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‘Careless’ India surrender the advantage

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Careless shot selection from some of the Indian batsmen frittered away the advantage that the tourists had on a bright afternoon at the WACA Ground. The Aussies sprung back superbly to restrict a promising Indian first innings to 297 for 6 on the first day of the 3rd Test at Perth. India at one stage were right at the top commanding the proceedings at 198 for 2. But some relentless bowling from Brett Lee & co. got the Aussies right back in the scheme of things with India losing four wickets in the final session.

After 10 days of high drama off the field, the players were back to the arena. Both teams made a couple of changes in their line-ups. India got Virender Sehwag and Irfan Pathan in for Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh. Australia gave debut for the local lad Chris Rogers and brought in Shaun Tait in the places of Matt Hayden (out of action with a hamstring injury) and Brad Hogg. Anil Kumble took the brave decision which not many touring sides take, which was to bat first on a WACA pitch. Virender Sehwag lived upto his reputation and that was to play and miss staying in his crease but at the same time playing some blistering shots. That provided an energetic start for the Indians, it was no longer the ‘Block Block’ game of batting out maidens like the last opening pair of Jaffer and Dravid. Jaffer was refreshing as well as he rotated the strike and looked competitive. India raised up their 50 without losing a wicket.

Australia fought their way back in the first session as they removed both Sehwag and Jaffer in succession. Both Sehwag (29 from 58 balls with 6 fours) and Jaffer (16 from 53) got out nicking behind after playing loose shots outside the off of Johnson and Lee respectively. That got India in a spot of bother with Dravid and Tendulkar required to do the repair. They first safely took India to 74 for 2 in 24 overs at lunch. After lunch, India almost lost their third wicket but for a sitter put down by Michael Clarke at first slip. Dravid was the lucky man while Brett Lee was the unlucky bowler. That was the only real chance for the Aussies in that session as Dravid and Tendulkar took control of the game bringing in all their experience. They in turn were helped along by the inexperienced Johnson, Tait and also Symonds who were feeding them on the pads. India got themselves into a good position by Tea at 177 for 2 in 51 overs with both the batmen getting past their half centuries.

After Tea, the pair of Dravid and Tendulkar were up against the reverse swinging ball and the charged up Lee. They saw the threat through and things were sailing along smoothly until an umpiring blunder (this time an innocent one) sent Tendulkar back to the pavilion. Tendulkar was struck high over his knee roll to a length delivery from Lee and was also up in the air slightly to negotiate the extra bounce. Asad Rauf, the man who replaced Steve Bucknor following the ICC’s orders was responsible for this bad decision. The Pakistani Umpire came under pressure by a vociferous appeal from the fielding side which was the second one of that over from Lee. Tendulkar batted superbly for his 71 (from 128 balls with 9 fours) with lot of runs coming through the special upper cuts over the slip cordon which was employed for this bouncy track. The tourists were compensated when Dravid was not given out lbw thanks to Billy Bowden despite getting hit on the boot by an inswinging yorker from Johnson infront of the off and middle stump. India were 198 for 3 and soon were 214 for 4 as Ganguly played a careless shot, swinging one away from his body to be caught brilliantly at gully by Hussey.

After Ganguly’s exit, VVS Laxman joined Dravid to get things back to normal with a 50-run partnership which put the pressure back on the Kangaroos. There was more pressure on the fielding side because of their sloppy over rate which left them to bowl more than 20 overs in the last hour. They were forced to bring spin at both ends through Symonds and Michael Clarke. Dravid and Laxman didn’t take advantage of the part time bowlers and decided to play it safe. Dravid finally thought he had to get things moving and he played a couple of slog sweeps. The first one was for a boundary, but the second one saw him miscuing one up in the air off Symonds to lose his wicket. Dravid (93 from 183 with 14 fours) missed out on a hundred and India were now 278 for 5 with another 25 minutes left in the play. India almost saw that through until another careless shot them let them down. It was Laxman playing a pull shot for the first time in the innings which resulted in a miscued hit that went straight to mid off. Brett Lee was the man taking that wicket with the second new ball. India finished the day at 297 for 6 in 84 overs at stumps with all-rounders MS Dhoni (8 from 14 balls) and Irfan Pathan (8 from 9 balls) in the middle.

It is upto the Indian lower order now to see if they can stretch the total to 400. It was a hard working day for Brett Lee, who finished with 3 for 64. Stuart Clark bowled well in the first two sessions but couldn’t get any wickets. Johnson and Tait weren’t up to the mark at all.