Monday, October 20, 2008

Australia heading for destination defeat

Disastrous! That's how Australia's performance in the Mohali Test can be described in one word.
With winning the match ceasing to be an option after India set them a mammoth 516, the least they could have done was play sensibly to ensure a draw, which would have given their otherwise vapid performance in the match a semblance of respectability. But therein lay their failure as a team.
Before you jump the gun, it is imperative here to state that the visitors are yet to lose the Test, but defeat is the destination they are heading towards, albeit the pace has slackened a bit after the initial acceleration.
An aggressive, and to an extent reckless start, was followed by a shocking collapse that witnessed Australia slump from 49 without loss to 58 for 5. Half the battle won for Team India. The other half has been extended to the final day of the Test -- thanks to an 83-run sixth wicket stand between Michael Clarke (42 not out) and Brad Haddin (37 not out). Both batsmen hit six boundaries apiece.
At stumps on Monday, Australia was 141 for 5, still 375 runs adrift of the Indian target, and, to put it bluntly, staring defeat, with the fifth day's play being a mere formality.
Morning Session (26 overs, 130 runs, 2 wickets)
Resuming at the overnight score of 100, Sehwag (90) dropped anchor and allowed Gambhir (104) to let loose.
The southpaw soon completed his eighth Test half century and then hit Cameron White for a huge six to long on, the ball making its way straight into the gutter.
Gambhir was certainly enjoying the role of the aggressive partner, but it was not for long that Sehwag, who turned 30 on Monday, could curb his natural instincts. He soon cut loose and that essentially spelt double trouble for the visitors.
The 150 of the Indian innings came in just 145 minutes, off only 31.5 overs. The duo continued to pile on runs and put on 182 runs for the opening wicket before Sehwag edged a Peter Siddle delivery to Brad Haddin for 90.
It was a disappointing end for Sehwag, as he definitely deserved a birthday gift (read century). Nonetheless, his aggressive 122-ball knock was punctuated with eight hits to the fence.
The dismissal prompted skipper Dhoni to promote himself up the order palpably with an eye on scoring at a faster rate.
And his Australian counterpart, perhaps frustrated at the non-performance of his regular bowlers, handed Michael Hussey the ball. Not that it did much but it was certainly easy to witness a part-time bowler struggling than the regular bets.
Gambhir soon completed his second Test century with a boundary off White -- he had earlier scored 139 against Bangladesh at Chittagong in December 2004 -- to go with his 67 in the first innings. His knock was laced with seven hits to the fence and one over it.
He was dismissed in the same over, caught at mid-off by Hussey. India 224 for 2.
Post-lunch session: (India: 16 overs, 84 runs, 1 wicket; Australia: 8 overs, 50 runs, 2 wickets)
Matthew Hayden (29) and Simon Katich (20) put on 49 runs for the opening wicket before Harbhajan Singh trapped the former plumb in front.
Hayden's 20-ball knock comprised four strokeful boundaries and was his most confident innings on this tour. In fact, it wouldn't be wrong to say that he paid the price for over confidence.
A run later, Katich paid the price for being over ambitious, hitting a wide delivery off Harbhajan and Sachin Tendulkar taking a brilliant catch at short point. Katich's 26-ball 20 included four hits to the fence. That ball happened to be the last before tea.
Earlier, India declared their second innings at 314 for three, setting Australia a target of 516 runs to win the Test.
Captain Dhoni (68 not out) and Tendulkar (10 not out) were at the crease when the innings was declared.
Dhoni's 84-ball knock contained three boundaries and a six and was his second half century of the match, following his 92 in the first innings.
Sourav Ganguly was the lone Indian wicket to fall in the post-lunch session. He was caught by Michael Clarke of Brett Lee for 27. India played 16 overs after lunch and put on 84 runs in that period.
Post-tea session: (38 overs, 91 runs, 3 wickets)
After the twin strikes, those of Hayden and Katich just before tea, the Indian bowlers rocked the Australian boat again immediately after it, taking two more wickets.
Harbhajan took his third wicket of the innings in the shape of the in-form Michael Hussey (1), the latter paying the price for playing a rash, and rather unnecessary shot. Harbhajan is now just one short of 300 Test wickets.
Ricky Ponting's woeful record against Ishant Sharma continued when the latter cleaned him up with a beautiful incoming delivery for just two runs. Australia's captain has now been dismissed on five occasions by the 20-year-old Indian speedster this year, and thrice in his last three innings.
More importantly, the Aussies had seen four of their frontline batsmen fall for the addition of just three runs and despite an aggressive start, the visitors were forced to retreat to a defensive cocoon -- statistically speaking, from 49 for no loss to 52 for 4.
There was no relief coming their way. Just six runs had been added to the total when Shane Watson (2) was adjudged leg before off Ishant. Australia 58 for 5.
But when disaster strikes preventive measures are bound to follow. Clarke and Haddin employed themselves to continue with the disaster management. And it is because of them that Australia were able to avert an impending defeat by a day and extend the game into the fifth day.

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