Ricky Ponting’s inability to keep a check on over rates has backfired on his team badly during a crucial fourth day’s play of the final Test at Nagpur. Aussies had India under pressure at 166 for 6 at Tea and were in a great position to set themselves a target of less than 300 in about 100 overs. But after Tea, the tourists could not use their quick bowlers as they were lagging behind the clock by 10 overs. India with that escaped the danger of battling against the reverse swing and went onto pile up a big target of 382. Dhoni and Harbhajan made the best against the lesser challenge to bail out their team with a 108-run partnership for the 7th wicket. It is going to be a daunting task for the Australian batsmen to score that many runs on the final day and even if they just shut shop and play for a draw, the series will be gone to India.
Morning Session: India cruise through thanks to another wonderful opening start
Virender Sehwag and Debutant Murali Vijay provided the ideal opening start to consolidate India’s position in the Test Match. The two openers played their respective natural games to provide the right platform for their team. In a session where the Aussies needed to make inroads, the two right handers found little trouble against all kind of bowlers and kept the scoreboard moving. Virender Sehwag smashed his way 59 while Vijay knocked off a solid 37 to take India to 98 for 0 in 27 overs, a lead of 184 by lunch. Jason Krejza was taken to the cleaners by Sehwag and wasn’t spared by even Vijay, who played a few lovely back cuts.
Afternoon Session: Watson, Krejza turn the match around
Something happened during the post lunch session that suddenly made the ball to reverse swing in a big way. Shane Watson, who has been the most effective exponent in this Australian attack provided the much needed breakthrough when an inexperienced Murali Vijay was trapped infront. Vijay once again got himself and his side the start but was unlucky not to find a way to kick on and make a big score. He had to settle for a neat 41 from 81 balls which had 5 fours. He had more than done his job though by giving an opening stand of 116 in just over 28 overs with Sehwag. India stuck to the same old batting order by sending the out-of-form Dravid next and his stay was limited to just 18 balls as he was forced to nick a magical reversing outswinger from Watson on the frontfoot. Dravid just managed to avoid a pair but he remains doubtful for the future series because of his low confidence levels. Seeing that Watson was getting the reverse swing going, Ponting brought back Brett Lee, who was lucky to get the wicket of Sehwag in the first ball of his new spell when the smashing opener tickled one fine into the keeper’s gloves down the leg side. Sehwag was extremely unlucky not to have scored a century in this series, this time he fell short by just 8 runs. With 10 fours and a six, Sehwag’s 163-minute stay in the middle was a nightmare for the Australians.
India got reduced to 142 for 3 and it needed the pair of Tendulkar and Laxman to weather the storm once again. The two right handers negotiated the reverse swing very well but the runs had come to a halt. In the 48th over, Jason Krejza produced the classical off break that lured Laxman forward in defence outside the off stump and then spun back sharply to take the inside edge and knock the leg stump. Laxman’s exit brought in Sourav Ganguly, who was playing his last test innings of his life. The crowd gave him a good reception and the expectations were high that he would steer India out of trouble along with Sachin. But fate had something else in store as Ganguly, who received a legstump line delivery from Krejza, tried to turn it to the onside and in the process closed the face of the blade too soon to give a low caught and bowled to Jason Krejza!
Ganguly in his last innings was out for a first-ball duck, it was just fine for the crowd as even the great Sir Don Bradman was dismissed for a duck in his last innings. But the real picture was that India slipped to 163 for 5. Make that 166 for 6 as Tendulkar choked under pressure in the last over before Tea to run himself out. It was the penultimate ball before Tea that Tendulkar had pushed Krejza to covers gently and waited a moment before calling his partner Dhoni for a single. Dhoni relaxed on seeing Tendulkar wasn’t initially looking for the quick single and when he saw him just running sent him back but it was too late for Tendulkar to get back. And it was a childish run out for a man who has been playing international cricket for a good 20 years! Perhaps Tendulkar’s negativity creeped in and forced him to try and get off the strike from the final ball before Tea! For the record, the little master scored 12 from 55 balls.
On the whole the afternoon session was simply dramatic and was needed to be in the best interest of the game. However, a couple of incidents went against the spirit of the game. To start with, there was a moment captured on camera that showed Cameron White peel off a chunk of leather from the ball. The Umpires had come to know of that and were quick to give a warning to Ponting. But it seemed that the same ball was used and it reversed in a big way even for Brett Lee, who could never get the same amount of swing during the earlier matches. Whether it reversed more because of some ‘kind of ball tampering’ or was it because the pitch had got drier, one cannot say with surety. The second incident was a disgraceful one, it involved Brad Haddin throw his glove onto the ball to stop it going further during an attempted flick shot from Tendulkar behind the stumps. The Umpires had awarded the batting side with ‘Five Penalty Runs’ for unfairly fielding the ball’.
Final Session: Over Rate pressure makes Australia under perform
And the final session was the most puzzling phase of the series. Australia had India down and it was just matter of taking the remaining four wickets in a hurry with Watson looking very dangerous with the old ball. Michael Clarke, the standing Captain opened the session with Krejza and Johnson but had to take off his quick bowler after just one over as he learnt about the over rate problem. Australia were in a soup as they lagged behind by an hour atleast which they needed to make up or Ponting was in for a ban in the next Test. Cameron White was brought into bowl along with Krejza and the former was so nervous that he sprayed the ball at different lines and lengths to release all the pressure that was created in the afternoon session. White was replaced with the part time medium pace of Hussey but it mattered little to the Indian pair of MS Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh.
India took the game away with both Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh employing the sweep shot and getting runs at a fair clip. All the Aussies could do was wait and watch, and the only thing they could focus on was in getting their overs through quickly! Eventually in the 78th over, Jason Krejza managed to get Dhoni gloving an attempted sweep shot but by then, the Indian Captain had put on a century stand with Harbhajan and to take the lead to a safe 360. Dhoni played a captain’s knock of 55 from 81 balls with 4 fours and had also picked up a hamstring strain while running so hard between the wickets. After Dhoni’s dismissal, the Aussies ran through the rest of the batting with Watson returning back and complementing Krejza. Harbhajan Singh (52 from 94 balls with 5 fours) just got to his 6th half century before Watson cleaned him up with a peach of an inswinger. India got bowled out for 295 in 82.4 overs and there was about 7 minutes time for the Aussies to bat. The bowling heroes were Jason Krejza with 4 for 143 in 31 overs and Watson with 4 for 42 in 15.4 overs. Krejza finished with overall match figures of 12 for 358. Openers Hayden and Katich knocked off 13 runs of the opening over from Zaheer Khan before the close of play.