Friday, October 10, 2008

India v Australia, 1st Test, Bangalore, 2nd day

India 68 for 0 (Sehwag 43*, Gambhir 20*) trail

Australia 430 (Hussey 146, Ponting 123, Katich 66, Zaheer 5-91, Ishant 4-77) by 362 runs

There is a wall in Bangalore that celebrates Rahul Dravid's immovability at the crease. In the city's Chinnaswamy Stadium, Michael Hussey built an impenetrable barrier of his own with a supremely focused innings of 146 that ensured an impressive total for Australia on the second day. By the close, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir had made the visitors' 430 look a little less daunting and with a solid construction of their own reduced the deficit to 362.

It was a promising start from the openers, particularly the confident Sehwag, but the challenge will come on the third day. India will need to make certain their own wall is reinforced and on a pitch that has held up but is threatening to crack like a dry river bed they could also some putty to fill the widening gaps. Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma did what they could to make use of the variable surface but there is no doubt Australia had the best of the conditions by batting first.

Still, the visitors needed to put their plans into action on the field. After Ponting had led the way on the first day, Hussey followed on the second with his ninth Test century, an innings of intense concentration. It ended a record streak of low scores for Hussey, who entered the game fresh from five Test innings without a half-century, the longest such spell in his remarkable career.

He has spent the past few months insisting he was unhappy with some minor aspects of his technique but any deficiencies must have been ironed out during the Australian winter. Perhaps his least convincing shot was the one that brought him to triple figures from 188 balls, an inside-edge off Ishant that flew past the stumps for four. Hussey's landmark was a bad sign for India; Australia have won every Test in which Hussey has made a century.

His judgement was excellent. A pair of drives sailed through the off side off consecutive deliveries when Zaheer overpitched and a perfectly placed drive against Anil Kumble bisected the mid-off and extra cover, who weren't that far apart. He faced 189 dot balls, patiently waiting for chances to find gaps or hit over the top, like when he launched a safe six over midwicket off Harbhajan Singh.

He had some assistance from India's fieldsmen - another four came when his drive went through the legs of a sluggish Sourav Ganguly at mid-off. That was the most conspicuous fielding error but just as maddening for India was the ease with which Hussey and Brad Haddin turned the strike over during an important 91-run partnership, repeatedly pinching singles to fielders who were either flat-footed, placed too deep, or both.

The sixth-wicket stand between Hussey and Haddin came at a critical time; Ishant had just picked up Shane Watson cheaply in the fourth over of the day and at 259 for 5 there was a risk Australia would waste Ponting's strong start. Haddin hasn't struck a fifty in his short Test career but five times in his four Tests he has helped steady the lower middle-order with half-century partnerships.

The personal milestone again eluded Haddin, who had 33 when he fell for Ishant's slower ball. Haddin was so surprised by the offspin-style delivery from Ishant, who had not used it so far during the day, that he shaped to drive, hesitated, and then went through with the shot, which lobbed to VVS Laxman at short cover. Ishant decided that he was on a good thing and lured the debutant Cameron White (6) into a similarly fatal prod to cover from a near identical ball.

For most of the first two sessions Ishant looked by far the most dangerous bowler. He steamed in enthusiastically and moved the ball subtly both ways, sometimes dug in a short one and at other times used the interesting surface to keep balls low. He ended up with 4 for 77 but it was Zaheer who finished with the best figures, 5 for 91, after an unexpectedly vivid spell of reverse-swing bowling just after tea.

Zaheer had not been particularly threatening until he suddenly started moving the ball about following the break and he crashed into the stumps of Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson and finally Hussey within the space of seven balls. The wickets had to come from Ishant and Zaheer as the two spinners struggled for impact despite probing for the footmarks. Kumble returned 0 for 129, the second time this year he has conceded a triple-figure tally without a wicket, while Harbhajan could not add to his first-day removal of Ponting.

That the innings ended with a couple of hours to play was a blessing for India, whose openers enjoyed the time to settle in against a pace attack that was taking time to find its rhythm. The third day will provide an intriguing test for the Fab Four, including Sachin Tendulkar, who needs 77 runs to break Brian Lara's all-time Test record. On a pitch likely to become more difficult the main thing could be to ensure that Dravid is at his most wall-ey.

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