It’s lovely getting to the ground early. There is a hive of activity on the ground with curators, media and players warming up and going about their duties. Yesterday, Cricket Victoria gave out awards to young cricketers and the gathered family members craned their necks and held aloft their cameras with pride. In the box, we enjoy a sandwich and discuss last night’s press conference, where the wonderfully wry Virender Sehwag was his usual self, not giving an inch to anyone but all with a smile.
Greg Baum in The Age has written that the batsmen yesterday flattered the bowlers, and he’s absolutely right. Early in this morning’s play it is the umpiring again that is at fault. Yadav’s explosive bowling brought a false shot from Hussey, whom ‘Eagle Eye’ shows was dead LBW. In all honestly the vast majority of discussion in the box over the test match has been in regards to the absent DRS. Whether you like technology being involved or not, the fact is that there is clear evidence of umpiring mistakes being broadcast not only on television but also right here in the ground. Not long afterwards, Hussey nicks a ball to Dhoni and is again given not out. The fact that we have no DRS here is one thing, but the standard of umpiring really is woeful.
In an age where test cricket is trying to provide its relevancy, the fact that you have a passage of play where the game is so obviously undermined by the umpiring and mis-management is terrible. However, none of this should take away from the standard of play in the morning. India’s bowling, which was said to be ‘toothless’, has shown plenty of skill and guile, and although the system and Dhoni’s timid field placements haven’t helped, Yadav and Khan reigned supreme.
Dhoni’s tactics are just astonishing. With every run meaning so much and with the last two batsmen at the crease, Dhoni stationed a deep square leg, deep point and mid-off and mid-on halfway back. This was complemented with just two slips. Valuable runs get edged through the slips while men wait patiently on the deep point and square leg boundaries. This must surely infuriate a bowler of the skill of Khan. As the final partnership grows the perplexing nature of Dhoni’s captaincy becomes more apparent. When a team needs wickets to win a match, it is nothing short of absurd to place your fielders away from the bat. Dhoni’s hold over his team must be immense, as you would think that with two former captains in the team, someone might have swayed his thinking.
Hilfenhaus’ initial spell is fiery and at one stage he gives a good glare to Gambhir after he had backed away whilst Hilf was in full stride. Hilfenhaus was in some ways a surprise inclusion, but he has certainly performed well. Another man under pressure was Hussey who has had a good impact on this match. The grab off Sehwag’s flying edge was red hot, and Hussey’s reaction shows that Mr. Cricket still has plenty of passion.
At lunch, we make our way over to the MCC Media Lunch in their lovely committee room. There’s a wonderful mix of people and I am seated next to the Vice President of the MCC. Talk mainly centres on, predictably, the absent DRS system, but also focuses on an impressive plan by the MCC to re-use sewage water in the area. The underground water recycling facility, which will be the largest in the world, is a joint project between the MCC and the state government. It will divert part of the sewage in the north of Melbourne and produce over 600 kilolitres of recycled water per day. What is most impressive about this project is that it will support the surrounding parklands as well, proving that the MCG is a ground that supports the community.
As soon as we make our way back from the lunch, Pattinson finds a way through Dravid’s defences. It’s almost as if the game kindly waited for us and then a plush reward was offered up. Australia’s young bowling line-up has continually found ways through the Indian’s in this test match. It’s hard to imagine that would have been the case a year ago when England drubbed them in the Ashes. Laxman too is undone, but more by a casual shot and a lack of perception regarding field placements. The contrast between the attacking fields Clarke has supported his bowlers with and the timidness of Dhoni is stark.
It was at gully where Tendulkar was caught for last time in test matches at the MCG. I imagine he was already distraught, given that his mates had shown him so little support in this innings, but there was almost an acceptance of his fate as he walked to the pavilion. Contrast this with Virat Kohli who was plum LBW but still stood there glaring at the umpire like a petulant schoolboy. Even in the last phase of his career, Tendulkar is a beacon for his team, and they are as reliant on his batting as they are on his approach to the game, which is always first-class.
As the wickets continue to tumble we turn our attentions to the series and what ramifications there will be from this match. It is obvious that Australia’ bowling line-up is full of confidence, and surprisingly so is India’s. But the real problem seems to lie in the much-vaunted Indian batting order. Tendulkar and Dravid look in good form, but Gambhir and Laxman look far from it. They will, I presume, give Kohli another match before they look to someone like Rohit Sharma, but they’ll want a much more assured performance.
I spoke earlier about Greag Baum’s assertion that the batsmen flattered the bowlers yesterday, well he may have to sing from the same song sheet after today’s play. But I can’t help but feel that Dhoni’s timid tactics in the first session set a horrible tone for his side today. Just when his side needed a shot of confidence and to take the bit between their teeth, he seemed to wilt under the pressure. On the completion of the match, Australia were understandably jubilant, knowing that they have won a key match in spite of some key failings themselves. Pattinson, Siddle and Hilfenhaus look a formidable trio and unless India stops ‘flattering’ them with their inept batting, this series could be 2-0 in the blink of an eye.
Australia 333 & 240 defeat India 282 & 169
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