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G Rajaraman - Keep the Faith

India's tactics on Day 3 should be lauded because it showed that the side had matured



Saturday, November 08, 2021
It was Test cricket at its best

One man's meat is another man's poison. That became obvious on the third day of the final Test between India and Australia at the VCA Stadium in Jamtha on the outskirts of Nagpur where India gained an 86-run first innings lead with tactics that tested the visiting team's patience both on and off the field.

The Indian tactics were simple: Dry the flow of runs, frustrate Australia's batsmen and force them into error. The rewards were ample. The team conceded just 42 runs in the first session. And kept the team that had scored at close to four runs an over on Friday to just 166 runs in 85 overs while claiming eight wickets.

The Indian captain and his bowlers found success in a different way. To begin with, they employed a field that had eight men on the off-side. The fielder at mid-on could well have felt quite lonely and mostly unemployed as the bowlers attacked the off-stump and often bowled beyond the off-stump.

Some – including experts commenting on the live telecast – found the first session boring to watch and criticised India's ploy. To me, however, it was Test cricket at its best. It is not a two-minute duel that we had come to watch but a 15-round prizefight. And, like it happens in such contests, India challenged Australia to be creative in its quest for runs that could set up a victory.

For most of the day, Australia did not have an answer for India's tactics. It did not change the batting order. When it became apparent that India was drying the flow of runs, Australia did not respond with anything to counter that. It had the likes of Shane Watson and Cameron White who could have been sent with the specific purpose of increasing the run rate.

Curiously, Simon Katich and Michael Hussey took no chances. The odd time they moved from the script, they were unsuccessful and quickly went back to waiting for the bad ball. Hussey tried to pull a short ball that was pitched outside off-stump but made no contact. Katich played a rare delivery on the leg stump off the leading edge to mid-on and retreated into his shell.

Katich came across quite complainingly against the Indian team's tactics but he also admitted that the home side executed its plans well.

Indeed, you can devise tactics but you need the men to implement them. And in Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma, Dhoni has the right personnel who stuck to the task and bowled their hearts out in the morning session. Over after over, they pegged away on or outside the off-stump and bowling neither too short nor too full.

It will be easy to criticse the Indian slow bowlers for not courting as much success as Jason Krejza but they were bowling on a pitch that did not offer them as much encouragement. The home bowlers had to prise the Australians out on a track that had lost much of the pace that was on show on the opening day.

India had to nibble away at the batsmen's patience, subjecting them to a form of slow torture. And the results started showing a short while before lunch. Just after he reached his century, with the intent of forcing the pace and flicking the ball off his pads, Katich shuffled far too across the stumps and was leg before wicket to Zaheer Khan.

After that, it was a matter of piling on the pressure and working on the nerves of the batsmen.

Michael Clarke lingered at the crease for around 14 overs but did not bring in a fresh approach. After playing 43 deliveries, without once looking to force the pace, the Australian vice-captain was done in by a peach of a delivery from Ishant Sharma. He was forced to play it and even if he wanted to draw his bat away, the ball drew it magnetically as it swung away just that shade.

The instinctive desire to pinch a single and rotate the strike saw Hussey being run out by M Vijay with a superb piece of fielding and reflex action that saw him stretch to the right, stop the ball and fling it back at the stumps. He missed it but Dhoni backed him up smartly and broke the stumps before Hussey could regain his crease.

And when Watson – also intent to defend his citadel rather than take the fight into the India camp – played a top-spinner on to the off-stump, the India captain was cock-a-hoop. The manner in which he leapt on the way to embrace Harbhajan Singh told of how thrilled he was that his ploy of making the Australian batsmen's stay at the crease nightmarish worked.

There was rearguard action by Cameron White and Brad Haddin who added 52 runs but by that time India was taking the game farther away from Australia. And it was showing that patience and understanding are virtues that help those who play the game at this level. Come to think of it, those who watch Test cricket, not the least being those who make a living out of it, need these.
 


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