India, victim of poor umpiring

Anil Kumble’s line at the end of the Test — “Only one side played in the spirit of the game” — was reminiscent of Bill Woodfull’s utterance in the Bodyline series, and conveyed India’s disappointment with how the Test unfolded. S. Ram Mahesh reports.

The second Test had several heart-warming moments and featured cricket of quality for most part as it was played on an ideal wicket prepared by Tom Parker. The playing strip involved every facet of cricketing skill over the duration of the match, which ended with eight minutes remaining on the clock, with Australia recording a 122-run victory. The Aussies also retained the Border-Gavaskar Trophy and tied the world record for most consecutive Test wins (16) set by Steve Waugh’s side.

A terrible pity then that it will be remembered for incompetent umpiring, a charge of racial abuse against off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, and a breakdown in the relations between the sides.

Anil Kumble’s line at the end of the Test — "Only one side played in the spirit of the game" — was reminiscent of Bill Woodfull’s utterance in the Bodyline series, and conveyed India’s disappointment with the how the Test unfolded. Having reduced Australia to 134 for six on the first day, thanks to some fine seam and swing bowling from R. P. Singh, the touring side was denied the wicket of Andrew Symonds, Australia’s last recognised batsman.

Umpire Steve Bucknor failed to detect the nick off Ishant Sharma’s bowling — a nick that was heard around the Sydney Cricket Ground. The wicket would have given the Indians a shot at two non-specialists, and the opportunity to end Australia’s first innings swiftly. Instead, they saw first-hand just why this Australian side is so difficult to nail down.

Brad Hogg, nuggety, left-handed, and inclined to attack, raced to 70 in 72 balls, stroking the ball either side of cover off either foot with authority. Symonds, let off on 30, settled as Hogg partook of the Indian bowling. Symonds then opened out, using leverage as much as strength. The short-arm shovel to deep mid-wicket brought him several boundaries against both Harbhajan and Kumble. He reached his second Test hundred in 128 balls; the list of partnerships he raised with the lower order read thus: 173 (Hogg) in 36.2 overs for the seventh wicket, 114 (Lee) in 31.4 overs for the eighth, and 40 (Johnson) in 8.1 overs for the ninth.

“I was out,” confessed Symonds, who made his highest Test score. “But, these things happen and I’m not going to sit here and let you know about all the rough decisions I’ve received.”

V. V. S. Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar made brilliant, varied hundreds to help India past Australia’s 463. Both, however, were given the benefit in close shouts for leg-before during their innings. Laxman’s was innings of staggering counter-attack. “I just played on the merit of the ball,” he would say later. “I was happy that I could perform so well against the best when my team needed it. It was not a conscious effort to counter attack.”

He began with a glance to long-leg and followed it with a caress through cover. Off Johnson, Laxman struck three drives to draw the ball to flick. He hit a rut in the 80s, but so scorching a pace had he set that he reached his 12th hundred in 127 balls. Rahul Dravid who gave him excellent company played an innings of will before a flail to first slip.

Tendulkar stitched together a record partnership with Harbhajan Singh, talking the feisty off-spinner through a tough time. It was during the partnership that Harbhajan and Andrew Symonds were involved in an altercation. Though Tendulkar played it down, Ponting reported it to match referee Mike Procter. Harbhajan was charged under Level Three and banned for three Tests, which detracted from the attractive half-century he made under pressure.

“I have always believed Harbhajan can bat; he probably believes it a little more than me,” said Tendulkar. “I told him this is the best time to prove it. And he didn’t disappoint us. His innings and our partnership was extremely important.” The master batsman reached his 38th Test hundred with a punch off the back-foot, the sort he had rigorously practised in the indoor nets ahead of the Test. “My celebration was just a bit different because I wanted to move on after 2007,” said Tendulkar who missed seven international centuries in 2007. “I was very happy because this hundred came at the right time. The support of the crowd was special, and that’s what you expect from Australian crowds. They appreciate good cricket.”

The Australian openers, Phil Jaques and Matthew Hayden ensured their side wiped off the deficit, guarding against some disciplined Indian bowling first up. But, a rain break changed the dynamics of the contest, and both Jaques and Hayden cut loose. Jaques departed — as did Ponting for the eighth time to Harbhajan — but Hayden marched on relentlessly, registering his 29th Test century, which drew him level with Sir Donald Bradman. “I have never played a reverse sweep in my life before,” said Hayden who made thoughtful use of the stoke to provoke the changes in field he wanted. “But, I had to bring it out to move the game along.”

Michael Hussey went to his eighth Test hundred in just his 20th Test (with an average second only to Bradman among batsmen with more than 2000 runs), but it wasn’t an innings of uniform excellence. He picked the length well: as a result, he could use the depth of the crease to work off his pads. He also drove out of the bowlers’ footmarks with considerable skill for a man brought up on WACA strip — a surface more disposed to quick bowling. He had his moments of fortune.

On 22, he was nailed in front of the stumps by Kumble; on 42, he was dropped by a leaping Yuvraj off Kumble; and on 45, he was caught down the leg-side off R. P. Singh and not given. Hussey made the most of his luck, adding 160 in 44 overs with Hayden, preventing Australia’s middle order from starting against spin on a track that might have triggered a collapse.

Ponting declared with a lead of 332, ensuring there was only ever one side in the hunt for a win. Stuart Clark got rid of the first-innings century makers, Laxman and Tendulkar, with intelligent, controlled bowling before Dravid and Ganguly repaired the innings somewhat, adding 61 in 15.2 overs. Both fell victim, however, to poor umpiring and unedifying behaviour from the Australians. Dravid was done in by umpire Steve Bucknor. Symonds’s delivery went off front pad to Adam Gilchrist. The Australian appeal for caught behind was vociferous.

Lee’s delivery to Ganguly was immaculate, catching Ganguly on the crease and buying the edge. Clarke who rolled over in the slips said he caught the ball. As per the pre-series agreement between the captains, it was enough for Benson. But, there was sufficient basis for doubt. Clarke may well have caught the ball (the reduction of a three-dimensional field to a two-dimensional image almost always makes such catches look suspicious), but in rolling over he placed it on the ground, when still not in complete control of it. Neither incident was singular — indeed, every team has been guilty of it at some stage.

But, when the Australian cricketers maintain that they play the game “hard and fair”, and that their word must be taken at face value, it rings hollow. M.S. Dhoni and Anil Kumble kept out 21 overs before Dhoni ill-advisedly padded up. Kumble was heroic, remaining unbeaten on 45.

But Clarke, bowling his left-arm slows, took three wickets in 1.5 overs, ending India’s resistance. The touring side hadn’t lasted 72 overs — the old ghost of batting time returning to haunt it, though in this case, the poltergeist of poor umpiring contributed a spook or two.

THE SCORES

Second Test, Sydney Cricket Ground, Jan. 2-6, 2008. Australia won by 122 runs.

Australia — 1st innings: P. Jaques c Dhoni b R. P. Singh 0; M. Hayden c Tendulkar b R. P. Singh 13; R. Ponting lbw b Harbhajan 55; M. Hussey c Tendulkar b R. P. Singh 41; M. Clarke lbw b Harbhajan 1; A. Symonds (not out) 162; A. Gilchrist c Tendulkar b R. P. Singh 7; B. Hogg c Dravid b Kumble 79; B. Lee lbw b Kumble 59; M. Johnson c Ganguly b Kumble 28; S. Clark lbw b Kumble 0; Extras (b-2, lb-9, w-4, nb-3) 18. Total: 463.

Fall of wickets: 1-0, 2-27, 3-119, 4-119, 5-121, 6-134, 7-307, 8-421, 9-461.

India bowling: R. P. Singh 26-3-124-4; Ishant 23-3-87-0; Ganguly 6-1-13-0; Harbhajan 27-3-108-2; Kumble 25.3-0-106-4; Tendulkar 5-0-14-0.

India — 1st innings: W. Jaffer b Lee 3; R. Dravid c Hayden b Johnson 53; V. V. S. Laxman c Hussey b Hogg 109; S. Tendulkar (not out) 154; S. Ganguly c Hussey b Hogg 67; Yuvraj Singh lbw b Lee 12; M. Dhoni c Gilchrist b Lee 2; A. Kumble c Gilchrist b Lee 2; Harbhajan Singh c Hussey b Johnson 63; R. P. Singh c Gilchrist b Clark 13; Ishant Sharma c & b Lee 23; Extras (b-4, lb-13, w-6, nb-8) 31. Total: 532.

Fall of wickets: 1-8, 2-183, 3-185, 4-293, 5-321, 6-330, 7-345, 8-474, 9-501.

Australia bowling: Lee 32.2-5-119-5; Johnson 37-2-148-2; Clark 25-3-80-1; Symonds 7-1-19-0; Hogg 30-2-121-2; Clarke 7-1-28-0.

Australia — 2nd innings: P. Jaques c Yuvraj b Kumble 42; M. Hayden c Jaffer b Kumble 123; R. Ponting c Laxman b Harbhajan 1; M. Hussey (not out) 145; M. Clarke c Dravid b Kumble 0; A. Symonds c Dhoni b R. P. Singh 61; A. Gilchrist c Yuvraj b Kumble 1; B. Hogg c Dravid b Harbhajan 1; B. Lee (not out) 4; Extras (b-3, lb-8, w-3, nb-9) 23. Total (for seven wkts., decl.) 401.

Fall of wickets: 1-85, 2-90, 3-250, 4-250, 5-378, 6-393, 7-395.

India bowling: R. P. Singh 16-2-74-1; Ishant 14-2-59-0; Harbhajan 33-6-92-2; Kumble 40-3-148-4; Tendulkar 2-0-6-0; Yuvraj 2-0-11-0.

India — 2nd innings: R. Dravid c Gilchrist b Symonds 38; W. Jaffer c Clarke b Lee 0; V. V. S. Laxman lbw b Clark 20; S. Tendulkar b Clark 12; S. Ganguly c Clarke b Lee 51; Yuvraj Singh c Gilchrist b Symonds 0; M. Dhoni lbw b Symonds 35; A. Kumble (not out) 45; Harbhajan Singh c Hussey b Clarke 7; R. P. Singh lbw b Clarke 0; I. Sharma c Hussey b Clarke 0; Extras (nb-2) 2. Total: 210.

Fall of wickets: 1-3, 2-34, 3-54, 4-115, 5-115, 6-137, 7-185, 8-210, 9-210.

Australia bowling: Lee 13-3-34-2; Johnson 11-4-33-0; Clark 12-4-32-2; Hogg 14-2-55-0; Symonds 19-5-51-3; Clarke 1.5-0-5-3.