Round one goes to the Aussies

Published : Jan 12, 2012 00:00 IST

Australia had turned what had been an even contest for three-fourths of the Test into a relatively comfortable victory on the fourth day. By S. Ram Mahesh.

An hour after the last ball of the first Test was bowled, the Australian team trooped out to the middle of the massive Melbourne Cricket Ground. In between them was a large tub of iced bitter. The team song was sung, mates were grabbed in boisterous hugs, heads were drenched with said bitter. Had India been watching, they would have remembered England. Andrew Strauss' men did much the same after winning the series 4-0. The 122-run defeat in the Boxing Day Test was India's fifth successive defeat abroad.

It could have so easily been different. Several times during the first Test, India had positions of advantage. Its seamers, Zaheer Khan, Umesh Yadav, and Ishant Sharma, gave a wonderful account of themselves in both innings, dismissing Australia for 330 and 240.

They had difficulty shifting the tail in both innings, but Zaheer, with mastery of swing and seam, and Umesh and Ishant, with pace, bounce, and movement, far exceeded expectations.

Umesh had a magnificent first Test in Australia, swinging the ball at speed to have batsmen of the quality of Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey in trouble. He finished with seven wickets in the Test.

Ishant was luckless. Had he been justly compensated for his efforts, he would have had at least seven wickets himself instead of the paltry two. Both Ishant and Umesh crossed the 150 kmph mark in the match, the first time bowlers from India had achieved such pace in Test cricket. They consistently hit the mid to late 140s, showing that their fastest velocities weren't speed-gun glitches.

Zaheer, who was returning from injury, gradually built, so he was at his best in the second half of his bowling efforts. There wasn't a bowler on either side with his range and control of skill. Thus could he do at 130 kmph what every other bowler in the Test needed another 10 kmph of reserve pace to do — bother the batsmen. Seven wickets were just reward for Zaheer.

Australia's bowlers were splendid as well. They hunted in a pack of three and shared the spoils. Ben Hilfenhaus, who took five wickets in the first innings, looked a different bowler from the one that operated in the Ashes. He was sharper and had better understanding of angles at the crease. He wasn't a one-dimensional close-to-the stumps bowler anymore. His swing was therefore more potent.

Peter Siddle and James Pattinson, the two Victorians, kept their home crowd constantly excited, banging out a line and length. They achieved seam movement, off a grass-thatched surface at the MCG, ensuring the wickets would come.

R. Ashwin won the mini-battle of off-spinners. He impressed men such as Richie Benaud and Ian Chappell with this ability and variation. He struggled however with the swirling winds inside the MCG; his consistency suffered because of it. But he still did enough to create doubt in the batsmen's minds. As a result, the bowling units pretty much nullified the others' effort. The difference was in the catching and out-cricket, and the batting.

Australia was clearly the better team in the first regard; they just edged it in the second. Ricky Ponting was the only batsman to make at least a half-century in each innings. Coming at a time when people are calling for his head, the knocks showed that he has plenty to contribute to Australian cricket.

Debutant Ed Cowan supported him with a half-century in the first innings. Michael Hussey played the innings of the match in the second, taking the game away from India. Siddle and Hilfenhaus, in the first innings, and James Pattinson, in both innings, contributed vital runs to the team's cause.

Rahul Dravid and Zaheer Khan put down catches in Australia's second innings. Had they been taken, India would have chased fewer than 292. But there were no excuses for two batting collapses. The first came when India had appeared to assume command of the match.

Sachin Tendulkar and Dravid had taken India to 214 for two before Siddle produced a corker of an in-ducker to bowl Tendulkar. That came in the last over of the second day, and the next day India lost seven wickets for 68. Conceding a first-innings lead of 51 was a daft thing to do.

India's bowlers did their best to bring their side back into the match — Australia was on 27 for four at one stage, and then led by 230 with only two wickets in hand. But good old Australian bloody-mindedness meant India would have to pursue nearly 300 in the fourth innings.

Virender Sehwag, who had thrilled the MCG with a half-century in the first innings, went early. Tendulkar and Ashwin provided pockets of resistance, but there wasn't much else. Australia had turned what had been an even contest for three-fourths of the Test into a relatively comfortable victory on the fourth day. Thus did India's 2011 end.


Australia 1st innings: E. Cowan c Dhoni b Ashwin 68; D. Warner c Dhoni b Yadav 37; S. Marsh c Kohli b Yadav 0; R. Ponting c Laxman b Yadav 62; M. Clarke b Zaheer 31; M. Hussey c Dhoni b Zaheer 0; B. Haddin c Sehwag b Zaheer 27; P. Siddle c Dhoni b Zaheer 41; J. Pattinson (not out) 18; B. Hilfenhaus c Kohli b Ashwin 19; N. Lyon b Ashwin 6; Extras (lb-21, w-2, nb-1) 24. Total: 333.

Fall of wickets: 1-46, 2-46, 3-159, 4-205, 5-205, 6-214, 7-286, 8-291, 9-318.

India bowling: Zaheer 31-6-77-4, Ishant 24-7-48-0, Yadav 26-5-106-3, Ashwin 29-3-81-3.

India 1st innings: G. Gambhir c Haddin b Hilfenhaus 3; V. Sehwag b Pattinson 67; R. Dravid b Hilfenhaus 68; S. Tendulkar b Siddle 73; I. Sharma c Haddin b Hilfenhaus 11; V. V. S. Laxman c Haddin b Siddle 2; V. Kohli c Haddin b Hilfenhaus 11; M. Dhoni c Hussey b Hilfenhaus 6; R. Ashwin c Haddin b Siddle 31; Zaheer b Pattinson 4; U. Yadav (not out) 2; Extras (w-1, nb-3) 4. Total: 282.

Fall of wickets: 1-22, 2-97, 3-214, 4-214, 5-221, 6-238, 7-245, 8-254, 9-259.

Australia bowling: Pattinson 23-6-55-2, Hilfenhaus 26-5-75-5, Siddle 21.1-2-63-3, Lyon 17-2-66-0, Hussey 5-0-15-0, Warner 2-0-8-0.

Australia 2nd innings: D. Warner b Yadav 5; E. Cowan lbw b Yadav 8; S. Marsh b Yadav 3; R. Ponting c Sehwag b Zaheer 60; M. Clarke b Ishant 1; M. Hussey c Dhoni b Zaheer 89; B. Haddin c Laxman b Zaheer 6; P. Siddle c Dhoni b Yadav 4; N. Lyon lbw b Ashwin 0; J. Pattinson (not out) 37; B. Hilfenhaus c Laxman b Ishant 14; Extras: (b-5, lb-2, w-1, nb-5) 13. Total: 240.

Fall of wickets: 1-13, 2-16, 3-24, 4-27, 5-142, 6-148, 7-163, 8-166, 9-197, 10-240.

India bowling: Zaheer 20-4-53-3, Yadav 20-4-70-4, Ishant 12.3-0-43-2, Ashwin 22-4-60-1, Sehwag 2-0-7-0.

India 2nd innings: G. Gambhir c Ponting b Siddle 13; V. Sehwag c Hussey b Hilfenhaus 7; R. Dravid b Pattinson 10; S. Tendulkar c Hussey b Siddle 32; V. V. S. Laxman c Cowan b Pattinson 1; V. Kohli lbw b Hilfenhaus 0; M. Dhoni b Pattinson 23; R. Ashwin c Cowan b Siddle 30; Zaheer c Cowan b Pattinson 13; I. Sharma (not out) 6; U. Yadav c Warner b Lyon 21; Extras (lb-10, w-2, nb-1) 13. Total: 169.

Fall of wickets: 1-17, 2-39, 3-58, 4-68, 5-69, 6-81, 7-117, 8-141, 9-142.

Australia bowling: Pattinson 15-2-53-4, Hilfenhaus 18-4-39-2, Siddle 9-1-42-3, Lyon 5.5-0-25-1.

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