A Feature News Article by Jon Cocks 16/12/03
Who could have put money on India being one up in the ‘3’ four test series heading into Christmas? Especially after trailing on the first innings by 471 with just six wickets in hand on Day Two of the Second Test. Indian coach – Kiwi John Wright – has at last succeeded in getting his charges to play more as a team, but, more importantly, helped lay to rest the notion that subcontinental batsmen can’t bat on bouncier wickets. True, this Adelaide pitch was a belter and the Australian attack had injury problems in the second innings, but nothing can detract from this famous four-wicket victory to India over Australia at the Adelaide Oval in December, 2003.
After ninety overs of play on Day One, the raw figures of 400 runs for five wickets would indicate that it was very much Australia’s Day, dominated by the pint-sized colossus Ricky Ponting. His majestic 176* was the rock around which the steep total was founded, but it could have been so different, had the close LBW shout when he was on 12 been upheld, or had Virender Sehwag held onto the catch that Ponting offered when he was on just 18.
Modest contributions of 30 each from Martyn and Waugh and just 12 from Matt Hayden - who began very ominously on a pitch that played as truly as groundsman Les Burdett said it would – are thrown into sharper relief when one remembers the cavalier manner in which Langer threw away his wicket, having made a very lively 58. The sweep that had served him well against the skidding, flat fare served up by the recalled Anil Kumble deserted him and his extreme annoyance was palpable as he top-edged to Sehwag at mid-wicket. He threw his head back in disgust and stalked back through the Player’s Gate, knowing that he had missed out, big time.
The moment that the ground announcer advised that Waugh had won the toss and elected to bat, we knew that there was a smorgasbord on offer, as well as the one that awaited your correspondent and his cronies in the Bradman Room from one o’clock. The annual focus away from the centre square had moved to day One this year. With Andy Bichel’s ten wickets against the Redbacks just a fortnight before at the Adelaide Oval in mind, it was perhaps not so surprising that Bracken was made Twelfth Man.
India sprang the surprise, bringing in debutante Irfan Pathan for the injured Zaheer Khan. In his first over from the River End, everyone, including the ground announcer, thought he was Ashish Nehra. The relegation of Harbhajan to Twelfth Man was perhaps not so surprising, given the way he was smashed from the attack in Brisbane. We didn’t learn of his spinning finger injury until later.
Hayden was onto the front foot immediately, but Langer hit the first boundary, a slashing square cut that thumped into the members’ fence resoundingly. Hayden slammed two boundaries through cover and hometown smiles broadened into grins of happy anticipation, but Pathan did not adhere to the partisan script, grabbing the biggest wicket of his short career, when keeper Patel swallowed the edge from his next delivery.
Enter Ricky Ponting, who began with an all-run four and was soon driving off the back foot for another boundary. When Sehwag put him down at third slip from the unlucky Pathan, he sensed that the day was his. His scintillating strokeplay and steely resolve made sure that everyone else did as well, none more so than the battered foursome of Agarkar (16-1-82-1), Pathan (21-3-96-1), Nehra (20-3-80-2) and Kumble (28-1-115-1). He raced ahead of Langer to his fifty from 64 balls.
The run-rate ballooned to five an over by lunch, as 76 runs were plundered in the second hour. Ponting’s and Langer’s running between the wickets cut India to pieces. With the field back and the attack toiling, quick singles were on everywhere, but the steady flow of boundaries had Ganguly on his heels and his men searching for inspiration. Kumble managed to beat Langer’s bat, but was punished immediately by Langer’s sweeping blade. The nuggety little West Australian took twenty from one Kumble over, with two pulled sixes and two slashing fours square on the off, raising his fifty (also from 64 balls) and catching Ponting in the process.
It was observed over lunch that runs are like sex: they’re no big deal unless you’re not getting enough. The mouth-watering vision that is Ricky Ponting’s beautiful wife would indicate that Punter is pretty happy with both sides of that particular equation. The captain-in-waiting underscored that observation with a glorious late cut to the third man rope, followed by a slashing square drive, both from Nehra, and another similar shot from Agarkar raised the Australian 200. On that score, Martyn slashed once too often outside off against Agarkar and Laxman gratefully accepted the offering.
The crowd flew a sea of red rags, as Steve Waugh strode to the middle in his farewell Adelaide Test. This time he averted the ignominy of stepping on his off stump, when tested by a short ball, but only by the width of a shoelace. Ponting’s nineteenth Test hundred followed, an innings of beauty and precision, taking just 117 deliveries and laced with 16 fours. Given his skied pull shot in Brisbane, it was worth noting that every one of those 16 fours penetrated the arc from backward point to long off.
The innings propelled him into an elite group of eight Australians, headed by Waugh (32) and Bradman (29). Bradman would have been proud to have played this knock by Ponting, we noted, with a little glance at the bronze scupture of The Don that adorns the dining room that bears his name. This called for a bottle of Henschke’s Hill of Grace. And another. And another.
Meanwhile, at the table, Jeff recoiled in horror at last year’s bet made with Simon. A bottle of Grange Hermitage said that Adam Gilchrist, not Ricky Ponting, would become the next Australian captain. Jeff attempted to start a rumour that Ponting was about to announce his retirement from Test cricket, but when that didn’t work, he announced to Jim that his accounting fees had suddenly risen to $400 an hour, with cash required up front. Meanwhile, things in the middle were just as extravagant, the score after just fifty overs being 3-240. Rain held up play for a little while, but only outside. The action in the dining room remained unaffected by the sharp shower.
Tea was taken early and the Indians went for the ball box, seeking inspiration. Another bottle of Henschke eased the pain of Waugh going for just 30, bowled by Nehra, coming around the wicket. A few short ones had Waugh on the back foot, so the full straight one did the business for India, a little triumph for India amidst the carnage that were the figures of the four main bowlers.
Punter’s 150 came amid a blur of red wine and talk of horizontal folk dancing, whatever that might be. As she basked in the glow of the new man in her life, seated next to her, could the smile on Kay’s face be any broader? The 300 came up with a readiness matched only by the round condemnation at the table of Treasurer Peter Costello. Jeff lamented that he was paying 49c in the dollar and there was no way – as an accountant – that he could weasel out of such compulsory largesse towards the Australian Tax Office. The numbers outside were indeed far sweeter.
As the Indians once again showed displeasure at the shape of the ball, Alan noted sagely that Jim’s balls were out of shape, a possibility that appeared confirmed by the ensuing hilarity, based on the premise that it’s always funny when it’s someone else. Like the recipient of a ‘Krash Kringle’, who returns to find his parked car scored with a massive ding that wasn’t there when he left it.
Suddenly, Katich seemed to raise his fifty (83 balls, five fours and a six). Jim appeared surprised that there was actually a game on outside, but he always did tend to leave the bulk of his mental faculties, along with the credit card, at the bar. He wasn’t Robinson Crusoe there.
Simon Katich (75) might have lamented the temporary loss of reason and the chance to get his maiden Test ton, when he fell, lifting one to Chopra from Agarkar. Gilchrist smashed two resounding fours to raise the 400, as our merry party made its way to the brightly coloured marquees behind the George Giffen Stand for the mandatory cleansing ale or six.
Day Two began with a flurry of fours from Gilchrist and a rapid departure for 29, but the day belonged to Ricky Ponting, whose magnificent 242 was a personal best, a masterly blend of responsibility and strokeplay, forged in the fires of his greater stature and new-found stability in marriage. The Australians insisted that he lead them off at stumps, despite Andy Bichel’s three big scalps in India’s reply of 4-180 at stumps.
Questions were asked of India’s four main bowlers, who all raised their own less-than-welcome centuries. The answers were mainly in the numbers: Agarkar (26-1-119-2), Pathan (27-3-136-1), Nehra (25-3-115-2) and Kumble (43-2-154-5), but the biggest question of the day concerned the Indian batting: could they get to the follow-on-averting figure of 357? At four down and only just over halfway there, the answer to this question would set the tone for Day Three and define the outcome of the match.
Given that the occupants of the crease at the close were Rahul Dravid (43*) and VVS Laxman (55*), extra spice accompanied speculation. It’s not as if these two hadn’t already played a massive – even match-winning – partnership against Australia. At stumps on Day Two, it remained to be seen whether memories of Kolkata in 2001 could be dramatically reignited in late 2003. An unbroken stand of 95 for the fifth wicket was a good start, but the mountain remained to be conquered.
The newly named Chappell Stands saw a lot of close-up action in the morning of Day Two, as Ponting dusted off the pull shot and Bichel heaved across the line to send the ball near the eastern side patrons time and time again. Kumble trundled away – quick-ish and flat – from the Cathedral End, while Agarkar bowled a good line from the River End. Neither batsman was troubled, but the contrast between the polished, elegant Ponting and the punchy, aggressive Bichel was most pronounced.
Nehra replaced Agarkar at the River End and Ponting drove a good length ball prosaically off the back foot to move smoothly to 193. The next ball – just a hand’s breadth short – suffered the full force off Ponting’s pull shot, as he motored to 197. Kumble repeated Nehra’s minor short-coming and your correspondent witnessed the ball hurtle toward the members’ midwicket fence and Ponting’s raised bat of triumph as he raised his second double ton. A blown kiss to his gorgeous wife followed, suggesting that the two hundred might not be the only thing raised today (and tonight) in the Ponting family. Drinks followed shortly afterwards. 60 runs were added in the first hour.
Ponting went to 207, his highest score, but lost Andy Bichel (19) shortly afterwards, caught by Chopra from the pad at forward short leg, bowled Kumble. This merely set the scene for another great moment in South Australian sport – a Test best batting effort by Redbacks champion paceman Jason ‘Dizzy’ Gillespie, whose 48* (53 balls, six fours) really was a sterling effort by a big-hearted team man, a knock laced with deft late cuts, cracking cuts and pulls and thumping drives.
That he was stranded an agonizing two short of a richly deserved half century is an indictment on the willow-wielding incompetence of Williams and MacGill, who perished in successive balls to the wily Kumble in his comeback match. Kumble certainly had the numbers of the Australian ten and eleven. Full and straight was the way to go and the Indian leggie’s five-for was a just reward for a manful marathon on an unhelpful pitch, returning to Test cricket on a hiding to nothing, given Harbhajan’s Brisbane woes against the potent Australian upper order.
Dizzy got off the mark with a gigantic top edge that sailed down to backstop, while the batsmen ran three. The comedy of errors continued, when Dizzy top-edged a pull shot and two fielders, plus the keeper converged, all consigning any diving responsibility to the ‘other guy’. We designated Dizzy a genuine all-rounder after a lovely leg glance off Kumble for two and a crunching cut shot off Pathan to the point boundary.
Dizzy played the first of three deft late cuts to the fence and Punter stroked a single to raise the five hundred. Could it get any better? The sun shone in a blue sky and benevolent Adelaide basked in a pleasant low 20s day, tempered by a fresh breeze from the South West. Just over the midwicket fence from your correspondent, Sachin Tendulkar plucked a few blades of grass and released them, watching which way the wind took them, in anticipation of a lofted stroke his way from Dizzy.
No such stroke was forthcoming. The local legend was having a field day, dominating the eighth wicket stand with Ponting. God smiled down upon us from Heaven and Punter – batting sublimely – reached 222, causing Umpire Shepherd to perform his one-legged jig, later to be repeated when Australia raised the quintuple Nelson. Lunch was taken at 7-523.
Runs flowed on resumption, Tendulkar had a bowl, but Kumble finally achieved the breakthrough, as Ponting edged to Dravid at first slip. The Indian was too good for the Aussie rabbit (Williams, bowled slogging) and ferret (MacGill, who goes in after the rabbit, LBW cluelessly) and Dizzy was cruelly denied. Still, 556 from 127 overs was eminently satisfactory and the first big question was put to the Indians. Could they stand up and fight with the bat, after the pummeling they took with the ball?
Virender Sehwag (47) seemed to think so. The Aussies burst from the Players’ race past us and onto the field at the run. Dizzy had already marked out his run before Sehwag and Chopra were halfway to the wicket, but the apprentice to Tendulkar, unfazed, trusted the pitch and his instincts to get the scoreboard ticking immediately. Taking his cue from Ponting, he cut and drove off the back foot, as India raced to 0-49 in ten overs, Bichel (12-2-55-3) replacing Williams (10-3-27-0) at the Cathedral End after just eight overs.
The Australian selectors got it right again. With the score on 66, Bichel held a sharp return catch from Chopra (27). Williams replaced Gillespie (13-4-45-0) at the River End and he settled into a solid, aggressive off stump line. Sehwag remained combative, driving Williams and working Bichel off his legs to the midwicket rope, but the consummate team man from Queensland struck again, drawing the edge that was taken magnificently, low to his left, by fellow Bananabender Matt Hayden at a very wide first slip.
It was 2-81 at tea, but the piece de resistance came for Bic when – shortly after tea - he straightened a perfect length ball to Tendulkar (1) ever so slightly and found a thin edge that was gobbled by Gilchrist. Come back, Andy Bichel. All is forgiven. The Hill cheered themselves hoarse for him and the Members applauded thunderously as he did a turn in front of the George Giffen and Mostyn Evan Stands.
If 3-83 was bad, things got immeasurably worse when Ganguly drove Gillespie past midoff and looked for a second. Williams, chasing hard, flung a return to MacGill who had raced to the stumps. Too late, Ganguly (2) aborted the second and scrambled to his ground as MacGill gathered the slightly wide return well and broke the stumps. Umpire Koertzen referred the matter upstairs and the all-seeing eye of TV ruled in favour of the fielding team. India had slumped to 4-85 in the 22nd over, but the heroes of Kolkata were reunited. Could they reproduce some of that Eden Gardens magic?
Things slowed down as neither batsmen sought to force the issue. Andy Bichel’s tail was up and – in tandem with Gillespie and Williams – runs were slowed to a trickle. The class of Dravid and wristy style of Laxman prevailed, causing Waugh to introduce MacGill (10-2-29-0) first, then Katich (three loose overs for 19), in attempt to seduce an error from the focused Indian pair. The balance shifted, as both batsmen found the wrist spin on the benign pitch to their liking.
The fielding was sharp. Direct hit after direct hit followed, but Dravid and Laxman stayed a half apace ahead of the fieldsmens’ arms. Steve Waugh had a bowl from the Cathedral end, Bichel returned from the River End, but the heroes of Kolkata saw India safely to stumps at 4-180, still 177 short of the follow-on target and relative safety, but with hope beating firmly in subcontinental hearts that all is not yet lost.
Day Three belonged to India, as Laxman (148, from 282 balls with 18 fours) and Dravid (199*, 385 balls, 19 fours and one six) resumed a union that went a long way towards keeping India at least all square by Christmas, as they added 303 for the fifth wicket, with Laxman falling to Bichel (26-3-114-4) in the final over before tea. The heroes of Kolkata can add Adelaide to the notches on their bat handles, as they resolutely stood up to Jason Gillespie (34-12-87-0), while looking to score from everyone else.
The World Champions toiled mightily on Les Burdett’s flat, quick but true pitch and fielded resolutely and brilliantly at times, but the visitors had the will and the skill to battle it out and win the day. This was Test Cricket at its purest and most satisfying: a titanic struggle between bat and ball, with bat prevailing at the end of the day.
The morning session realized just 72 runs, as the Indian pair resisted the probing, demanding pace of Gillespie from the River End, while blunting MacGill who wheeled in with the Cathedral as his backdrop. Dizzy began to push into the middle and high 140s, bowling a superb line with the two mandatory short ones every over, each ball superbly directed at the chin to fly over off. Both batsmen played and missed, as the local legend found a tiny bit of seam movement on the batting belter. Runs came at a trickle – just seven in the first half hour.
The two hundred came in the 65th over, as Gillespie made Laxman play and miss. Then Laxman had a life on 65, Ponting spilling a very difficult chance in slips off Williams, who had replaced Gillespie at the River End. The Indian pair kept their heads down and stayed focused on the task, pacing each other towards their centuries.
The new ball was taken by Bichel and Gillespie, but Laxman and Dravid had remained very focused after lunch. Dravid drove Dizzy for two to move to 98. In one sense, the whole day could be distilled into a head-to-head confrontation between Dravid and Gillespie. The former weathered the storm of the latter. The bowler tested the batsman severely, but the batsman remained unbowed. This was true in general for India and Australia, as the contest panned out on Day Three.
One symbolic moment occurred when Dravid hooked Gillespie for six to raise his century. The elegant Indian was normally content to work the champion South Australian paceman for singles, or just keep him out, but this measured stroke made a statement that India was in the fight and brought the Swami Army to loud, bongo-pounding, chanting life.
Laxman pulled Bichel to the boundary to move to 99 and raise the 200 partnership. Bichel followed up with a very sharp piece of chin music to have Laxman weaving away, but the wristy Indian worked the lion-hearted Aussie away to square leg for the run that raised his own three figures. Below the Morton Bay Fig Trees at the Northern End, the Swami Army celebrated and began its long conga past the scoreboard, weathering the inevitable storm of plastic beer cups and maintaining their combative drumbeat with all the aplomb of their countrymen in the middle.
The conga line squeezed past the Chappell stands and Laxman pulled Steve Waugh loftily to backward square, but Dizzy couldn’t get there and the ball fell safely. 138 were added in the first half of the day. Gillespie was the only bowler to really work the Indians over. Williams (23-7-72-0) tried hard, but allowed enough room for the batsmen to find the boundaries with wristy cuts and pulls. Bichel battled hard as well, but did not look like breaking through and neither did MacGill (35-7-121-0), who dropped short just enough to keep Laxman and Dravid happy.
Martyn, Katich and Ponting hurled themselves around in the field, stationed mainly square on the off side, while Bichel, Williams and Gillespie sprinted for everything in the deep, hurling themselves at any chance to save a run by keeping the ball from crossing the rope. One such incident was responsible for the reported loss of Williams for the rest of the match.
Sprinting to backward square, he hurled himself to the turf, to prevent Dravid pulling Steve Waugh for a boundary, causing a reported Grade One tear in his A/C shoulder joint. His participation in the second half of the match had more to do with physical courage than good sense. The man who incurred the wrath of Cricket Australia for being disappointed at being left out in Brisbane refused now to be sidelined. His second innings bowling came very close to swaying the issue Australia’s way.
More pressure on Gillespie and Bichel resulted from Williams having to leave the field on Day Three, but they lifted like the champions that they are. Laxman and Dravid had begun to score more freely from MacGill, Waugh and Katich, Dravid in particular enjoying the tasty offerings from Katich, driving and pulling him to approach his 150. Dizzy was having to fill in as Glenn McGrath, while trying to be himself as well. Australia missed the big Pigeon badly this day.
The follow-on was averted as tea approached, with another driven Dravid four from Katich (15-3-58-2), used as the ‘sucker’ bowler with some success in the end. After Patel and Agarkar had escaped the fire of Gillespie, the wobbly little chinamen from Katich must have seemed like tasty pastry. Though Dizzy went wicketless on Days Two and Three, his work counted for plenty.
Bichel returned at the River End, drew an edge to the third man rope, followed by another half chance, as Ponting hurled himself to his right, unable to hold a very sharp chance. However, in the final over before tea, Bichel ended the epic stand of 303 between Dravid and Laxman, when the latter edged him to Gilchrist. The heroes of Kolkata had gone more than three quarters of the way at Adelaide to the full reprise of Eden Gardens in 2001. The warm Sunday in Adelaide will now be a special place in their hearts and a source of much happy reminiscence to the grandchildren.
So often, when one partner in a major stand goes, the other plays a loose shot as well, but Dravid was too good for that this day. Joined by the jaunty young keeper Parthiv Patel, the vice captain maintained his steely resolve and impeccable form, moving in stately fashion towards the double hundred that would match that of his Aussie counterpart. The second session realised 136 runs, but also an Indian self-belief that the first innings work in Brisbane was not a fluke nor in vain. Things looked a lot better at 5-388 than they did at 4-85.
Gillespie returned after tea and continued his marathon arm-wrestle with Dravid. The Indian got in line and swayed away from the chin music, but worked the singles, content to wait for MacGill to bowl for adding to his boundary tally, while Patel formed an immediate liking for the chinamen of Katich, smacking three successive fours to race to 31. The fifty partnership for the sixth wicket came from the drive that followed the sweep, but Katich had the last laugh, when the diminutive keeper holed out to Ponting at cover (6-447) shortly after the final drinks break for the day.
Dravid and Gillespie squared off one final time, with the Indian focusing on defence, while Dizzy sizzled two more past his nose. Faced with Katich, Agarkar (11) heaved hard once too often and MacGill accepted the catch at mid on (7-469). Dravid, undaunted, weathered one final Gillespie over, and Kumble (1*) kept Katich out. The field crept in, sensing that India and Dravid had survival uppermost in mind.
Australia played ‘Katich and mouse’, as Dravid took a single to go to 198, not wanting to expose Kumble to the paceman from the River End. The following over he essayed a tired drive from Bichel, but could only score one, to remain stranded one short of an epic double hundred, as the players came in at the end of a superb day of Test cricket. India won the battles on Day Three and took the honours, but remained just behind in the war.
Who would have thought that – with a day to play in the second Test - India might even go to Christmas one up in the series? Day Four in Adelaide highlighted a number of previous imponderables. Firstly, if Hayden, Langer and Ponting all fail, which of the next three batsmen can become the bedrock around which the recovery can be forged? Secondly, is there a definite weakness in the middle order to good quality spin and accurate seam in tandem? And thirdly, just how much does this champion Australian side come back to the pack when missing Warne and McGrath?
Day Four began with India pushing towards equality in the match and ended with India in the driving seat, heading towards what would be a famous victory. Australia scored the 556 quickly enough to allow India sufficient time to fight back in the match. In doing so, they Indian batsmen, led by Rahul Dravid, frustrated Australia to distraction, not to mention the type of ragged tiredness that can precipitate a second rate batting performance, which duly occurred on Day Four, bowled out inside 57 overs for 196.
India – Kumble (17-2-58-1) and Agarkar (16.2-2-41-6, surely his best ever performance) – bowled intelligently on a pitch that was beginning to show signs of keeping low at the River End and the wickets tumbled at regular intervals, the apprehension rising as each Australian batsman in turn trailed back to the dressing rooms in the George Giffen Stand. Surely there would be a stand that would lift Australia to safety and the position from which India could be picked off on Day Five?
Symbolically, Dravid cut the first ball of the day – from MacGill at the Cathedral End – to the cover boundary to raise his double century. Gillespie opened from the River End and Dravid farmed the strike, being bounced first and then edging between keeper and first slip for four. At least ten singles were knocked back in the interests of keeping Kumble from exposure to the local legend.
MacGill trapped Kumble (12) LBW just before the first drinks break – two per session being taken in deference to the century heat – a temperature that seemed to suit India more than the hosts. On a working Monday, the numbers were down by half after three days of 20,000 crowds, but the fans were on their feet as MacGill (44-8-143-2) caught and bowled Pathan (1) rather deftly in his right hand, as the debutant scooped a low full toss back down the pitch.
However, the roars were deafening when Gillespie (40.5-13-106-1) finally had his man. Dravid (233, 446 balls, 23 fours and one six) hooked once too often and the top edge was well taken in the deep by Andy Bichel. The magnificent epic of resistance was over, as India was dismissed for 523. The irremovable object had yielded at last to the irresistible force. It was as if the match should be routinely secured now by the hosts, but the palpable relief at going to bat again with a small lead seemed to work against the top order. However, as events unfolded, Dravid’s match-saving knock had assumed match-winning proportions.
Initially, Langer (10) cracked a lovely cut square and was the beneficiary of four overthrows, but Agarkar trapped him LBW with one that kept a little low. No problem, thought the home crowd: here comes Punter. Ricky Ponting (0) cracked a few balls straight to the field, but then edged Agarkar to Chopra at gully, a brilliantly taken diving catch, low to his left. OK, you can’t make a double century every innings.
Australia went to lunch at 2-21, needing just to bat two sessions, build the lead to 250+ and set up a declaration on the fifth morning, but things just didn’t go according to the script. Martyn (38, four boundaries) began batting very nicely after lunch, clipped a brace of neat boundaries to either side of the pitch, but just as Australia built a little momentum, Hayden (17) chipped one from Nehra (7-2-21-1) that held up a little off the pitch and Sehwag threw himself forward to accept the chance at deep cover.
Enter Steve Waugh (42, 8 fours) to massive acclaim. Surely the captain could stick around long enough for one last hurrah, a cheer long enough to see Australia to a winning position? He cut, drove and pulled handsomely to bring back the festive mood to the crowd that had gone a quiet in inverse proportion to the racket that emanated from the Swami Army. Waugh’s belligerent knock contrasted with Martyn’s elegance as a lumberjack compared to a concerto conductor. The Captain raised the team hundred and the fifty partnership with successive resounding blows square on the off side.
The partnership began to flourish, until Ganguly’s masterstroke – the introduction of Tendulkar (6-0-36-2) from the River End, to bowl his leggies. The little maestro has taken key wickets in tests before and he struck again on this hot day in Adelaide, inducing edges respectively from Martyn and Waugh that were both taken at slip by Dravid, the first breath-takingly in the right hand, diving at full stretch, the second in more orthodox fashion with two hands, clutching the ball to his chest like a favoured pigeon home to roost. 4-109 became 5-112 on the stroke of tea with unnerving haste for the home team, and India began to believe in the possibility of victory.
Kumble bowled full and fairly straight, with some of his deliveries staying low and it was with apprehension that Australia looked to Katich (31) and Gilchrist (43, from 45 balls, four fours and two sixes) to excavate the hosts from a deepening hole. Patel missed a stumping chance that would have really been a dagger in the heart, when Gilchrist, on 13, missed one from Kumble that stayed down. He celebrated by thrashing the leggie to the extra cover rope and pulled Tendulkar for six.
Katich was dropped by Sehwag, but Gilchrist was bowled around his legs by Kumble, ending the sixth wicket partnership on 61. Australia’s currently brittle tail lost 5-13 as the shadows lengthened. Living and dying by the sword is all very well from a front-running position, but the position that Australia occupied late on Day Four demanded more circumspection.
Bichel (1) had a big heave at Agarkar and was bowled by the next ball. Katich top-edged a pull off Agarkar and it lobbed comfortably to Nehra. Williams (4*) emerged, looking like another wicket each ball he faced. Ironically, he survived, but Gillespie (3) and MacGill (1) fell in quick succession to Agarkar and Australia had allowed India a look at 230 for victory, with ten overs before stumps and all day on Tuesday to get there.
Gillespie (4-2-5-0) was sharp – in the 140s - but allowed the Indian openers to get away with not playing for one ball in two. Williams (3-0-13-0) posed no problem, while MacGill’s and Bichel’s brief forays at a late wicket presented Sehwag (25*) with three boundary offerings that he accepted enthusiastically. India went to stumps needing just 193 runs from 90 overs, still with all ten wickets in hand.
Where were those forecast thunderstorms when Australia needed them on Day Five? Brassy blue skies and century heat greeted the Australian fieldsmen, as well as an increasingly noisy and exuberant Swami Army, which had taken up residence in the northern of the two Chappell Stands. India’s last Test victory on Australian soil, over two decades ago, was a distant memory until this day in Adelaide, when it could be argued that Indian cricket turned a significant corner on a pitch that played well to the end, other than a few that stayed a little low from the River End.
Steve Waugh did not have a big enough runs cushion. He rotated the bowlers all day, tried himself (4-0-10-0) for a short spell and prayed that Katich (8-1-22-2) might make more hay while the sun shone than he did with his sucker ball. Andy Bichel (11.4-1-35-1) opened with a wide at the River End, with the white roof of the Festival Theatre dazzling eyes in the backdrop as the ferocious sun beat down.
Jason Gillespie (10.2-2-22-1) began at the Cathedral End, typically tight and mercenary, until he strained a groin in his second spell, from the River End, and Australia’s last chance evaporated. Brad Williams (14-6-34-0) toiled gamely, while Stuart MacGill (24.4-3-101-2) oscillated between both ends, without ever looking like applying the brakes as Warne might have done. Sections of the crowd taunted him rather unkindly with the ‘Warnie’ chant.
Runs came slowly from the outset, but Sehwag was soon into his stride, driving and cutting Bichel to catch his partner. However, Gillespie trapped Chopra (20) LBW. The first Indian wicket put on 48, a figure that could have been a lot higher, but for tigerish Australian ground fielding.
Rahul Dravid (72*, 170 balls, 7 fours) picked up where he left off with a classical straight bat and flexible wrists. What might have been had Gilchrist taken the difficult diving chance in his right glove off the luckless Williams when Dravid had only been at the wicket for a couple of overs? Williams put the next two right through the Indian vice captain and then had a catch at the wicket disallowed, as it came from the lower arm guard and not the glove.
MacGill started doing enough to keep Australia interested, despite the occasional full toss. Sehwag (47) had only just punished one such ball down the ground to the rope, when he bounded out of his crease, looking for his half century and was smartly stumped by Gilchrist. At 2-79, the Indian drive for victory hung in the balance.
The Swami Army was in full voice as Tendulkar made his way to the crease. The little master swept MacGill fine to get off the mark with a boundary and the Swami Army went Barmy, to the extent of borrowing the lyrics from the signature song of those bucolic Englishmen, changing the lyrics only to define their identity. (‘Where do we come from?’) Dravid got out the broom as well and the scoreboard kicked into life again.
The athleticism and skill in the field continued. Tendulkar forced off the back foot; Katich at forward short leg snaffled it in one hand. Dravid drove majestically and Williams rolled on the injured A/C joint to cut off the boundary. India went in buoyant after the morning session, while Australian heads, while not down, were drooping a little.
The Swami Army launched into the ‘Sachin, Sachin’ chant after lunch, as Tendulkar late cut Williams to the backward point rope, but they fell silent when the master padded up to MacGill without offering a shot and was adjudged LBW. Australian hope still fluttered, as Ganguly (12) did not last long, edging Bichel to Katich at gully, who threw himself forward to snare the sharp chance. However, at 4-170, with 60 needed, there was still the reprise of the Dravid/Laxman duet on the playbill.
Laxman drove MacGill for consecutive boundaries to tumultuous Swami acclaim, but by this stage their rank and file were cheering every single anyway. Steve Waugh rolled the dice one final time, bringing Katich on at the Cathedral End. He was swinging the bowlers around regularly, trying to deny the Indians any regular rhythm, but the heroes of Kolkata - and now Adelaide – remained focused and in charge.
Several Indians in the members’ stand had put together a nicely constructed banner, with much intricate decoration, that read: ‘Adelaide Oval? Eden Gardens?’ They, too, began to chant and sing and gesticulate behind them into an increasingly buoyant Indian dressing room. Tea approached, the Laxman/Dravid duet stayed in tune and on song and a rare moment for Indian cricket approached. Just 13 were needed after tea for history to be made.
The 6,900 plus crowd was making as much noise as the 20,000 of the first three days. The match aggregate of 75,021 was a record for an Australia vs India Test at the Adelaide Oval, and what a memorable one it was for Indian fans in particular, as a 22 year hoodoo was overturned shortly after tea, despite Laxman holing out to Bichel at midwicket, trying to slog Katich and ‘the Kat’ bowling Patel around his legs – with the score tied - as he tried to sweep the winning runs.
Fittingly, it was left to Rahul Dravid, undeniably the Man of the Match, to crack MacGill to the cover point boundary. If his 233 in the first innings was not a match-winning knock, the 72* in the second was, as he held together the Indian chase on Day Five, a cool head when others around perished in sometimes intemperate fashion.
Who said Dravid couldn’t bat away from India? 75,000 South Australians witnessed the contrary in the flesh. It was the first time in over a century that a team making 500 in the first innings lost the test. It is the first time ever that there has been a result in a test, when both teams made over 500 in the first innings. Adelaide Oval is a truly great Test Cricket venue where the impossible becomes possible.