Match Report by Jon Cocks 06/01/04
In the never-ending struggle for supremacy between bat and ball, rarely has there been a Test in which the bat ruled so emphatically. India lost just nine wickets for the match at an average over a hundred per wicket. Australia’s rate was a less staggering, but still healthy fifty plus per wicket. That an enthralling five days should end in a pulsating draw that no one could begrudge spoke volumes for the quality of the cricket played by both teams.
The match marked a return to form for Man of the Match Sachin Tendulkar, who scored 301 in two innings, without being dismissed, along with magnificent tons from Laxman, Langer and Katich, not forgetting Dravid’s elegant second innings 91*, and the fifth day 80 by Waugh and 77* by Katich, to complete a memorable double. Anil Kumble’s twelve wickets won him the bowling award with an honourable mention for the work of Jason Gillespie in India’s massive first innings of 7-705 (declared).
Rarely also has there ever been a Test so fraught with emotion, as an Australian icon bowed out of the game that he had served with such distinction. The Prime Minister was present for the whole match, overseeing the farewell of the holder of the nation’s second most important job. In the end, Steve Waugh finished with his fiftieth Test fifty in a match that went all the way to an exciting draw that was not affected by the weather.
The Border-Gavaskar trophy went back to India, the Final – unconquered – Frontier for Waugh, but Test cricket had been given a major shot in the arm, as India showed the cricketing world how to match it with Australia, the world champions. The visitors had the best of this final test, but teams showed magnificent fighting qualities and played the series in an atmosphere of genuine sportsmanship.
As the masses poured into the SCG for the first of three totally sold out days, the focus was all on the final Test for the Australian captain, Steve Waugh. The Australian players lined up to honour him as he walked onto the ground and the skipper shook hands with all of them to universal acclaim. The unlucky Brad Williams was relegated to Twelfth Man in favour of the returning Jason Gillespie and the eleven hustled out to the middle, Ganguly having won the toss, electing to bat on a pitch that looked to be a belter. A little moisture early facilitated some movement, but it was to settle quickly.
This was the last moment of happiness for Australian supporters on the morning of Day One, as the Indian opening batsmen made every post a winner, reaching 0-98 at lunch, despite some early drama in one Brett Lee over, in which he suffered a hat trick of disappointment. He had an appeal against Chopra for caught behind disallowed, a catch by the keeper from the next delivery - a no ball - and another dropped by Katich in gully from the next.
Lee bowled a maiden to open proceedings, but his line was a little too wide and the batsmen were able to leave the balls moving away. Jason Gillespie struggled early to get his rhythm going and the batsmen were able to find their feet. Then came the hat trick of disappointment for Lee, after which the Indian batsmen were able to up the tempo. The dropped catch went through Katich’s hands and bounced off his chest. The fielder was on his knees and unable to throw himself to get the rebound.
Gillespie started to find his line, but Lee dropped short and Sehwag (55*), recapturing his Melbourne form, cut him over point for six. Eighteen from the over by Sehwag saw Lee removed in favour of Bracken, who managed to go right through both batsmen with inswingers a couple of times, but was otherwise picked off into the off side.
Sehwag drove searingly twice to the off side rope and Chopra (35*) got into the act as well. After twenty overs, 77 were on the board and the sting had gone from the Day One crowd. The early breakthroughs that should have come in that eventful Lee over had transferred the momentum to the Indian openers.
Sehwag caressed a searing straight drive off Bracken and MacGill entered the attack. Chopra welcomed him with a square driven boundary from his third delivery and Sehwag raised his half century with another superbly timed straight drive. The crowd returned to life, as Steve Waugh bowled the final over before lunch, pitching in his own half, but leaving the batsmen untroubled.
The middle session saw Australia fight back hard into the game. Only 53 were scored for the loss of both openers. Gillespie and Bracken resumed, bowling an off stump line, with Bracken coming around the wicket. Gradually, the field retreated to a slightly more defensive disposition, as the batsmen appeared to be in very little trouble, leaving anything not on the stumps, defending solidly and putting away anything loose.
Bracken suffered more in that regard than Gillespie, who bowled a very tight line, working his way back into form and beginning to extract a little movement from the seam. Chopra brought up India’s triple figures, turning Bracken for two. The left armer strayed onto the pads occasionally, invitations to score always accepted with wristy onside play by the Indians.
Gillespie began to trouble Sehwag, as he began to zero into off stump, but the feisty Indian hurled the blade at Bracken for a huge top-edged four down to third man. The openers began to steal more short singles, as their confidence and understanding developed and Australia was on the back foot. A half chance for a run out at the bowler’s end went begging, as Martyn couldn’t quite get to the nudge into covers and Steve Waugh’s shy at the stumps missed.
Sehwag (73, ten fours and a six) off drove Bracken for another boundary, but the bowling had gradually begun to apply the clamps, approaching drinks. Then Gillespie made the breakthrough, with the score on 123, pitching a legcutter perfectly to Sehwag, presenting Gilchrist with a regulation edge. Dravid nudged and ran to get off the mark, but tight bowling and sharp fielding kept him on the back foot and watchful.
Lee, who had bowled well but without luck, returned after drinks and the field became more aggressive, with the bat pad back in place. At first it looked that luck would continue to desert him, as Chopra (45) kept a yorker out, but was beaten by the very next ball, another yorker that dipped late and cleaned up middle and leg. With India on 2-128, the match was back on an even keel.
A quiet period followed, as a composed Sachin Tendulkar – clearly seeking to put his 2003 behind him - joined Dravid. Lee bowled fast and full and Bracken replaced Gillespie, who had initially caused the river of runs to diminish to a dry creek bed, taking 1-12 from nine post-lunch overs. Bracken, around the wicket, continued to keep it tight.
Tendulkar’s head was still and his bat straight. He on-drove for four to get off the mark and flicked Bracken to the mid wicket rope. The air fizzed and crackled with the tension, as the crowd became drawn into the contest. Short singles vanished from the playbill, as the pacemen began to dictate proceedings.
Waugh swung MacGill into the attack and the leggie tossed them up on a middle and off stump line, finding a length and beating Tendulkar outside off. He found the form and confidence that was there on Day Four in Melbourne, making the batsmen concentrate on keeping him out. Lee continued his good work, bowling a maiden to Dravid, as tea approached and Day One see-sawed in the balance.
The final session of Day One provided 133, but a continuation of the titanic arm-wrestle between the batsmen and bowlers, ultimately tilting in favour of India. Dravid plundered two boundaries from each of MacGill’s opening two overs, but Bracken (23-7-60-0) bowled a tidy spell to get the brakes on from his end at least. More significantly overall, Sachin Tendulkar’s New Year resolution must have been the least possible to keep secret, given the intensity of his approach to making his first decent score in the series after his relative run drought of 2003, when he averaged just 17 in tests.
Tendulkar appeared focused and very steady, playing trademark drives and shots square on both sides of the wicket and giving no chances. Dravid (38) also looked to be in the zone, as the runs began to flow. However, Gillespie (23-7-51-2), the most effective of the bowling attack, conceding just over two an over, trapped Dravid on the crease LBW with the score on 194. The third wicket partnership was worth 66.
The cream rises to the top, especially when the heat is on. Sachin Tendulkar was joined by VVS Laxman (29*) and India’s steady progress continued. When Tendulkar raised his half century, India had wrested the initiative back to a degree. Waugh bowled an over and Katich took a turn, dropping short and being punished to the mid wicket rope by Tendulkar. MacGill (18-3-65-0) bowled an off stump line to Tendulkar (73*, with 12 fours), but failed to draw a false stroke. The master just looked more ominous.
With the score on 3-258, Australia took the new ball. Lee steamed in without making the batsmen play a lot. Gillespie returned to the crease, seeking one last breakthrough, bowling a fraction short on a tight off stump line. Laxman seemed content merely to occupy the crease, assisted in part by Lee’s off side line that allowed no stroke to be played. He did, however, take a blow to the forearm guard from Lee, having walked into an awkward spot to a ball that got big on him.
As stumps drew closer, Lee (21-3-80-1) and Gillespie maintained a tight line outside off, with Lee’s field being 7-2 for some time, before it became clear that the batsmen would not offer. When the extra man went to leg, Lee immediately had the batsmen hopping about in the crease and beating Tendulkar with one that went away. The master appeared to be eschewing the cross bat shots and began to look uncomfortable, no doubt influenced by the proximity of stumps.
However, both batsmen managed wristy deflections to leg that raced across the manicured turf to the rope, on the rare occasions the pacemen strayed onto middle and leg. The partnership began to assume threatening proportions. Bracken took the ball after a half an hour of overtime, but could not dislodge the incumbents. Day One ultimately belonged to India, with Tendulkar set – his team well placed at 3-284 - to vent his 2003 frustrations on Day Two in the manner to which bowlers all over the world have become accustomed.
Before play commenced on Day Two, Ian Healy described the day as ‘the most pivotal (in Australian cricket) for ten years’. With a crack beginning to open on the pitch, but otherwise perfect batting conditions and a bowling green, fast outfield, the stage was set for the Indian batsmen to capitalise on their good work from Day One, and that is what the incumbent pair did for the best part of the day.
Tendulkar (110*) and Laxman (94*) added 103 runs in the morning session, with only a run out half chance - created by a great sliding stop by MacGill in covers - causing Ganguly to sit up and reach for the batting gloves. The near run out suffered only for his off balance throw to Gilchrist, which allowed Laxman time to regain his ground. Gillespie bowled superbly early, beating the bat a few times, but Lee struggled dismally. Bracken (37-13-97-0) bowled tidily, but couldn’t get the inswinger to go and MacGill was picked off every time he dropped a fraction short.
Gillespie began with two maidens to Tendulkar from the Randwick End, but Laxman took five boundaries from Lee’s opening overs. To counteract his no ball problem fro Day One, Lee moved his marker back a half a yard and bowled the ball that far behind the popping crease. His line suffered, as did his bowling figures. While Gillespie beat Tendulkar with a superb leg cutter, Lee suffered being cover driven, cut and on driven for successive boundaries by Laxman.
When Tendulkar faced Lee, he straight drove and cut the NSW speedster for boundaries to get his own score moving for the day. In four costly overs, Lee went for seven boundaries and Bracken replaced him, bowling a better line, but unable to make the ball deviate from its straight line across the right handers.
After MacGill failed to penetrate the batsmen’s sanguine confidence, let alone their defences, Waugh gave Katich the ball. Curiously, the chinaman kept them honest at least, bowling perhaps his best short spell of the series. He got a little drift and some turn into the batsmen, while maintaining a good line and length.
However, good players when set are not going to be dismissed by a part-timer on a flat pitch and Tendulkar was able to work Katich to mid wicket to raise his 32nd Test century, from 212 balls, with 16 fours. Both slow bowlers fielded like demons off their own bowling, saving perhaps another twenty runs from piling onto the already imposing Indian lunch total of 3-384.
Katich hurled himself at a Tendulkar drive, knocked the ball into Laxman and it rebounded onto he stumps. However, the Indian was in his ground. The miss by millimetres was in keeping with uncompromising tightness of this series, as was the near run out by MacGill. The Australians were briefly energised, but the Indians kept their heads and went to lunch with a tightened grip on the Border-Gavaskar trophy.
Tendulkar and Laxman continued to grind Australia into the flat pitch in the second session. Neither batsman appeared to be in any great hurry, intent primarily on occupation. Nevertheless, 67 came in the first hour, although the Australian bowlers adopted a wide off stump line with defensive fields and the runrate slowed in the second hour. The sight of Gillespie, wide on the return crease, pitching a metre wide of the batsmen, who left each ball, was not a happy one for the sellout crowd.
The festive mood somehow remained, despite the clear Indian intention of batting Australia out of the match. Just over a hundred runs were added in a sustained display of concentration and chanceless strokeplay by Tendulkar and Laxman. No risks were taken; the ambition was now clear: make it impossible for Australia to win.
Lee struggled again, Katich (17-1-84-0) and MacGill (38-5-146-0) toiled without reward, even Martyn (9-1-27-0 ) had a little spell with his military mediums, but no joy was to be had. The crowd began to get restive. Who were these Indian spoilsports to come here and ruin Tugga’s going away party? The pitch behaved impeccably. Once again, the nearest to a wicket happened when MacGill fielded a Laxman drive at mid on and threw to the keeper’s end, forcing Tendulkar to hurry.
It was in part to be expected that Tendulkar would come good in this match, given his well below par performances to date. Class will out. He came to the crease, clear-eyed and steady with upright pose and positive in thought and action. He stayed that way, intent more on defence than normal, but flicking the wrists to dismiss anything loose on leg, driving handsomely through covers and taking the ball from outside off stump and on driving, a signature stroke. He eliminated any shot that had caused his dismissal earlier in the series. He made himself impossible to dismiss on this benign pitch.
While Tendulkar was rock solid, Laxman was a conjurer of the unlikely, finding polished strokes for deliveries that had no right to be dispatched to the fence, all without offering a chance. He on drove MacGill to raise the three hundred partnership and – as the players left for tea – no one was the wiser as to how Australia might conjure the magic needed to alter the figure in the wickets column on the scoreboard.
India possesses an ancient and complex culture. In its long recorded history, its people have been involved in countless conflicts against all kinds of aggressors. It has endured invasion, domination and humiliation, but has always prevailed. This kind of ancient patience and perseverance was on show, as Laxman (178, 298 balls, 30 fours) and Tendulkar returned to the crease and batted on, pushing towards 600.
At last, with the third new ball, the pent up crowd tension erupted in an explosion of joy and relief, as Gillespie (41-11-112-3), far and away the best of the bowlers, pushed an off cutter inside Laxman’s bat, brushed his pad and rattled the timber. The huge fourth wicket partnership of 353, a record for India, had come to an end. Ganguly (16) came, thrashed a couple of boundaries and then had his castle upset by a searing Lee (36-5-169-2) yorker from around the wicket.
Not that a captain would declare with Tendulkar closing on a double hundred. With the score on 5-581, the little master nudged and ran. The return hit the stumps, but Tendulkar was home and a fighting innings of great patience and control was rewarded. The new ball had swung and seamed a little. To declare or not to declare? That was the question. Was six hundred the figure in Ganguly’s mind?
That milestone came and went and it appeared that the Indian captain’s intent was to bat Australia out of any chance of winning. A fresh Parthiv Patel (45*, just 40 balls with 7 fours) used the crease well to rock back and smash the bowling square on both sides of the wicket, while Tendulkar (220*, 419 balls, 30 fours) ground on, finally to surpass his previous best score in Test cricket. The intensity and quicker runs scored in the final session saw the Indians go in at 5-650. Over four runs an over were scored for the day that just about ruled out any chance Australia had of reclaiming the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
Ganguly decided to hammer even more nails into the coffin of Australian victory aspiration, batting on for forty minutes and adding 55 runs, despite Tendulkar (241*) continuing to eschew the cross bat strokes in his epic marathon of concentration and skill. This was compensated in part for the return of his on side strokeplay and excellent running between the wickets. Pathan (13*) contributed impressively with a couple of well-struck boundaries, after Patel and Agarkar departed in quick succession.
It seemed that Ganguly wanted another double hundred at Australian expense before declaring and Lee (39.3 -5-204-4) was the unfortunate destined for the dubious honour. Capturing Patel (62), caught by Gilchrist and bowling Agarkar (2) on the third morning seemed scant compensation. Since his injury problems, he had lost a yard in pace and it remains to be seen whether he can recapture it.
Jason Gillespie (45-11-135-3) was by far the best of the Australian bowlers, perhaps dropping short a little too often in the absence of regular enforcer McGrath. When Gillespie pitched up, he was still able to go through the defence of Tendulkar, after he had passed 200. When Ganguly called the batsmen in, the score had swollen to 7-705, a very rare figure in opposition to Australia in any era.
How would the Australian batsmen approach the no-win scenario? The initial seventy minutes before lunch realised 49 runs without loss, Justin Langer getting 38 of them. The initial phase of the Australian first innings reply was a mixture. Langer hit a flurry of boundaries early, but Ganguly ensured there overtime by taking his time in setting the fields, especially when he introduced Kumble and then Kartik to the attack.
Agarkar beat Hayden outside the off stump, but Langer was the player seeking to make a statement early with drives and cuts for boundaries. The openers remained watchful, especially given the ball in Pathan’s first over that stayed down, a harbinger of things to come. There was little to fear from the one that seemed to stick in his hand and bounced a couple of times before coming to rest in front of slip.
Kumble came around the wicket and probed without looking dangerous, although Kartik’s first ball was very nicely flighted and had Hayden in two minds, as he lunged forward to defend. Hayden’s answer was to leap down the wicket and plant Kartik over mid on for a boundary. Australia would need a lot more vigilance and aggression before a position of safety could be achieved.
The Australians added 161 in the middle session, lifting the score at tea to 1-210 from 42 overs, a remarkable runrate of five an over, especially considering the mountainous Indian total that faced them. With Adam Gilchrist on record overnight as not having conceded all chance of victory, the deeds of the batsmen, especially Justin Langer (115*), would have appeared to corroborate that view. Despite losing Matt Hayden (67), Langer played every shot in the book and some not, including the reverse sweep for his fifteenth four, the shot that raised his century.
Murali Kartik began after lunch a session of bowling that he would rather forget, conceding over ten an over and being swept twice by Hayden. Langer – battling previously against Agarkar – won the battle against his erstwhile tormentor, crashing him to the rope to bring up his fifty. Hayden swept Kartik repeatedly and 43 came from the first four overs after lunch.
Kumble replaced Kartik and began a probing spell, looking more dangerous than before lunch, beating Hayden with a wrong’un and having the big Queenslander marking his guard to off stump. The leggie was the exception to the rule, as his colleagues all suffered a pummeling. Bowling into the breeze, he achieved good loop, despite being fairly quick through the air. Despite being troubled by Kumble, Hayden cover drove him to the rope for the ninth time to raise his fifty. Meanwhile, Langer continued to celebrate his form against Agarkar, leg glancing him for yet another boundary.
The pitch still held up, though one from Kumble to Hayden stayed down. Langer took yet another boundary from Agarkar and Ganguly brought Pathan back, only for Hayden to flay him twice behind point to the rope. 98 runs came in the first hour, despite Kumble’s best efforts, but – shortly after the resumption – the leggie had his revenge, beating Hayden in flight. The huge top edge sailed to Ganguly at mid off.
This was to be the only joy for India, however, despite the runrate slowing down just a little, as Ponting (11*) began in a reasonably circumspect manner. Langer, however, refused to be tied down, reverse-sweeping Kartik to raise the hundred and following it with one orthodox sweep for four, and then another. Both batsmen withdrew a little in the last few moments before tea, mindful of the gigantic task still facing them if they were to have any hope of working Australia back into the test.
The third session belonged to Anil Kumble (30-5-102-4), the experienced Indian removing Langer (117, from 149 balls, with 17 fours and a six), Ponting (25) and Martyn (7) in a sustained display of incisive leg spin bowling, in which he pushed into the breeze, dropped on the batsmen and attacked the stumps.
Australia advanced its score to 6-342 by stumps, losing Steve Waugh (40) to the combination of Patel and Pathan, whose combined ages approximate that of the retiring Australian captain. Disasterously for the hosts, the impressive Pathan also uprooted the leg stump of Adam Gilchrist (6) just before stumps, putting India in the driver’s seat with two days to play. Australia trailed by 363, with its vulnerable tail exposed to the fourth day examination to come on a pitch keeping low more and more.
The session that began so promisingly ended in near disaster for the hosts. Langer top-edged a sweep for Patel to sprint towards mid wicket and collect a fine diving catch. Ponting played some sweet shots on both sides of the wicket, but played back to the leggie and was trapped plumb in front. Question marks grow larger over the head of Damien Martyn, who has made starts this summer without decent finishes. This time he was out to a very soft dismissal. A topspinner stopped on him and he chipped a dolly back to the bowler.
Meanwhile, Steve Waugh had entered the arena to an ovation worthy of Bradman. He played some cracking shots through the covers and whipped a couple through the on side as well. Simon Katich played nervelessly with his captain, driving square and through covers, using his feet to the spinners and looking very composed and focused. His front foot play looked more sure as he progressed.
Just as Waugh and Katich started to look like they would build the big partnership that the collective will of the SCG demanded, Ganguly pulled the masterstroke, reintroducing Irfan Pathan (15-3-46-2) to the attack. The youngster immediately began to reverse swing the ball at a lively pace and struck the two decisive blows late in the day that had Australia hanging perilously by a thread, whatever Katich could conjure with the tail on the fourth morning.
The New and the Old featured in a key moment that would loom large in the final outcome of the Test match. After making the batsmen play and miss, new boy Pathan landed a reverse swinger perfectly from over the wicket and drew Waugh forward. Fellow tyro Patel swallowed the thin edge and Waugh exited, having played a nice cameo instead of the Greg Chappell-esque career curtain call masterpiece that he – and the situation – would have demanded of himself.
If that wasn’t bad enough for Australia, Pathan struck again at the death to remove Gilchrist. The Australians had set off in ferocious pursuit of India’s Himalayan total, but the defensive mode in the lengthening shadows allowed the nerveless young paceman the sniff he wanted and he was good enough to capitalise.
The Indians would approach Day Four jumping out of their skins at the chance to manufacture glory for themselves; for Australia, the options would be limited to how well Simon Katich could cement his place in a post-Waugh Australian team, with his team still needing 164 to avoid the follow-on.
When Lee was dismissed by a Kumble wrong’un for a duck almost immediately after the resumption of play, India could have been excused for believing that victory was within its grasp. Chopra’s catch at short leg was typical of India’s self-belief. He hurled himself full length and made something out of nearly nothing.
India would rue the fact that its captain and fieldsmen appeared to assume things would happen and gradually allowed the unbroken 98 run eighth wicket partnership of Katich (118*) and Gillsepie (31*) to develop and prosper. >From the moment that Katich flicked the last ball of Pathan’s opening over to the midwicket boundary, it was clear that he had come to play. Inexplicably, Ganguly allowed him to do just that, allowing the runs that would get Gillespie on strike.
Pathan went through Katich with a fabulous reverse swinger, but Katich answered next ball with another boundary. Gillespie played his trademark late cut dab for a boundary to get off the mark, but was solid in defense, keeping more than forty balls out around that solitary scoring shot, before his total began to mount.
Meanwhile, Katich reached 78 and raised his highest score in Test cricket. Focused, intense and light on his feet, he was able to work the ball through midwicket with an almost Indian flick of the wrists and time it through covers and mid off with a flourish of the bat. The 400 came when he flat-batted Kartik’s second ball of the morning over midwicket to the rope. Kumble bowled a testing over to him, but he edged to third man to move to 99 and his maiden Test century came in the following over with a flowing drive through covers.
Ganguly took the new ball with the score on 7-413 and it was heartening from an Australian point of view to see the confidence that Katich had in his partner Gillespie, after the Redback paceman watchfully saw off a maiden over from Agarkar. Growing in confidence, Gillespie got his score moving, aided in part by an inside edge to fine leg that missed his off stump by a whisker. He played his dab a couple more times to telling effect and even drove through covers.
By this stage the Indians had appeared to run out of ideas. Katich continued to pull and drive and keep a cool head. Patel missed a difficult stumping chance when Kumble returned and came around the wicket. The Indian hit the rough, the ball spat and Patel failed to glove cleanly an awkward one at almost shoulder height, with Katich two metres from safety. If any one moment represented India’s frustration this morning, this was it. Katich kept his head and wicket intact until the break, when the score had reached 7-448.
The forty minutes that followed lunch saw the match twist and turn again, as Australia lost 3-26, nearly half of which came in Murali Kartik’s (19-1-122-0) first over, during which Gillespie (47, 113 balls, ten fours) hit three consecutive boundaries through mid on, cover and mid off. Australia inched towards the follow-on averting figure of 506, but, when Katich (125, 166 balls, 17 fours) holed out to Sehwag from the tireless Kumble (46.5-7-141-8), it looked a little out of reach.
Sure enough, Gillespie immediately tried to smash a few boundaries. Pathan (26-3-80-2) made him hop and jump in the crease. Dizzy ‘drove’ one past his leg stump to fine leg, but missed one from Kumble that spat from the rough. This time Patel made no mistake with the stumping. Bracken (2) was out shortly afterwards, hooking at Kumble and well taken running away from the wicket by Agarkar (25-3-116-0) in the deep. Interestingly, Ganguly did not enforce the follow-on. Would he go for the win, or merely try to bat Australia out of the contest?
Leading by 233, the Indian openers emerged and sought to play a few strokes, while the Australian bowlers strained for wickets. Sehwag stretched to reach a wide one from Gillespie and got off the toe of the bat to the point rope. The field was set as if India was 0-200+, with just two slips. If Ganguly ignored the follow-on, should Waugh not attack all out? Neither captain seemed to prepared to commit themselves one way or another.
The only question at this point was: how many runs would be enough to (a) make the game safe for India, or (b) actually win it? Akash Chopra (2) was removed from the equation, brilliantly caught by Martyn in the gully off Gillespie. Then Lee had every Australian heart palpitating, having Sehwag caught by Gilchrist off a no ball and then dropped by Ponting at second slip two balls later.
As is always the way, Sehwag flung the bat and flayed a couple of boundaries, until Gillespie kept him quiet with a well-directed maiden. Lee’s fury at the missed chances seemed to add a yard to his pace and focus his mind. His rhythm appeared to be returning, while still struggling with no balls. As if to mock him, he drew the edge from Dravid, but the half chance landed five centimeters in front of Hayden at first slip. That over was a maiden as well, as the fate of the series continued to see-saw.
Then Dravid and Sehwag got the scoreboard rolling again with a rash of boundaries, featuring a big lofted off drive by Sehwag off Gillespie. MacGill replaced Lee and it was plain that the batsmen were seeking to score quickly with a target in mind, while MacGill went around the wicket immediately, looking for the rough. In reply, Sehwag reverse swept him for a boundary to third man.
Tea approached and Dravid sought to restrain his younger colleague by keeping the strike. Gilchrist donned the helmet in deference to the rough outside leg stump, a patch that Kumble would look for on Day Five. Going in at 1-67 and an overall lead of 297, India would have been very happy with its opportunity to declare and set Australia an unprecedented fourth innings victory target. Given that the lead had already exceeded the record all-time Sydney fourth innings run chase, that confidence was well founded in historical fact.
The evening session began to resemble the first innings of a one day international, especially after the dismissal of Virender Sehwag (47). In looking to club MacGill for six over mid wicket, Jason Gillespie hooked in an excellent high mark, Aussie Rules style. This merely brought more punishment, as Sachin Tendulkar (60*) joined the serene Rahul Dravid (91*) and the pair rammed on 139 at five an over.
The field was back, the bowlers’ lines defensive and the game was to cut off the boundaries, as the Indians stroked the ball elegantly to all parts of the field, mainly running ones and twos as the fielders on the rope duly collected the ball and returned it to the bowler for more pummeling.
The Indian hundred came in the 28th over, as Dravid hit a glorious lofted straight drive to the rope. Lee (12.2 -75-0) went around the wicket to no avail, later going back over. Gillespie (7-2-32-1) toiled without further reward. Bracken (8-0-36-0) stayed around the wicket defensively and MacGill (16-1-65-1) completed a series in which he took fourteen very expensive wickets in the form to which spectators have become accustomed. He spun the ball square from around the wicket, but gave away at least one short four ball an over on average.
Some cat and mouse stuff occurred towards stumps, as Ganguly sweated on Dravid getting his century before declaring. Ultimately, Lee struck him a blow around the ear, which made Ganguly’s mind up in a hurry. As if 443 from 94 overs on a wearing fifth day pitch was not enough.
Langer had a big lash at the last ball of Agarkar’s first over and a couple stayed low, but the Australian openers made it to stumps without other incident, having erased ten from the massive target. The enthralling series had come down to the last day. The fate of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy would not be known for sure until the final day had been played to its conclusion, although India – having controlled this test from Day One – had stamped its overwhelming favouritism to retain the silverware.
Before play began on the final morning of his Test cricket career, Steve Waugh appeared relaxed – sanguine even – as to how the final act might be played out. He allowed that the Australian batsmen might go for the runs if the team was well placed at tea. He didn’t shirk the real possibility that the team might have to hold India out to grab a draw. The day seemed shaped to cast him in a pivotal role – one way or another – in the final session of his final Test.
By lunch, the Indian players could be heard encouraging each other in the middle, as the crowd had subsided to a virtual whisper, the decision to defend or attack still unresolved, given the 107 taken from the pre-lunch period, but the loss of Hayden (30) and Langer (47). A short rain delay after the first couple of overs had freshened the pitch and surrounds slightly and – for a time – the openers looked like they might still be there at tea, so positive and focused was their cricket.
Agarkar and Pathan began proceedings, and Langer cracked Pathan through the off side cordon for successive boundaries. Hayden played a couple of majestic strokes down the ground and that was enough for Ganguly to bring Kumble on. Hayden responded with dazzling sweep that took the ball form outside off and sent it across the mid wicket rope a split second later. A sharp single drew a throw that was missed, conceded four more and Hayden cover drove for another boundary from the next delivery.
Langer survived two almost identical, very close LBW calls from Agarkar, balls pitching on leg and catching him high on the pad playing back. If – at drinks – the Indians were feeling worried, their spirits soared from the first ball after the break. Hayden, shaping a big drive through mid off, edged to Dravid at slip and the Indian made a sharp chance look routine. The first wicket added 74.
Ponting began looking assured and drove Kartik to the rope to get off the mark. Just as things started looking hopeful for Australia – given the rapid rate that runs were being complied – Langer jumped down the wicket to hole out to Sehwag at mid off, giving Murali Kartik his first Test wicket for three years. The left-armer had settled into a tidy spell, in which he was getting dip, bounce and turn.
Damien Martyn edged one to the third man rope and defended grimly, as the Indian players sensed that they were in the ascendancy. The crowd quietened to a hush, the gentle hum of the host punctuated with the raucous Indian appeals and cries of ‘Catch it!’ Ponting played two elegant legside boundaries from Kumble, as the batsmen made to it to lunch without further incident. In 27 overs, Australia had complied 2-117.
Hopes of a miraculous home side victory faded when Martyn (40) was dismissed – top-edging a sweep off Kumble to the substitute fieldsman Yuvraj Singh - and were virtually extinguished when Irfan Pathan caught and bowled Ricky Ponting (47). All the top order batsmen had starts, but none could play the massive anchorman knock that the mammoth target demanded. Ultimately, Australia added 87 for the session, and with 239 needed from the final two hours, India was the only side that could win the Test.
Pathiv Patel would have breathed a hefty sigh of relief watching the return catch from Ponting stick in Pathan’s hands, given that the young keeper had missed a stumping chance on the captain-elect with the score on 2-126. The ball from Kumble had pitched in the rough and spun across Ponting after drawing him down the wicket. The bounce defeated the keeper, but the ultimate cost was not too great.
The spin duo of Kartik and Kumble settled into a steady rhythm, both bowlers gaining turn, with Kartik’s drift and drop working well and Kumble’s accuracy from around the wicket testing the batsmen thoroughly. Damien Martyn was fortunate to survive a very close LBW appeal against Kumble, but again it was not to India’s great cost. Martyn played a cut and sweep each for boundaries, but soon afterwards he holed out to Yuvraj.
Steve Waugh entered the Test match arena for the final time to a gigantic, sustained ovation from the fifth day crowd that numbered over 20,000. He got off the mark with a scorching on drive and thrilled the faithful with a cracking cut to the point rope, whereupon Ganguly brought Irfan Pathan back to the crease. The young paceman immediately found some reverse swing, but Waugh remained undaunted.
However, Pathan captured Ponting’s wicket shortly afterwards and that closed the door effectively on any Australian victory charge. Katich flicked his first delivery away for two and looked in good touch, while Waugh remained watchful. The pair saw Australia through to tea without further loss, other than that wistful Australian hope for a miracle that was 239 runs out of reach.
Just before the final scheduled drinks break, Saurav Ganguly made enough field changes in an Agarkar (10-2-45-0) over to eliminate the extra possible over before the mandatory final fifteen, as sure sign that he had given up on the possibility of getting the ten Australian wickets he needed.
Steve Waugh (80, with fifteen fours) was unhappy with the tactic, as it meant that the asking rate for the impossible dream had risen to over ten an over. That Australia had even got close to this mark was a testament to the quality of the enterprising 142 run stand between himself and Simon Katich (77* with nine fours), a union that was studded with aggressive strokeplay, mingled with watchful defence, especially against Kumble.
Pathan (8-1-26-1) began the final session with a very tidy over, while the indefatigable Kumble (42-8-148-4) came around the wicket to Katich, who immediately on drove him to the rope. Interestingly, Pathan only bowled the one over after tea, Ganguly swinging Sachin Tendulkar (6-0-36-0) into the attack to bowl his legspinners. Sehwag (2-0-10-0) had a go as well, but both batsmen cut and drove the spinners freely, with only Kumble apparently capable of applying the brakes. Kartik (26-5-89-1) struggled to penetrate in his turn at the crease.
As the final fifteen overs began, Kumble bowled a tight maiden to Steve Waugh, but the slog sweep came out for Kartik. If there was any room at all, the batsmen almost literally hurled the bat at it. More boundaries peppered the rope, and Ganguly went defensive, pushing the field back, failing to respond to Katich, who began pushing the one to feed Steve Waugh with the strike, as the retiring captain began getting close to the magical three figures.
Ultimately, Waugh perished, caught in the deep by Tendulkar, trying to smash Kumble for six. Then came more late drama, as Gilchrist lofted Kumble down the ground for a boundary, only to be stumped in bizarre – and unlucky circumstances – as Patel failed to glove a ball cleanly, only for it to bounce off his body and onto the stumps with Gilchrist out of his ground.
It was left to the nerveless Simon Katich and the long defensive reach of Jason Gillespie to see Australia home to 6-357 and safety, conceding the trophy, but not defeat. India has yet to defeat Australia in Australia, but the performance of this team showed that – as Steve Waugh believed – this Final Frontier might not be insurmountable. If Man of the Series Rahul Dravid could average over 120 in Australia, then the batsmen of the subcontinent could take heart.
India vs Australia…how many months to go?