair and Balanced

Readers familiar with the Fox News channel in the USA may feel that my use of the phrase "fair and balanced" is designed to mock the Hansen judgement in the Harbhajan Singh matter. In fact, it is not. The appeals commissioners judgement is fair and balanced in the truest sense of the word. Given the narrow and limited framework of his task, it is also unsatisfactory, if one considers the incident in its entirety. This is why I am particularly surprised why people in India view it as a victory, while people in Australia view it as a defeat. If you actually read the judgement, Mr. Hansen has followed the prescription of the ICC Code of Conduct absolutely correctly.

His findings in essence are as follows:

1. There is no evidence to suggest that Harbhajan Singh called Symonds a monkey.
2. The exchange was initiated by Andrew Symonds, who used abusive language towards Harbhajan Singh.
3. Harbhajan used offensive language (to which he pleaded guilty) and hence clause 2.8 was applied and the minimum punishment handed out.
4. Mike Procter conducted his hearing poorly, with a very poorly drafted record of the same.

Hansen has found many shortcomings in Procter's conduct of his hearing, and his specific point suggesting that he did not want to criticize Procter, is the most damaging indictment there can be of the Match Referee.

Hansen has also found that Andrew Symonds, by engaging Harbhajan Singh using abusive language, breached a two way agreement between him and Harbhajan Singh at Mumbai. This is at odds with the Australian talking point that Harbhajan's comment was somehow worse because there was a prior agreement. Symonds breached the agreement first.

It is his interpretation of Clause 2.8 that is problematic. Harbhajan Singh has pleaded guilty to the use of abusive language, and given the fact that the provocation from Symonds was obvious, the minimum penalty has been established. Did Harbhajan use abusive language? By his own admission he did. There was however no reference in the hearing to what abusive language Harbhajan actually used, and whether it was any worse than anything Symonds might have used. Now, Symonds is above the law here so to speak, because Harbhajan Singh and India did not lodge a complaint against him at the time.

Clause 2.8 of the ICC Code of Conduct is as follows:
Using language that is obscene, offensive or of a generally insulting nature to another Player, umpire, Referee, Team Official or spectator. (It is acknowledged that there will be verbal exchanges between Players in the course of play. Rather than seeking to eliminate these exchanges entirely, umpires may look to lay charges when this falls below an acceptable standard. In this instance, language will be interpreted to include gestures)

The guidelines to this clause are:

"This is any language or gesture which is directed at another person or persons. In exercising his judgement as to whether the behaviour has fallen below an acceptable standard, the umpire seeking to lay a charge shall be required to take into account the context of the particular situation and whether the words or gesture are likely to:
• be regarded as obscene; or • give offence; or • insult another person. This offence is not intended to penalise trivial behaviour. The extent to which such behaviour is likely to give offence shall be taken into account when assessing the seriousness of the breach."

The guidelines state that this offense is not intended to penalise "trivial behaviour". I will argue, that unless what Harbhajan Singh said was non-trivially worse than what Symonds said to him to start with, what the Indian off spinner said to Symonds should fall under the category of trivial behaviour. Mr. Hansen is in no position to judge the seriousness of what Harbhajan may have said in Hindi, neither does he provide any inkling as to what Harbhajan actually said in English that he eventually pleaded guilty to.

Mr. Hansen thus has failed to demonstrate that what Harbhajan Singh said to Symonds was non-trivially offensive. Harbhajan has pleaded guilty and gotten the minimum punishment..... which leads me to my conclusion - that Mr. Hansen's judgement was fair and balanced in equal measure. He had to give the Aussies something. At the same time, the statement contains enough details - about the poor quality of Mike Procter's conduct of his original hearing, of the fact that in Hansen's view, Symonds breached the agreement that he had with Harbhajan Singh in India, the fact that Symonds was abusive, the fact that Ricky Ponting left the field in the middle of a session to complain to Steve Bernard that Harbhajan had said something abusive (Wasim Akram's observation about the Aussies being crybabies was prescient), to leave the reader of the statement in no doubt about facts as they emerged in their entirety. 50% of Harbhajan's match fee was what the Australian self-righteousness turned out to be worth.

If only people in India who claimed victory, and people in Australia who complained about the power of the BCCI, would read the statement. Hansen has been harsh on Harbhajan Singh and polite to the Australians in his final judgement, but the meat of his findings, which he records copiously, leave absolutely no doubt as to how things stand.

The ICC would for its part do well to review its code of conduct and appeals procedure to make allowances for cases like this one, where if India had complained against Symonds's language at the time, they would almost certainly have gotten a conviction, given what has emerged. Further, the current ICC Code of Conduct treats a complaint originating from a player (the captain), exactly the same as a complaint originating from the umpires. This is obviously wrong. In this case, Ricky Ponting's actions and indeed Andrew Symonds's action have been beyond the appeals commisioners or Mike Procter's jurisdiction. This ought not to be so.

The ICC appeals process works, because it enables events to be described properly. The primary reporting system does not work, because Umpires and Players are treated equally, and because Match Referees are singularly unqualified to adjudicate a number of the clauses in the code of conduct which do not refer to matters cricketing. In this instance, this has caused the serious issue of racism to be trivialized. Harbhajan could by rights sue Ricky Ponting and Mike Procter, because they had him publicly castigated on a charge of being racist - in Procter's case after conducting an inquiry which Hansen found was not even properly recorded, let alone properly conducted. Hansen has plainly contradicted Procter in some of Procter's findings, one of which is particularly interesting. Procter concluded that Tendulkar could not have heard what was going on because he was out of earshot. Hansen says he was absolutely within earshot based on video evidence. This obviously begs the question - on what basis did Procter decide that Tendulkar could not have heard anything? Or was it that Tendulkar didn't hear the word Monkey being said, which a fielder crossing over from Cover to Cover, and another crossing over from First Slip to First Slip may have heard, and Procter chose to spin this as saying that Tendulkar didn't hear anything.

The ICC will not (and probably should not) conduct an inquiry into Mike Procter's performance during the Sydney Test Match. Hopefully, soundings will be taken, and Procter will be eased into retirement. The umpires were not the only match officials to have a bad game. The Sydney Test match exposed Mike Procter's incompetence in a way which one hopes will be fatal to his career as a referee.

The matter is thankfully closed now. I shudder to think what the ODI series will bring. The Test team looks like a well behaved primary school class compared to the rowdies who will make an appearance in the ODI team. Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, notwithstanding Mr. Shah's warning about behaviour, is about as excitable as a cat on a hot tin roof lined with the choicest cat food.

The ICC has done well. BCCI for their part have acted well officially, but their belligerence with the chartered jet was misplaced and ill-concieved and has been rightly hammered. However, it is only part of the picture. The reality of the Australian actions as revealed by Judge Hansen's report form a substantially more significant part of this picture.

Update: Do read this take on the Hansen judgement and the Sydney Test episode.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

On a lighter note.....

Navjot Sidhu is up in arms about Sourav Ganguly's omission from the ODI squad. He has challenged the Chairman of Selectors to an open debate about the decision to drop Ganguly. Sidhu says that if Vengsarkar can convince him that dropping Ganguly was a good idea, then he would leave NDTV for a lifetime!

Now, given Mr. Sidhu's relentless assault on the senses during commentary, i think it is fairly obvious to everybody that nobody has ever managed to convince Mr. Sidhu about anything, except may be his son, who convinced him to stop being an embarrassment in the field and take up fielding (im now wondering whether the 'Jonty Sidhu' was instigated by Navjot Singhji himself, given his subsequent verbal diarrhea), mainly by shaming him into it.

NDTV has made a shameless low blow here. First of all their story is headlined "Cricket experts...... " and then features Sidhu and Jadeja. Im thinking that Mr. Vengsarkar should agree to Mr. Sidhu's challenge, provided that this challenge is played out in private, without transcripts, cameras or recorders. He should then walk about a declare victory. I'll believe him. We'll have gotten rid of Sidhu for good. Only the poor chaps in parliament and at political rallies for the BJP will have to suffer through Navjot Sidhu's allegedly pointed assaults.

Meanwhile, im thinking back to the last 12 months or so - Ganguly, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Irfan Pathan, Virender Sehwag, Dinesh Karthik to open the batting...... id say the Chairman of Selectors and the team management have together formed a group of rare genius!

I would like to extend to Mr. Sidhu an open challenge.... to convince me that he is actually sane..............

Monday, January 28, 2008

Racism trivialized in farcical hearing....

The racism accusation against Harbhajan Singh has been withdrawn, thanks to a joint letter written by Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting to the appeals commissioner John Hansen, asking him to reduce the charge from Level 3.3 to Level 2.8! So Ricky Ponting, who sought the moral high ground and said "just one incident happened at Sydney and it didn't involve us", and had everybody self-righteously clicking their tongues and shaking their heads and going "racism is just not on", has just made a slick, sleazy about turn leaving the hapless Mike Procter with egg on his face. Why Sachin Tendulkar agreed to be party to this letter, i do not know. I only hope he makes a proper explanation. Why should Harbhajan Singh be charged with the Level 2.8 offense? What kind of judicial process functions based on a joint letter written by a witness for the defendant and the lead plaintiff, even if those two may have 73 Test hundreds between them? Harbhajan could be forgiven for being completely flummoxed. If you think racism is a vicious, serious matter, this has been a doosra of colossal proportions, full of venom, ripping from leg stump to first slip.

In one fail swoop, the ICC has revealed how little it actually cares about the Spirit of Cricket. BCCI and CA are party to this and must share the blame. In the end, the question of racism has been kicked in the gut by the collective desire to keep business going.

Ricky Ponting has turned his back on his teammate against whom the offending, racist remark was allegedly made, and on those who offered evidence in the matter. Having made the charge, he did not seem to have the willingness to see it through to the bitter end. He chose to be a conniving co-conspirator, rather than be an upright captain. Just think about it - what does it say about Ponting's views on racism? If Ponting thought he had made a error to begin with in charging Harbhajan Singh of racism, and doing so publicly, then should he not withdraw the charge in the same public manner and apologize? If Ponting did agree that the charge of racism carried weight, then why did he not stick with it? Does he not care about racism in cricket? This seems to be one of those sordid out of court settlements, without admission of any liability. It seems to be Ponting's way of saying, in the typical Australian way "we have the right to appeal, the umpire's there to make the decision".

The Australian captain needs to clarify plenty of things, but as with everything else that has been utterly smashed by this bizarre ruling, the remains will be swept under the carpet. The next time Ponting or Tendulkar or anybody else is asked about this, they will simply respond that the matter is closed.

If this was about Harbhajan Singh's honour as a sportsman, then that honour has not been restored one iota. If this was about racism, then the issue has been abused without mercy and without compunction.

This is in sharp contrast to the proceedings in the Oval Controversy hearing conducted by Ranjan Madugalle. His statement at the end of it all was informative and clear. There were no underhanded letters and no plea deals apparent on that occasion. But then again, that was a purely cricketing matter, within the purview of purely cricketing laws.

This has supposedly been about racism and/or offensive behaviour, and Cricket clearly understands absolutely nothing about either of these issues.

A series as vital as life itself......

What a series it has been! The two most experienced test teams in the world today met in the best venue for Test cricket in the world, and produced a contest for the ages. This contest may not possess the glamorous history of the Ashes, but in this new year, it is clear that this has become the pre-eminent clash in the cricket world. I don't subscribe to historical rivalries, for when a generation of players retire, and a new generation takes over, the carry over to the next generation of contestants is purely symbolic. One need look no further than the Frank Worrell Trophy which was instituted in honour of the West Indies' first black captain Frank Worrell, who took a group of talented West Indian cricketers to Australia in 1960-61, and forged a great team. They played a series to remember, and the team Worrell built team dominated Test cricket for the next six or seven years. Since then the Frank Worrell Trophy has only rarely produced truly competitive series. It has invariably been either the West Indies who were dominant, or as has been the case in recent times, Australia. It is the series which marked the handing over of the reigns of power which have tended to be most exciting. The best comparison one can offer for the current India - Australia series, are the Pakistan - West Indies contests in the 1980's. In a decade where both England and Australia were regularly hammered by Viv Richards's pace battery, only Imran Khan's Pakistan could compete with them. They produced three thrilling 1-1 draws in the late 1980's.

Imran Khan's team had the quality of bowling (Imran himself, Abdul Qadir, Wasim Akram, and later Waqar Younis) which could challenge Richards's West Indies. In addition, they had one truly great batsman - Javed Miandad and a number of other really good batsmen, apart from Imran himself, who averaged 19 with the ball and 52 with the bat as captain in Test cricket. These tended to be bowler dominated contests. India v Australia contests have tended to be dominated by batting. Indeed India's ability to challenge Australia has not been due to their ability to match Australia's bowling strength, it has been because India's batsmen have been able to rattle up huge totals against vastly superior bowling and fielding attacks, there by allowing India's bowlers the opportunity to Test the Australian line up in situations where they have had a chance. This is borne out by the fact that out of the 8 innings totals in excess of 500 against this Australian side in the current decade, India have produced 6. This Australian side is also better than Richards's West Indies team, or Imran Khan's Pakistan side, simply by virtue of their sheer dominance against all opposition. Australia have won 73 Test matches out of 92 played in this decade.

Yet, it has to be said, that for all of India's competitiveness, they have not beaten Australia in a series since the 2000-01 season, when they pulled off that miraculous come from behind result. They failed to win in 2003-04, lost in 2004-05 and have now lost in 2007-08. And yet, with every series against Australia, they have come away a better team. This series in Australia has been no different.

Careers have been revived, a new captain has led with aplomb and another riveting chapter has been written in the story of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. Brett Lee and Virender Sehwag have made amazing comebacks - in Lee's case following an injury which kept him out of the World Cup, in Sehwag's case following a year in the wilderness. Irfan Pathan has shown glimpses of his old bowling form, and in his current avatar seems to have returned a wiser, more accomplished all round cricketer. Wasim Jaffer has been exposed by the excellence of Lee and Clark, and will hopefully become a better batsman in the long run. He has looked good against less consistent attacks in the past year, but the relentless quality of Lee and Clark has shown him up. Stuart Clark himself has been tested against the best batting line up in the world apart from Australians and has given a good account of himself. He seemed to fall away a bit at Adelaide, but on wickets which suit him was near perfect. Rahul Dravid showed glimpses of a return to form and made an important 93 at Perth. Sourav Ganguly began the series looking like a million dollars, but his luck seemed to desert him and he fell away in the second half of the series. Both suffered due to umpiring in the series, as did Sachin Tendulkar. Tendulkar was tremendous in the series. He batted with his old fire and even won an unexpected Man of the Match award towards the end. Andrew Symonds, Michael Hussey and Michael Clarke have shown that they are well capable of continuing the great tradition of the Waugh brothers and Damien Martyn as occupants of the Australian middle order. Mitchell Johnson, Ishant Sharma and R P Singh showed great heart through out the series bowling marathon spells without flagging in often oppressive heat.

The only disappointment for India was Harbhajan Singh. He was inconsistent, and showed all the same failings which have marked his decline as a Test match spinner in the past few years. He still gets wickets in India, but his threat has dwindled. He still struggles against left handers, and is unable to attack the stumps against them. From over the wicket, he obviously struggles against them because his stock ball has to pitch outside leg stump, while from round the wicket, he consistently failed to get the drift into the stumps which might have enabled him to attack the stumps. Because he got almost no drift, all the Australian left handers took off stump guard against him, and kept plonking their foot outside off stump, waiting for the short one or half volley, which came along sooner of later. Harbhajan Singh is still the same bowler than he was in 2001. That is something to think about for the Indian selectors. His success against Ricky Ponting in this series has been the only redeeming feature for him, and even there, Ponting made a great century on what was arguably the best wicket on offer for Harbhajan through out the series.

It would be safe to say that the Australian batsmen won their battle against the Indian spinners in this series. In fact, if you think about it, India did well in exactly those conditions where they were expected to fail, and failed every time the conditions were expected to suit them. Anil Kumble took 5 wickets on the first day at Melbourne, India failed with the bat on an MCG pitch which resemble to sub continent beyond their wildest dreams. The spinners failed to bowl out Australia in the third innings at Sydney, when there was some turn and bounce on offer, and then against at Adelaide. The batting and bowling outplayed the hosts at Perth, where they were expected to be steamrolled. The batting came into its own from Sydney on, but it was on the truer, bouncier wickets that they thrived.

VVS Laxman continued his love affair with Australia. The truly big innings eluded him, but he sparked the Indian revival with a silken century at Sydney, and then followed it up with a typically calm 79 at Perth, which made the difference between victory and defeat for India. Just to give you a measure of VVS Laxman's achievement in Australia, he is the second fastest man ever to reach 1000 runs in Australia. He did so in his 18th Test innings on Australian soil, matching Jack Hobbs, following Herbert Sutcliffe. Tendulkar and Lara both reached 1000 runs in Australia during their 22nd innings there, Len Hutton did it in his 23rd, Richie Richardson did it in 24 while Viv Richards did it in 25. Among the great players who have played more than VVS in Australia for lesser reward are Gary Sobers, Sunil Gavaskar and Javed Miandad. Virender Sehwag might do it faster than VVS, he has currently made 833 runs in 14 innings in Australia.

Virender Sehwag marked his second innings in Test cricket with an awesome display of 5th day batting. He was unshakeable in defense and decisive in attack, and like Tendulkar and Laxman through out this series enjoyed the opportunity to push singles to the deep field regularly. He did reveal his old self from time to time, such as when he slogged Hogg for six to midwicket even though a deep midwicket was present. It was a great innings, possibly the best by an Indian batsman in the series.

The innings of the series however, came from Mathew Hayden. He is on current form, the best batsman in the world, and in that 2nd innings at Sydney, he produced a truly great Test century. There was something in the wicket for Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, and the scoreboard was in India's favor. Hayden was colossal as he took on the spinners and sparked a shift in momentum with two calculated reverse sweeps off Anil Kumble, which left India chasing the game. For an opening batsman, he plays spin bowling brilliantly and has no real weakness as a batsman. But for Brett Lee's world class pace bowling, he might have been a shoo in for the man of the series award. Lee and Hayden were the difference between India and Australia in this series.

The find of the series was Ishant Sharma. He showed skill and temperament beyond his years and his experience. He may have gotten only 6 wickets in the series, but consider what wickets they were - Ponting (twice), Symonds, Clarke (twice) and Hayden. Yet another fine talent has been added to India's growing pace bowling pool.

All in all, it has been a series for the ages. Both teams came away completely spent. Consider the injuries - Dravid nearly broke his finger, R P Singh pulled a hamstring, Anil Kumble seemed to show signs of back trouble, Ricky Ponting did have back trouble, Andrew Symonds had an ankle injury and Mathew Hayden has a hamstring injury.

All that remains of this series is the Harbhajan Singh hearing - a testimony to the less than savory side of high octane sport. It is also a testimony to the naive missteps of the Australian captain, who once again struck a jarring note, when the first thing he said in the post match presentation was "i think the series has been played in the spirit of the game". Australia have been fine consumers of this spirit during this series. It says plenty about this Australian side when their most sporting member is their leading fast bowler.

Australia tour Pakistan next, while India, having taken on the best fast bowler in the world in Australia, will return home to face the other in form quick man in Test Cricket this season - Dale Steyn.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Adelaide Test - Day 4

Another day of bat dominating ball. 8/286 scored on the day. India survived the new ball without too much damage after conceding a 37 run first innings lead. If there is some solace for India, it is that in the last two tests at Adelaide where 500 has been crossed by both teams in the first innings, it is the side which conceded the first innings lead, which has gone on to win. Australian fans however will be quick to point out, that the teaming batting second has always gone on to win.

With a 1-2 series deficit, India have no choice but to go for broke. A 1-3 result will not be any worse than a 1-2 result (even though it will hurt India in my ratings), and India might consider risking defeat in going for victory. With the superb Australian first innings effort, India cannot get into a position where they can eliminate a possibility of an Australian victory all together and still win. So what im wishing for for the last day of what has been a terrific series, is for India to go for broke. Make one last push, bat with abandon and then set about the Australian batting line up, even if it means setting Australia 220 in 50 overs.

Its going to take a miracle from here. Besides, India are a professional team. The Indian players are unlikely to throw away a Test match series where they have played with so much skill in an unrealistic quest for victory. If it happens, it will be a once in a lifetime event, and it will mean that someone will have bowled and batted out of his skin. Realistically, i suspect that India will push for victory in the morning, but not make too reckless a declaration if they get to the stage where they can make one.

Go for broke India. Hopefully it will be a day to remember. I remember one other final day recently, where one felt there was too much left in the game for a result to be possible. We all know how that day ended. This is much more difficult than that. What it will take is one whirlwind innings and one devastating spell.

Maybe..... just maybe...

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Gentleman Bully

Adam Gilchrist has played 96 Test matches for Australia. He played in Test match winning teams 73 times. This is a record which will almost never be matched. For Australia he has been the icing on the cake - following a talented, skillfull batting order at number 7 and demolishing what was left of the opposition. On the few occasions when opposition bowling line ups did manage to run through the specialist batting, Gilchrist was there to thwart them. He has had a career of uninterrupted triumph. He won all three world cups that he played in and played in winning Test series in every Test playing nation in the world. He has been a worthy gloveman for the most successful international cricket team in history. John Buchanan wrote about multi-talented cricketers, ambidextrous cricketers and other such supermen who would wear national caps and change cricket in the future. His inspiration for this idea may well have been Gilchrist. Many have suggested that Gilchrist was not even the best wicketkeeper in Australia during this time. Indeed, he was never the best wicketkeeper in the world. But as wicketkeeper batsman, he is unparalleled.

Gilchrist would easily have held his place in the Australian side as a specialist batsman. The presence of Warne and McGrath however, allowed Australia to continue to play with 4 specialist bowlers, there by allowing them the luxury of playing Gilchrist at number 7. Many will say that his greatest Test innings came at number 7 - at Hobart in 1999, where he combined with Justin Langer after Australia have plummeted to 5/126 to script Australia's greatest 4th innings run chase since Bradman's invincibles chased down 404 at Headingley in 1948. If this was a example of the depth that Gilchrist's batting offered Australia, i offer another example here which in my view illustrates Adam Gilchrist's greatness as a batsman even more emphatically.

Australia toured Sri Lanka in 2004 with Ricky Ponting at the helm for the first time. They won the first test despite conceding a first innings lead, but were bowled out for 120 in first innings of the next Test match at Kandy. Shane Warne brought them back into the game some what, taking 5/65 to bowl out Sri Lanka for 211. It was here that Ricky Ponting promoted Adam Gilchrist to number 3 in Australian second innings. Hayden and Langer failed in the Australian second innings, and at 2/26 Australia were still 65 runs behind with only 8 second innings wickets standing. Gilchrist produced his best counter attacking innings here, scoring 144(185). He scored at a run a ball against Vaas (whom Australia had been unable to get away in that series) and Muralitharan, and made 144 out of a 200 run stand with Damien Martyn (who went on to make 161), to wrest the momentum from the Sri Lankans. If you leave out Gilchrist's 144 and Martyn's 161 in that innings, the next best innings was 27 from Ricky Ponting. Australia won that Test by 23 runs.

Gilchrist played a similar innings against India at Mumbai in 2001 on a square turner against Harbhajan Singh after Australia were reduced to 5/99 in response to India's 173 in their first innings. Of that innings, Sachin Tendulkar remarked with awe "He was sweeping out of the rough, against the break, and he connected everything!". When you consider that Gilchrist - originally a New South Welshman, who moved to Perth to make his first class career in Western Australia, and hence shaped his game at the pace friendly WACA, Gilchrist's achievements against spin bowling appear all the more impressive.

Fittingly, he made a 57 ball century against England at Perth last year. It placed him just below Vivian Richards amongst the fastest Test match centurions. If you consider potential for destructive Test match batting, then Gilchrist probably figures just below Richards in that list as well.

It is difficult to say whether he was a better Test batsman or ODI batsman. Even though many of his most destructive innings in Tests came after the specialist batting had done a lot of the hard work, for his part he showed that he could have played as a specialist batsman as well. I will suggest however that he has been Australia's greatest ODI opener, and the greatest in the world after Tendulkar, simply because of his high average and brilliant strike rate. Hence, in my view he was a more important ODI batsman than he was a Test batsman. The numbers tell their own story. He averaged 41 in Australian wins, while he averaged 26 in Australian defeats as opener. He averaged 41 in run chases. The one truly quirky statistic, is that while he opened the batting and took first strike, he averaged 38, while when he opened the batting and began at the non-strikers end, he averaged 28!

Gilchrist's presence in the side has been a symbol of the awesome depth within the Australian Test team. Australian batting line ups set about opposition line ups knowing fully well that they had to get only within striking distance of the opposition total, because Gilchrist was waiting in the pavilion to come in and destroy what was left of the opposition. Gilchrist for his part completed the steamrolling exercise and left no doubt at the end of the day. 17 Test hundreds are testimony to this.

The next Australian wicketkeeper will almost certainly serve the Aussies with distinction. But i doubt whether Australia will ever find another Adam Gilchrist, whatever Buchanan may postulate.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Adelaide Test - Day 3

Australia made 260/3 on the Day. They ended day 3 on 322/3, 204 runs behind India's first innings. They have batted for 111 overs (if David Shepherd were umpiring this game, he might have had a rough night) and scored at less than 3 runs per over in the first innings of this game. This is a measure of a number of things - the sizable Indian first innings score, the state of the series, the quality of the bowling and the Indian strategy.

At the end of play yesterday, one felt that India would have to do better than 5 wickets in the days play to consider it to be their day. By that measure, Australia have won the day hands down. But, the Indian strategy and the pressure of the runs has meant that Australia made about 70 runs less in the day than they would normally expect to make in a full days play. In the final assessment, the day definitely belonged to Australia, but only just. India will still feel that they have a chance, especially if the wicket plays up a bit more.

There was some sign of this happening today morning, but Harbhajan Singh bowled poorly at the Australian openers. He bowled too wide of off stump from round the wicket, thereby negating the reason for shifting from over the wicket to round the wicket. The point of doing so, is to be able to attack the stumps and bring the LBW and bowled dismissals into play against the left hander. Hayden and Jaques were both batting on off stump, and Harbhajan Singh got dragged wider and wider of off stump, with the result that both he and Dhoni were soon engaged in admiring the uneven bounce from the rough wide of off stump. Kumble soon put a stop to this and brought himself on. He proceeded to have a sub-par day as well. There is a fine line between varying the flight and the pace, and inconsistency, and Kumble's bowling as this series has progressed has been flirting with this line with greater and greater vigor.

Neither of India's spinners particularly likes bowling to left handers, and the Australian left handers took full toll of this, reaching lunch undefeated. When the wicket came after lunch, it was only because Phil Jaques missed a slog sweep. This was followed by India's best bowling period in the Australian innings so far. Ishant Sharma produced a magnificient spell yet again, and got the wicket of Mathew Hayden this time with a truly great ball. Michael Hussey walked in, and the two batsmen with the best batting averages in current Test cricket proceeded to stonewall until Tea time. With the spinners not bowling well, they must have felt confident that they had weathered the storm after Ishant Sharma's spell.

After Tea, it was Irfan Pathan who produced a fine spell, accounting for Michael Hussey with a brilliant reverse swinging delivery, which caught Hussey on the crease before sneaking through between bat and pad to hit the top of off stump. Michael Clarke came in and began his innings confidently. After an early flurry of runs, he settled in to hold fort along with Ricky Ponting to take Australia to the safety of 3/322. It is a measure of how ineffective Harbhajan Singh was, that Virender Sehwag looked more threatening than he did during the brief period when they were bowling together.

It has been a peculiarity of this Adelaide game, that the ball offers some reverse swing only after about 60-70 overs, as against 35-45 overs in India. This has resulted in both teams delaying the second new ball. India delayed it by 26 overs, while Australia delayed it 6 overs. In India's case however, they delayed it for that long only to give their two pacemen a break.

Australia were not brilliant today, but were extremely professional. They have laid the platform for a mammoth first innings score tomorrow, which will enable them to make India sweat on Day 5. For India, they need a few breaks early tomorrow. If Australia are still batting at tea time, there is only one side which can lose the game from there. Mathew Hayden and Ricky Ponting have ensured that. For India, someone will have to crack this game apart. Will we see yet another miracle spell from Ishant Sharma, now that he has been handed the new ball for the first time in Australia? Or will Ponting and co. seal the series victory by tea time tomorrow?

Jon Stewart, Press Coverage and a brilliant segment......

This is Jon Stewart, host of the Daily Show making one of his frequent comments on the media coverage of the US presidential campaign.

Follow the link to the show and watch the first two videos. The first video shows the segment offers a commentary on alleged "eruptions" and "fits" on the campaign, while the next one is one of Stewart's signature dialogue segments. Samantha Bee is a regular character on the show.

Satire at its best..

India needs its own Jon Stewart, especially in times like the post-World Cup "eruption".

Adelaide Test - Day 2

When play began on Day 1 in the Sydney Test match Australia were looking invincible. In the last 11 days of play in this series, India have worked away at that invincibility. It all began with VVS Laxman's blistering century on the second day of the Sydney Test. Tendulkar made a further dent along with Harbhajan Singh, and while the proud world champions successfully quelled that insurrection, they paid a huge price in doing so. Their power had been challenged on the field, and then off it. By the end of the Perth Test match, the aura of invincibility was no more.

Australia are still a mighty fine cricket team. They possess the two best batsmen in the world, and the best fast bowler in the world, but they are no longer the stuff of legend. Day 2 of this Adelaide Test found Australia worn down, looking fairly ordinary at times. Their specialist spinner made no impact, and their back up bowling was taken to task by Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble as India piled up their 6th innings in excess of 500 against Australia. It was only the 8th such total against the Aussies in this decade in 91 Test matches. The Australians dropped catches, had the odd misfield and the odd ill-directed throw from the boundary.
Sachin Tendulkar reached 153, but Australia's finest fast bowler, and his own belligerence resulted in his undoing. The bowlers took the score from 7/359 to 526 all out, adding 167 for the last three wickets.

This series has turned out to be a contest between equals, especially since Sydney (some Indian fans will argue that India have had the upper hand since then), but now, having achieved parity in the cricket, India will have to find something extra special to achieve parity in the contest. If India are to win this game, they will have to produce the kind of day in the field that the Australians produced as a matter of course when Warne and McGrath were in their heyday. Every catch will have to be held, every ball delivered with intent, even moment lived with unrelenting focus. They will need the odd bits of brilliance here and there as well. For this Adelaide wicket is still playing quite well. If India are to win, they have to win the first innings. This means dismissing Australia for less than 400 in their first innings. The first couple of days have produced 5/309 and 5/279 respectively. India will have to do better than 5 wickets tomorrow, and keep the run rate in check.

Tomorrow promises to be a pivotal day. The Australians will bat to resurrect their damaged legend, while India will seek to create their own. Tomorrow will be the best chance for either side to do so, for on the last two days, the wicket may have the telling say.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Adelaide Test - Day 1

India won the toss and elected to bat first in the final Test at Adelaide. They batted better and better as the day went on. The morning session produced 2/89, the post lunch session 2/98, while the third session - 1/122. It was the advent of Tendulkar just before lunch which improved India's prospects.

India opened with Virender Sehwag and Irfan Pathan, with 5 specialist bowlers in their line up. The two come back men played like the scratch pair that they are and somehow cobbled together a 34 run opening stand before Irfan was drawn into playing at a fullish ball outside off stump from Mitchell Johnson. In came Rahul Dravid, and the quality of the batting improved immediately. Dravid and Sehwag added 48 for the second wicket, before Rahul Dravid fell somewhat against the run of play just before lunch. Tendulkar faced a tricky time just before lunch.

The session after lunch began well for India with Sehwag and Tendulkar adding 33 runs in quick time, before Sehwag finally produced a catchable edge. His was a typically two-faced innings, consisting of emphatic strokes as well as frustrating mis-strokes in equal measure. For much of his innings, his scoring areas were mid wicket and third man. To his credit though, he kept going through it all, apparently unconcerned by his own lack of assurance. At the other end, Sachin Tendulkar began circumspectly and scored his first run off his 19th ball. This was followed by three consecutive fours off Mitchell Johnson which got him going.

Sehwag's dismissal at 3/122, brought in Sourav Ganguly, fresh from being dropped from the ODI side. He began confidently as he has through out this series. The early runs eluded his blade though, and Bradley Hogg especially was able to tie him down. He finally went for an uncharacteristic sweep - a stroke brought about by his inability to get Hogg away (he scored 2(12) off Hogg). The decision might have gone in his favor on other days. He was well forward, was hit near the knee roll and the ball had a long way to travel. But the fact that he was playing across the line counted against him. Ganguly's disappointment at the decision must have stemmed from the fact that he felt he had successfully managed to get outside the line of off stump, which he had in fact not. In any event, it was not a fulfilling stay at the wicket for the southpaw. Furthermore, his dismissal gave Australia an opening at 4/156. Another quick wicket at this stage might have been decisive. But it was VVS Laxman who joined Sachin Tendulkar at the wicket, and it is a measure of the man's mastery of the Australian attack and Australian conditions, that he proceeded to produce a vital half century, without ever looking anywhere near his fluent best.

Tendulkar and VVS Laxman combined to produce 126 priceless runs for India. VVS benefited from Adam Gilchrist missing one of the easier catches in the history of Test wicketkeeping. That catch apart, Australia's tactics were quite interesting, especially in this stand. Their plan was to sit back, defend and wait for the wicket. This seems to work, especially with VVS Laxman. Tendulkar adapts better to it, because he is a more complete player and is happier taking singles than VVS is. VVS's lack of fluency had something to do with the Australian effort to defend against him here at Adelaide in contrast to their ultra attacking strategy at Sydney which allowed VVS to race to a fine century.

Brett Lee is currently the best fast bowler in the world. This supreme athlete bowled a magnificient spell of fast hostile pace bowling, demonstrating the ability to swing the old ball both ways. He bowled 9 overs on the trot and had the wicket of VVS Laxman as his reward. Lee and Johnson, even though they are quicker than Clark seem to be asked to bowl longer spells by Ponting. Even though Clark's accuracy should make him the ideal stock bowling candidate, that responsibility seems to invariably fall to Mitchell Johnson. Lee and Johnson bowled 47 overs out of the 86 bowled by the Australians in the day, while Clark bowled only 16. This is also the reason why Australia have such a ridiculous overrate (all though the only time Ian Healy found it problematic was when India's batsmen were engaged in a bit of professional gamesmanship during the extra 30 minutes of the day's play).

The innings of the day came from Sachin Tendulkar. It was his best Test innings in recent memory. If you look at his run scoring in this innings closely, it reveals his mastery of Test match batting. He made 77(75) off Bradley Hogg and Michael Clarke. Off the quick men, he took 47(97) to end the day unbeaten on 124(172). That he was able to maintain this strike rate despite the fact that Australia denied him fours on the off side almost throughout his innings with a man on the boundary, is quite amazing. The final session of the days play produced 1/122 for India.

India ended the day at 5/309, a fine recovery from the precariousness of 4/156. Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who joined Tendulkar at the fall of VVS's wicket, played a fighting knock against some testing bowling with the reverse swinging old ball. He seemed intent on survival, and was fortunate to see Mathew Hayden miss (i wouldn't say drop because he never ever seemed to get his fingers around the ball) a simple catch at first slip. He will hopefully be able to make it count tomorrow.

India have to make the running in this game, for they are behind in the series. Irrespective of what the Australian pundits say, Ponting will be happy to sit on a 2-1 lead and take a series victory. He is unlikely to risk a 2-2 result in search of a 3-1 result. India have done reasonably well so far, and must eke out every possible run in their first innings. If you consider the three first class games that have been played at the Adelaide Oval this season, then the best innings totals are 438 and 397. The results are a little hard to gauge because the South Australians have struggled in the Pura Cup this season. That the games have seen moderate scores is undeniable. 5 out of 9 completed innings have been under 250, the lowest being 77 all out in the 4th innings of the first game. All three games have yielded results. Competing on the first innings, and possibly winning the first innings tussle is therefore even more crucial at Adelaide than it might have been at Sydney or Perth or Melbourne.

As has been the case for 18 years now, it falls to Tendulkar. This is the second time where he has produced four consecutive first innings scores in excess of 50 against Australia in Test cricket (i doubt whether any other batsman has come close, especially in the last 10 years). He averages a whopping 97.83 in the first innings of Test matches against Australia in Australia now. Rescue acts have not been his strength in recent times. Setting up games has, and that is what he will set out to do tomorrow in the company of MS Dhoni. India will hope, that once again, this great batsman plays through to the end of the Indian innings.

Update: Here is an amazingly detailed account of his batting on Day 1 from Tendulkar himself.

Adelaide Test Preview

I watched Taare Zameen Par on Day 1 of the Perth Test, and i told my friend, that even a 2-2 Test match result by India would not be a superior experience to watching that film. After Perth, i remain steadfastly in the Taare Zameen Par corner, but i must admit that its getting more and more tenuous. One thing is certain, if India do win at Adelaide, it will be the greatest month of cumulative accomplishment ever for two of India's greatest pastimes - Films and Cricket.

Let's just put the Adelaide Test in perspective. If you think India and Australia are under pressure, just consider this - law enforcement in Pakistan has permission to shoot at miscreants during the Pakistan v Zimbabwe game at Hyderabad in Sindh province of Pakistan, as revealed by this bizarre quote - "If anyone tries to create any situation that endangers the life of any citizen or any law-enforcement personnel, we have the permission to shoot." Why are they even playing? Pakistan are unlikely to face too much of a contest on the field though, simply because Zimbabwe are over matched in terms of skill and talent.

India and Australia on the other hand definitely not overmatched. India will face an especially tough test, paradoxically because the wicket is likely to take turn and have less bounce. I have long held that India's batsmen prefer fast bouncy wickets to slow, low wickets, because run scoring is easier on those wickets. They also prefer facing genuinely quick bowling to nagging accurate medium pace on any time of wicket for the same reason. Adelaide may in fact be a tricky game for India. They might indeed have preferred the order of Test matches in this series to be reversed - Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Perth. But, this is the hand they have been dealt, and they must make the most of it.

The news of Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly being dropped from the ODI side could not have come at a more inopportune time for India, as Anil Kumble has suggested. It will give the Australians ammunition for on field chatter. I do think though that it would be a mistake for them to engage Mr. Ganguly in this, for it may just be the thing that gets him riled up to play the innings of his life. As more than one commentator has suggested, admittedly typically simplistically, India play better when Sourav Ganguly is charged up.

The news from Adelaide is that Wasim Jaffer has been left out of the 12 for the Adelaide Test, and Harbhajan Singh and Dinesh Karthik have been called in. This suggests that there is a good chance that India might go in with the line up that i have been suggesting for a while - to bring in Dinesh Karthik for Wasim Jaffer and to bring in Harbhajan Singh for M S Dhoni. The latter is not a replacement which is down to anything that Dhoni has done wrong, but is down to giving India the right balance in their line up. Dhoni's wicketkeeping has been magnificient and while his bat has not been at its blazing best, his temperament has shone. In the light of the ODI side announcement, it would also be a brilliant move on the part of the team management, especially because it is so loaded against them. Everybody outside the team will suspect that Dhoni has been left out to "show him his place". As Dhoni said in another context, it will worry the press more than it worries the team. I cannot imagine a happier scenario.

Ricky Ponting has done well to keep Shaun Tait in the mix for Adelaide. He may just prove to be the perfect bowler for Adelaide, where his shock value will be enhanced by the higher possibility of reverse swing on account of the slower, more abrasive wicket. I suspect that Australia could still play with 4 pace men at Adelaide, and be more effective than they were at Perth, for the Adelaide wicket is likely to be less conducive to quick run scoring than Perth. Running between the wickets will play a greater role at Adelaide than it did at Perth where the outfield was lightning quick, and the pitch square large enough to ensure that anything that was middled carried to the boundary. Will Australia make the bold pitch and play 5 bowlers especially given that Hogg, Johnson and Lee are all better than tailenders? They have never done so, but it would be an acknowledgement of the arrival of the post McGrath Warne era if they did so. However, the presence of Clarke and Symonds may convince Ponting that he doesn't need Bradley Hogg. I wonder what Ian Chappell will say if Ponting goes with 4 pace men for Adelaide. He recently rated Ponting to be superior to Steve Waugh as a captain (a useless comparison in my view, because the "great" captain is little more than a fond myth - captains are as good as their teams, and like wicketkeepers are at their best and least noticeable when they are not fumbling). Chappell has also spoken out against the tactic of playing four fast men, even at Perth. I wonder what he will say if Ponting wins with four fast bowlers!

For captain Kumble, it will be his last Test Match in Australia. Just as Aamir Khan's performance in Taare Zameen Par (especially behind the camera) had a touch of heroism to it, so have Anil Kumble's efforts in this series. What he will be dreaming of for Adelaide however, is a session of absolute mastery over the Australian batting, much like his first day performance at Chennai in 2004, when he demolished Australia taking 7/48 (the best innings return against Australia by any bowler in this decade). For his predecessor Rahul Dravid, it will be a return to the scene of his greatest triumph just as he is returning to some semblance of form.

There is much to look forward to at Bradman's original home.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A bold beginning to 2008

The Indian national selectors announced the ODI team for the upcoming triseries in Australia. It reads as follows:

Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt & wk), Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag, Dinesh Karthik, Robin Uthappa, Gautam Gambhir, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Irfan Pathan, Praveen Kumar, RP Singh, Ishant Sharma, Sreesanth, Harbhajan Singh, Piyush Chawla

with Manoj Tiwary, Yusuf Pathan and Munaf Patel the standbys.

This team then has 2 wicketkeepers (Dhoni and Karthik), 7 specialist batsmen, who will effectively compete for 5 slots (8 if you include Karthik), Irfan Pathan as all rounder, 4 other pacemen and 2 spinners. The team does not include Sourav Ganguly or Rahul Dravid.

The Vengsarkar committee came to the helm on a promise of reverting to experience in late 2006, three months before the world cup, trying to stem the tide of discontent and a lack of success. Greg Chappell's youth policy had resulted in a bad run, and Dilip Vengsarkar brought in Sourav Ganguly in both the Test and ODI sides. This came with mixed results. In the Test team, Ganguly has been in sterling form. Batting with calm assurance - his clear mind directing clear footwork and focussing his eye firmly on the ball. In ODI cricket, his form has been mixed. Even though he has been amongst the runs, his failing with respect to running between the wickets has been shown up, and so has his fielding. Against Australia and Sri Lanka, on the big Australian grounds a fielding deficit could be decisive. Rahul Dravid for his part has quit the ODI captaincy and lost his spot thanks to poor form. He did not expect to make the ODI side.

India go into the upcoming tournament with a largely untested line up. Many of these players have not toured Australia before, and it will be a fine test - an opportunity for Mahendra Singh Dhoni to mould a new team. One just wonders what might happen in Kolkata if India don't do well.

Vengsarkar has tried to do what Kiran More tried to achieve in late 2005. One hopes that BCCI and the management have learnt the lessons of the Chappell - Dravid experiment. They have already made one good change - that of not holding press conferences after teams are announced where the chairman of selectors is available to answer questions. Hopefully Gary Kirsten has been told to be similarly vary of the media - especially TV.

New blood, a new coach, and a bold beginning to the year with a win at Perth - lets hope that India can build on these good tidings. People worry about the future of the Indian side, once the current generation of players retire. The future lies in teams like the current ODI side. It lies in the return of Virender Sehwag (lets hope he has come back a stronger man, just like Sourav Ganguly did). It lies in the return of Irfan Pathan and the emergence of Ishant Sharma.

In all this, Murali Karthik must wonder where he fits in. It was clear that India would not take 3 specialist spinners to Australia for the ODI tour. Now Piyush Chawla has been preferred to Murali Karthik, who is possibly a better ODI bowler at this stage in his career. I suspect his day will come.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Sehwag, Kumble and a famous dismissal.....

Some well time advice from Virender Sehwag to Captain Kumble. Ishant Sharma had bowled his heart out without reward in a 7 over spell, and Kumble was about to give him a break and bring on R P Singh. This is all the more remarkable when you consider that Sehwag was on a comeback in this game. Just shows how much good communication there is within the side.

The video is a little bit confusing, because you have the news channel anchor talking over a video of Shastri and Akram talking about an episode in which the operative sequence is a few words on the field of play.

The interesting thing about this dismissal and about descriptions of what Ishant Sharma was doing is in the terminology. Essentially, Ishant's stock delivery is bowled from wide of the crease and "slants" in towards the stumps. This essentially means that it follows a trajectory which starts wide of the crease and ends up on or near off stump if all goes well. If this ball moves away towards the slips, it is said to "straighten". If the stock ball consistently moves in off the seam, then the one that doesn't, is said to "hold its line".

So, did Ishant's delivery to Ponting straighten, or did it hold it's line? This distinction in itself may seem academic, but it is not. For if it did "straighten", then Ishant is a much more skilful bowler than if it merely held it's line. It is a rare skill to be able to move the ball off the seam both ways with a front on action. Srinath (whom Kumble compared Ishant with), did not have this skill until the last few years of his international career, when he was a much better bowler, albeit a few yards slower in pace than in his hey day.

If only Ishant can now develop the ability to come closer to the stumps..... Steve Waugh's comparison to the skinny lad from Narromine may just prove to be prophetic.

Perth Test - Day 4 - Victory!!!!

India beat Australia by 72 runs in the Perth Test today. In doing so they have broken Australia's 16 Test match winning streak (for the second time). Australia have play 90 Test matches in this decade, and they have amassed a 68-11 record so far. Out of the 11 Test defeats, 5 have come in dead rubbers (after the series has already been decided). They have played 15 times against India, and have a 7-5 record. One of India's wins has come in a dead rubber (Mumbai 2004). The next best record against Australia is England's - 4-14.

As impressive as this is, it is only part of the story. India have scripted an epic at the WACA ground. A fast bouncy wicket (more on that in a moment), a genuinely quick Australian attack, Australia chasing a record 17th Test win, the dispiriting defeat at the SCG and the Harbhajan situation meant that when Anil Kumble walked out to participate in the toss, the overwhelming majority of cricket fans had probably written India off. For Australia, the 17th Test win seemed a formality. Adam Gilchrist had told the world to expect a sizzling day. The curator and knowing folk were telling us that this Perth pitch had been part of a newly relaid square and had the old fire. It looked very forbidding for everybody but the members of the Indian squad.

By the end of Day 3, they had set Australia 413 to win. They had fought for every moment in the first three days. Taken every run, and every wicket. They had stayed ahead ever since Irfan Pathan and R P Singh sent Australia to lunch at Day 2 on 3/22. By the end of Day 3, Australia's shock weapon had been dispatched for 92 off his 21 overs over two Indian innings. Shaun Tait did not take a wicket. The pundits had concluded that this Perth wicket was not actually that quick. After all, India had made runs on it. It was also quite flat. Now, you would expect any wicket to die a bit if it has been subjected to 40 degree heat over the first couple of days. When India batted in the first innings, it was in the most bowler friendly conditions. The wicket was fresh, there was great carry, and naturally, this meant that the ball came on to the bat. Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar brought 250+ Test matches of experience to bear in a pivotal stand - 138 for the third wicket, including the only wicket free session of the game. After Ishant and co. had demolished Australia, it was VVS Laxman and the two comeback men who produced critical runs to ensure that a rampaging Australian attack did not run through the Indian batting line up.

Consider this - had it been a Test match not involving Australia, if the first three days had gone as they did at Perth, India would have been overwhelming favorites. Yet, such is the aura of invincibility which surrounds this Australian side (with good reason), that the opinion that India were favorites going into day 4, came only with elaborate caveats or only in the most hesitant of whispers. Australia lived up to the aura of invincibility today to some extent. But just as the Indian camp went into this game with quiet determination, the Australian camp woke up today knowing that it would take a miracle for them to win.

Australia's two overnight batsmen averaged 58 and 84 in Test cricket, and India would need a performance of sustained quality to break that stand. It came from 19 year old Ishant Sharma, who bowled with such assurance, and ask such probing questions without relenting, that Ricky Ponting was bested as he has not been bested in a long time. Harbhajan Singh may not know what weakness Ponting has (because he keeps getting him out so quickly), but Ishant proved that a batsman doesn't actually need to have an explicit technical weakness in order to be sorted out. In the end, the dismissal was a result of sustained quality. Ponting shouldered arms to balls that he should have been playing at, and ultimately played at one which he might have left alone in hindsight. His judgement outside off stump was shaken due to the immaculate length that Ishant was bowling.

Michael Clarke came in and began with a streaky four between gully and cover point. He was to go on to play the best innings of the day. Michael Hussey looked solid at the other end, and Australia went in to lunch at 3/142. In the session after lunch, India proceeded to seal the match. However, in hindsight, they will probably agree that they bowled much better in the morning session for lesser reward. R P Singh got one to sneak past the inside edge of Hussey's bat and Asad Rauf showed admirable consistency in ruling exactly as he had in the case of Tendulkar and Dhoni - in favor of the bowler. In came Andrew Symonds.

In a moment of poetic justice, Anil Kumble trapped Symonds in front with a quicker one which the batsman played back to. All of India must have gone up in appeal along with Anil Kumble and the close in men, and Billy Bowden had no hesitation in sending Symonds on his way. The best part of the dismissal, and i mean this, was that Symonds had got some bat on the ball before it hit his bad. All his talk about taking the rough with the smooth went out of the window, as he showed his bat to the umpire, threw his head back and walked off muttering something all the way. Kumble enjoyed a celebration that was as sly as it was an expression of happiness. It said more than any words would ever say about the Indian captains opinion of Andrew Symonds's antics at Sydney. It was also 5/177.

In walked Adam Gilchrist. By now, Michael Clarke had grafted his way to 25 and was ready to change gears. Gilchrist and Clarke took on the bowling and had a 50 run stand at a run a ball, when Anil Kumble threw the ball to Virender Sehwag. As Sehwag revealed later, his instructions were to "bowl tight as the new ball would be due soon". Sehwag went one better and bowled Adam Gilchrist round his legs. This is the second time Gilchrist has been bowled round his legs in an Indian Test win in Australia. Sehwag then followed it up with the wicket of Brett Lee, caught bat pad by the dependable VVS Laxman. After tea, Michael Clarke jumped down the wicket trying to a Kumble leg break which spun past his outside edge for Dhoni to effect an emphatic stumping.

If India thought they were home and dry, they had reckoned without Mitchell Johnson and Stuart Clark stitching together a 71 run stand at a run a ball. The two batsmen swung merrily and connected sweetly as a sense of dread surged in Indian hearts. Anil Kumble took the new ball the minute it became available, and Irfan Pathan provided the break through. Shaun Tait came in and upheld the ancient tradition of number 11 batsmen - of not getting in line with the ball. A straight full one from R P Singh sent India's slip cordon into a race for the stumps at the batting end. It was Dhoni, with his pads on, who won!

It was a team effort to beat all team efforts. The runs Australia made in this Test match included three stands of 50 or more that came at six runs per over. India held their nerve well when the opposition were having their best moments and always found someone who would hit back. R P Singh epitomized this in his dismissal of Gilchrist in the Australian first innings. It would probably not be fair to say that India have shown themselves to be decisively the better team, but they have shown that they can compete on equal terms with the Aussies. Just to put this win in perspective, the only other teams that have beaten Australia at Perth have been England in the Packer affected 1978-79 series, this New Zealand team of 1985-86, and sundry West Indian teams (5 times) between 1975-76 and 1996-97. If we exclude the 78-79 Ashes as an anomaly, then the only teams to have beaten Australia at Perth have included Richard Hadlee and the great West Indian fast bowling dynasty starting with Andy Roberts and Michael Holding, all the way to Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh. Consider also the fact that this is possibly the strongest Australian Test batting line up amongst all those!

Here's wishing them all the very best for Adelaide. If they win there, then the world will surely wonder about what might have been, had the umpiring gone India's way at Sydney. May the spirit of Perth prevail at Adelaide as well!

Ishant Sharma testing Ricky Ponting:

Day 4 Highlights:

Friday, January 18, 2008

Ranji Trophy Final 2007-08 UP v Delhi

As the Perth Test continues on its astonishing, unanticipated course, the Ranji Trophy Final too has been keenly contested. Uttar Pradesh, with Mohammad Kaif, Suresh Raina and Praveen Kumar in their ranks are playing Delhi at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. The Wankhede wicket usually yields a result, and at the end of Day 3, all four results look likely. Uttar Pradesh are lead by Mohammad Kaif and are a young side with an average age of 21. Delhi are lead by Gautam Gambhir.

Uttar Pradesh batted first and reached 342, with 18 year old opener Tanmay Shrivastava recording his maiden first class hundred, and 20 year old Ravikant Shukla pitching in with 94. Delhi replied with 290, with contributions from Akash Chopra (102) and Rajeev Bhatia (139*). 21 year old Praveen Kumar, who played for India against Pakistan in an ODI at Jaipur earlier this year took 8/68 in the Delhi first first innings. With a lead of 52, Uttar Pradesh have faltered in their 2nd innings, despite a belligerent 85 from Suresh Raina. They seem to have changed methods some what. Their 7th wicket pair, current at the wicket has played out 20 overs for a 20 run stand. As things stand now, UP lead by 206 runs with 4 wickets in hand.

A fitting final in one of the closest Ranji Trophy tournaments in living memory.

Perth Test - Day 3

Tomorrow we will find out whether the Perth Test will end as one of India's greatest ever Test wins, or as a testament to the cruelty of Test Cricket, and to the greatness of this Australian side.

With the two best fast bowlers in the world in their ranks right now, Australia should have found it possible to knock India over on a Perth wicket which is still a genuinely quick one. But VVS Laxman and the Indian tail rescued India from a precarious 5/125 to 294 all out. India have fought every inch of the way in this Test Match, just as they did at Sydney. If it is not clear yet that they are worthy competitors to the best team in the world, in conditions suitable to the best team in the world, then it is only because of the reputation and record of Ponting's men. Will the Australian captain shepherd an epic run chase tomorrow? Or will India's scratch bowling attack keep coming back and finally best them?

I asked a friend of mine what he expected for the rest of the game at the start of play on Day 3. He said, in his usual succinct way "a great contest". He was right about Day 3. If he has to be right about Day 4, then i will pray that it ends in our favor. Unlike other opposition, there is nobody in this Australian line up that i would be happy to see amidst the runs. With the West Indies, one always hoped that they would be dismissed under 300, with a century from Lara. Not so here.

This is not just another Test Match. This is history in the making. Pray that it will be the right kind of history.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Perth Test - Day 2

What a day its been. A day of many firsts, but first and foremost, a day on which history was made at the Western Australian Cricket Association ground at Perth. Anil Kumble took his 600th Test wicket - typically a pivotal wicket in the context of the Australian first innings. I have a confession to make though. When the Symonds - Gilchrist stand was on, at about Tea time today, i made the unprecedented (well voluntarily unprecedented anyways) decision to go off to sleep! I must confess that my fear was that India had let things slip, or rather, that the Aussies had begun to walk away with it. But, i was wrong as i have been many times before, and as Anil Kumble must have said - it was a matter of one wicket. He provided it. I have had the benefit of detailed accounts of post tea play from my blogger friends and other non-blogger friends (who have better things to go :) ) who were far more loyal than I was.

The day began with Irfan Pathan and Mahendra Singh Dhoni - generation next of the Indian Test team making the running. They got through the first thirty or forty minutes well enough before the sustained quality of Brett Lee, Stuart Clark and Mitchell Johnson broke through. This is not a wicket on which the tail can hope to hang around too much and India's tailenders managed three runs between them. 330 all out was considered a sub par score, never mind that it was 40 runs better than what the last 5 touring sides to Perth have managed.

The Channel 9 commentary team, with Michael Slater in their midst were pointing out how beneficial the Indian collapse would have been to Chris Rogers. They did not account for his amazing batting technique, which amounted to walking across his stumps almost every ball! There is a reason why specialist batsmen take leg stump guard, and Chris Rogers paid the price for showing the umpire that he was so obviously walking across his stumps. His LBW decision was marginal, but no more so than Tendulkar's or Dhoni's.

There after, atleast until tea time, the Australian batsmen ensured there were no dubious decisions because they all walked. Ricky Ponting walked to a diving catch at third slip. Michael Clarke walked to a thin (well - only in terms of the deviation) edge to Dhoni and Jaques and Hussey walked after edging outswingers to the slip cordon. India caught almost everything. Only Sachin Tendulkar dropped an eminently catchable chance of Andrew Symonds, who seems destined to figure prominently in the story of this series.

Symonds and Gilchrist strung together a tremendous counter attacking partnership and it began to look like Australia would fashion yet another comeback of mythical proportions. Another addition to the legend of this super-successful Test team. This feeling was driven by a couple of observations - the first being that the ball was getting older, and so there was less swing on offer than Irfan and RP produced with the new ball, and the second being the presence of Adam Gilchrist. Gilchrist looked in supreme touch on his home patch. Further more, the rub of the green seemed to be going Australia's way, with catches not carrying and inner edges spinning past the stumps. I decided i couldn't bear to watch any longer and turned in for the night.

I woke up this morning to find Cricinfo's uplifting headline "Inspired India gain substantial lead". I immediately looked up the full text commentary for the Australian first innings. I had been slightly perplexed by the Australians walking like gentlemen for edges to the slip cordon in pre-tea play. I was not to be disappointed. Andrew Symonds apparently stood for a "thick outside edge". This is important, for it reveals that things are back to normal - an altogether a agreeable occurrence. It also reveals that at that stage, Australia had recovered from the shock of their batting collapse and felt they were back in the game. They lost their last 5 wickets for 47 (including the wickets of Symonds and Gilchrist). It was a fine show by India.

I did not watch post - tea play, but the Ishant Sharma bowled quite superbly and was probably the best Indian bowler on show today. He had just reward with the big wicket of Ricky Ponting, who has had a dismal series so far. He has reached 50 only once in 5 innings, and that too with the help of an umpiring error.

India are in front in this game at the end of Day 2. But as was the case at Sydney, this is no ordinary Test match. The Australians are gunning for a record breaking Test win. We can look forward to some fiery bowling tomorrow from the hosts tomorrow. India will have to weather it successfully if they are to push for a win. The weather will help Australia, for it is expected to cool off on Day 3. If the Australians want their 17th Test win, they must at least be asked to chase a world record 4th innings score (> 418). If India competed on the first innings at Sydney, they have won the first innings here at Perth.

Ian Chappell made an interesting point about LBW's in this game. Asad Rauf has given three decisions in the bowlers favor - Tendulkar, Dhoni and Rogers. In all three cases, the batsman will feel hard done by. Chappell's point about "cricketing thought" is an interesting one, because unlike in the case of Tendulkar and Dhoni, the decision against Roger's seemed to me to be a result of precisely the kind of cricketing thought that Chappell insists was missing. Dhoni's was the least problematic of the three decisions, Tendulkar's the most problematic. The Rogers decision was a result of his tendency to walk across his stumps, which Asad Rauf almost certainly took note of. So i wonder if all three (all though made in error), can be classed as a result of the same lack of cricketing thought. Billy Bowden also made a rank bad decision when he gave Rahul Dravid not out to a full length Mitchell Johnson in-swinger. It looked absolutely plumb.

The Australian batsmen have walked, and the umpires have made 4 umpiring errors. Their errors unlike Sydney have been evenly spread. I wonder what Steve Bucknor is thinking about it all sitting in Jamaica!

Its advantage India at the end of Day 2.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Perth Test - Day 1

India won the toss and elected to bat first on a Perth wicket which everyone expected would be fast and bouncy and tailor made for Australia's four man pace attack. With all that had gone on before, and with the Australians promising a fiery bowling effort it seemed as though India would have their hands full.

The Indians fielded Virender Sehwag at the top of the order and the effect was immediate. Lee went for 22 in his first 3 overs as Sehwag aimed cuts and drives at nearly everything around off stump. The Australians eventually reined him in, but India had 50 on the board for the first wicket. Just when India seemed to have negotiated the new ball successfully, both openers fell within 3 runs of each other. This brought Tendulkar and Dravid together against a genunely quick Aussie bowling line up. 3 of their bowlers were comfortably quicker than 14o kph, and the 4th (Clark) was metronomically accurate as usual. Tendulkar and Dravid shared a stand of 139. The Australian bowling had been consistently good and it was the class of Tendulkar and Dravid (and a some luck in Dravid's case) which got India to Tea time just two wickets down. India dominated the afternoon session in which 103 runs came without the loss of a wicket.

The Australian quality was however relentless, even if their catching may have been patchy (Michael Clarke dropped a sitter at first slip off Dravid), and it was not long before the brilliant Brett Lee had Sachin Tendulkar trapped in front. He was lucky to get the decision, and Tendulkar will consider himself shortchanged. The reward though, could not have gone to a more deserving bowler. Sourav Ganguly came to the wicket and immediately looked in magnificient form. He did not make his usual substantial score though, for one of his trademark square cuts was brilliantly intercepted by Michael Hussey diving to his wrong side at gully. It was 4/214.

VVS Laxman joined Rahul Dravid, and he too looked in good touch. However, he seemed to have caught a touch of Sehwag, for his play outside off stump was surprisingly loose. He hung on on little more than a prayer. At the other end, Rahul Dravid was motoring along through the 70's and 80's and into the 90's. Australia, who had bowled 78 overs in 6 hours of play (including two spurts of Symonds and Clarke getting in some really quick overs), seemed to get under Dravid's skin. That, combined with his desire to make the most of the part time bowling as the 80 over mark approached, led him to miscue a slog sweep which went to an agile mid off fielder, who made a tricky catch look very easy. Dravid had fallen after an uncharacteristically untidy innings, replete with a dropped catch and one absolutely dead plumb appeal for LBW off Mitchell Johnson. India had lost a wicket at exactly the wrong time, exposing the wicket keeper Dhoni to the 2nd new ball.

Ponting took the new ball straight away, and it was Laxman and not Dhoni who perished. VVS had been living on a prayer and attempted one of his trademark pull shots. On this occasion however, he did not seem to cover the line of the ball, and yet another catch was offered to the mid off fielder.

At Stumps, Irfan Pathan and Mahendra Singh Dhoni were at the wicket. It will be upto these two new generation players to make India's stand tomorrow. If India are to compete, they must reach 400 in their first innings.

It was a peculiar days play in many ways. For large parts of the day, India seemed to do much better than the conditions and the quality of the bowling suggested they ought to be doing. It was largely the class of Tendulkar and the cussedness of Dravid which has taken them to 6/297 at stumps. The wickets, when they came, came from batting errors more than any outstanding deliveries. India will feel as though they had a terrific batting day, with almost nothing significant to show for it at the end of the days play. When you consider that the last five touring teams to come to the WACA ground to play Test cricket have registered first innings scores of 185 (England 2002-03), 239 (Zimbabwe 2003-04), 179 (Pakistan 2004-05), 296 (South Africa 2005-06) and 215 (England 2006-07), and when you add to it the fact that this is a Perth wicket which is considered livelier than any of those, it becomes clear just how much of an opportunity India have missed today. If you then consider that Australia, in those 5 Tests have been bowled out for first innings totals of 381, 258 and 244 (they made 735/6 against Zimbabwe in 2003-04 and 456 against England in 2002-03), it becomes even clearer how much of an opportunity India have lost. Admittedly, the Pakistan, England and South Africa attacks were much more experienced than the Indian attack.

India have to compete on the first innings as they did at Sydney. In this game, they have the added benefit of being able to bowl 4th. They must make it count. For this, Irfan and Dhoni must string together a stand tomorrow and the tail must chip in as it did so admirably at Sydney. If India are still batting at the afternoon drinks break, they will have done well.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Spirit of the Game

The preamble to the Laws of Cricket state that "Cricket is a game that owes much of its unique appeal to the fact that it should be played not only within its Laws but also within the Spirit of the Game. Any action which is seen to abuse this spirit causes injury to the game itself. The major respons[i]bility for ensuring the spirit of fair play rests with the captains."

I won't go into the laws any further, because they seem to indict Ricky Ponting at every turn as far as the Sydney Test match is concerned. In the light of Anil Kumble's expressed desire to move on, this seems to be the right thing to do.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The shadow of the Sydney Test

Back to the Sydney Test. I tried yesterday to write about the Perth Test, but given how the ICC has scheduled things, the two days leading up to the Perth Test Match will be spent in revisiting the Sydney Test Match and its aftermath.

The anger has subsided somewhat, and the news media in both countries have published Sunday Specials on the subject. The Australians seem to be on a charm offensive, with Michael "pup" Clarke (oops was that racist? May be "Pigeon" McGrath can clarify) having allegedly made up with Anil Kumble. The cheek of it astounds me. Kumble seems to have given him a reasonably patient hearing and concluded with "i understand, mate". It seems to be the key word at all times. If Harbhajan had simply responded to Symonds by saying "i don't make friends with monkeys, mate", all would have been well. Similarly, if Bradley Hogg had said "Im looking forward to running through you bastards, mate", it would have been absolutely Ok. Most importantly, it would have resulted in a successful negotiation of Mike Procter racism-sensitive antennae.

It has been said of Mike Procter (somewhat cruelly i have to admit, but then again, based on the Aussie on field behaviour, may be it isn't cruel, just "hard and fair"), that Procter claiming to "know all about racism" because he is a South African, is somewhat akin to Pervez Musharraf claiming to be an expert on Democracy. Sunil Gavaskar expresses similar sentiments. Of course, his tongue is nowhere near his cheek, which by the way is beetroot red with fury. If you heard him on commentary on Day 5 at Sydney, he was seriously close to being rendered hors de combat, retired ill from the commentary box. The diagnosis would doubtless have read "apoplexy". He reportedly said in the past day or two that-

"Millions of Indians want to know if [it] was a 'white man' taking the 'white man's' word against that of the 'brown man',".

Guess how the Sydney Morning Herald read it (in that same story). It is stated in the newspaper article that -

"The chairman of the International Cricket Council's cricket committee, Sunil Gavaskar, has launched an extraordinary attack on his council's own match referee, Mike Procter, suggesting he took the "white man's word against that of the brown man" in banning Harbhajan Singh for three Tests."

Now, it would appear that SMH is off the hook here because they used the word "suggest" rather than "state" or "said". In this case, the use of that word is inaccurate. Sunil Gavaskar did not even "suggest" that. It would be most improper for him to suggest it. Instead, he said that "millions of Indians" were suggesting this - a completely different statement. I can almost see Sir Humphrey Appleby smiling down on Sunil Gavaskar for his cunning construction, and on me for spotting it (This is possibly the only way in which anyone might think of me and Sunil Gavaskar in the same breath :) ).

Given this laxity on the part of the Sydney Morning Herald, it is no surprise that the Australian media has compiled a dossier on the Indians, designed to show that they are the "worst behaved" team in the world. The evidence they offer is that the Indians are amongst the most reported players in the game. Anybody with even the slightest iota of sanity would dismiss the Australian claim at this point. Since when did the ICC's reporting apparatus gain such credibility? If you consider 1997-2007, i would consider 2003-2007 to be reasonably good years for the ICC, but 1997-2003 were horrendous years.

The ICC adjudicator's latest effort has been to slap a "racism" offense on Bradley Hogg for using the word "bastard"!! The implications of this disastrous misunderstanding of the English language are profound. But before i go into those, i must offer the following additional explanation for the numbers which the Australian press had found out from their painstaking (ok, not as painstaking as you might think, all the information is neatly tabulated by the ICC here) research work.

Just take two Test Matches. Sydney 2008, and Antigua 2003. Glenn McGrath should have been hauled up there, along with Steve Waugh. Thats two un-made reports right there. In Sydney 2008, Ricky Ponting should have been hauled up for his catches, he should have been hauled up for dissent for lingering after his first innings dismissal (he himself admitted he may have hung around too long), he should have been hauled up for abuse of equipment (he was shown flinging his bat as he made his way back to his seat in the dressing room) and he should also have been hauled up for Australia's ridiculous overrate on Day 3. So you have 2 in Antigua, and 4 at Sydney. Thats 6 reports, which should have been made by any standard, which were not made. The current India - Australia tally between 1997-2007 lies at 43-25. It would be 43-31 based on just these 2 games. Add to that the following observations - that between 1997-2001, Australia got away with murder (according to Steve Waugh), and the ICC's referees were not fair (according to then ICC President Malcolm Gray of Australia).

At this point, you might want to start thinking of alternative use for the newspaper. The most polite thing would be fold it neatly and stack it up with all the other old newspapers.

The Australians may be the next side to go after Match Referee Mike Procter, who should find himself in an even more horrifying situation than he does now. Section G(1) (p. 15) of the ICC Code of Conduct for Players and Officials states that

"the adjudicator shall provide written particulars of the Rules of Conduct it is alleged have been breached (based on the particulars notified to him). The particulars, in addition to identifying which of the Rules of Conduct it is alleged have been breached, shall give a brief statement of how it is alleged they have been breached (also based on the particulars notified to him)."

This is significant. It means that it was Procter who charged Hogg with a racism offense, and not the Indian team management which complained against him. Even if the Indian team management may have pressured Procter into making what they saw as an equivalent charge, the responsibility was ultimately Mike Procter's. Now, Procter has given himself a tremendous loophole. The English language will make it extremely difficult for him to charge Hogg with racist intent for calling two Indian players "bastards". So, it follows that he must find Hogg not guilty. If he finds him guilty, then consider the following:

He sets a precedent, whereby any subsequent referee will have to deal with abusive swear words like bastard in the light of the racism clause, and not in the light of the offensive language clause. Further, it will mean that Procter is suggesting that the word bastard is not in fact offensive in Australia (something which a number of Australians may not be too happy about).

In any event, Mike Procter should be deep in the soup. If Harbhajan is cleared by the appeals commissioner, he should sue Mike Procter for slander in an Australian court and the ICC should throw him out for gross incompetence. If he finds Bradley Hogg not guilty, he will have made the correct decision within the narrow letter of the law, but will open himself to well founded allegations of bias, if not of conspiracy, since it could be argued that he purposely charged Hogg with a clause which would never stand. As we have seen, it is entirely and solely upto him to decide the clause under which a player may be charged, based on the particulars of the offense reported to him.

He can't win. And yet, he commands absolutely no empathy.

In the meanwhile, the Perth Test will commence on the 15th of January, and the two teams will by then have had peace talks with Ranjan Madugalle playing mediator (he may seek the mantle of cupid, but that would be a mistake). Everybody will make all the appropriate noises without meaning a single word, and when India take the field against Australia, battle will be resumed.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Video about Match Referees in the 1990's

Watch this video about Match Referees in the early and mid 1990's:

So now we have a code of conduct, but if the Match Referee shows an inability to read English (as he seems to have done in charging Hogg with racist speech during the Sydney Test for calling someone a bastard), what can anybody do?

Just looking at Javed Miandad and co. back there, todays players are really well behaved.

By the way, have you ever seen Kapil Dev as furious as he was there? Has a bowler ever been unhappier about having taken a wicket! Pure fury. The incident occured after Kapil had repeatedly warned Peter Kirsten about leaving his crease (something which Kirsten doesn't seem to have listened to).

What will India do?

I should point out right at the outset, that this post is concerned with the Perth Test Match, not with the Sydney Test (on the field or off it). That matter is now solely in the hands in the unquestionably competent hands of Mike Procter, a New Zealand judge and the various patriots.

The Indian squad finally moved to the Canberra leg of the tour, to play an Australian Capital Territories XI - a squad hand picked to include the most nondescript first class cricketers in Australia. This is always a peculiar situation. Squads like the ACT XI or the Board President's XI (which many visiting teams face when they tour India), are picked to give the big Test teams practice - to help them prepare. Yet, they invariably contain home players who are either considered raw talent for the future, with no real First Class accomplishments to their name, or individual players who are on the verge of breaking in to the Test squad. As contests, these are not pressure situations. They are at best matchplay situations, since the games are classed as First Class games. They are a far cry from Test match situations. The best first class games that a visiting side can hope for, are those against first class teams which have something to gain as a team by facing international opposition. Thus, when Australia played Mumbai in 1998 and 2001, and lost the first time and escaped by the skin of their teeth the second time, it did the visitors a lot of good. Why did it give them such a difficult practice test? Because the Mumbai team had something significant to gain out of beating the opposition. On the other hand, with sides like ACT XI or Board Presidents XI, the games end up being selection matches for the host team, thus short changing the visitors in a sense.

All the same, it was what was available to India, and they took the opportunity with both hands. Winning the game was secondary, as the bowling changes indicated. Ishant Sharma and RP Singh are certainties for Perth. It remains to be seen whether it is Vikram Vir Singh or Irfan Pathan who join them. India will almost certainly go in with 1 spinner and 3 pacemen, unless they feel able to drop Yuvraj Singh as the 6th batsman and play Irfan Pathan in his place. With Dinesh Karthik, Virendra Sehwag and Wasim Jaffer all making runs, the batting dilemma remains. As things stand, they have four options, none of which include Yuvraj Singh. The following are in batting order:

Wasim Jaffer, Dinesh Karthik,
VVS Laxman, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Virendra Sehwag, Anil Kumble, RP Singh, VRV Singh, Ishant Sharma

Virendra Sehwag, Wasim Jaffer, VVS Laxman, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, M S Dhoni, Anil Kumble, RP Singh, VRV Singh, Ishant Sharma

Virendra Sehwag, Dinesh Karthik, VVS Laxman, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Irfan Pathan, Anil Kumble, RP Singh, VRV Singh, Ishant Sharma

Rahul Dravid, Virendra Sehwag, VVS Laxman, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, M S Dhoni, Irfan Pathan, Anil Kumble, RP Singh, VRV Singh, Ishant Sharma

Rahul Dravid, Virendra Sehwag, VVS Laxman, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Dinesh Karthik, Irfan Pathan, Anil Kumble, RP Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Ishant Sharma

I don't see Irfan being played ahead of VRV Singh as a specialist bowler at Perth, especially because RP Singh is a certainty. If he is played as a 5th bowler, then Mahendra Singh Dhoni will have to be left out, unless Rahul Dravid continues opening the batting. India will need to play attacking cricket at Perth and they need players who can take the attack to the Australians. After having promised so much at Sydney, they will need to aim for victory at Perth, even if nobody is giving them a chance. It is this option of all out attack which brings up another option, one which would be a bold gamble. The premise here is, that if India are to gamble, they are better of gambling with their gifted players, whatever their form may be.

Virendra Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Yuvraj Singh, Dinesh Karthik, Anil Kumble, RP Singh, Ishant Sharma, VRV Singh

This would mean that the 6 most accomplished batsmen in India in international cricket play, as does the technically best equipped wicketkeeper in India. On paper, this is the best available line up. The idea would be to blitz at all times with the bat. Mere survival at Perth would mean series defeat anyways. Hence, sitting back and waiting for something to happen is not an option. I would leave Wasim Jaffer out of the squad because his policy of sitting back and playing out the new ball has not worked in four consecutive innings so far. He has struggled against the quality of Brett Lee. It is time to offer the Australian new ball bowler a different challenge. Some unorthodox strokeplay against the new ball. Playing the 5th bowler is also a risky proposition, because Australia's strongest period with the ball is with the new ball. This dictates that India should have a strong middle order, both the pile up runs against the old ball, and then to tackle the second new ball. The beauty of Tendulkar's innings at Sydney was that he played out the second new ball.

All in all, one hopes that India will take their cue from Virender Sehwag at Perth. With Shaun Tait likely to play, Australia are certainly unlikely to play the holding game. It will also mean that there may be some wayward bowling on offer. The downside of Tait playing, would be that Bradley Hogg of whom it was said that he had won his battle against the Indian batsmen at Melbourne and Sydney (until Day 5), may sit out. He may not get further opportunities to win his battle against his Indian opponents.

To fight fire with fire must be India's policy. Concerns about behaviour ought to be set aside. At this point, an ugly, aggressive rancorous victory would be much more welcome than a well behaved defeat. For if there is anything that the Sydney Test match has shown, it is that bad behaviour does not necessarily invite the attention of either the Umpires or the Referee. Given that these match officials cannot be relied upon to control on field behaviour, there is no reason for India to hold back. The Australians have gotten away with rotten behaviour. India must aim to do the same. As the Australians are fond of saying, its all well within the spirit of the game.

I leave you with these two interview of Virendra Sehwag after his second innings century at Canberra. Perth will be a special Test match. It requires a special approach. What better than Sehwag's admirably uncomplicated approach to batting - "rokenge nahi, sirf marenge"