Sunday, January 20, 2008

Perth Win: An Analysis

What were the major factors behind India's Test win at Perth? We have discussed all of them barring three in various posts on this blog since India landed in Australia.

One of the factors we did not discuss was Matthew Hayden's absence. Such is his dominance over all Indian bowlers in both Tests and ODIs (less so in T20 till date) that they get a low just by seeing him at the batting crease. They often let their bowling plans drift and tend to forget that they can at least try cracking up the other end. To have a nervous rookie playing as his replacement at Perth would have felt like a belated New Year Gift to the Indian bowlers.

Let me list out the other factors tha we have already talked about.

A. Winning the toss & batting first, playing Viru & getting team selection right, Indian bowlers not getting carried away by the Perth bounce, Perth pitch not supporting Australian 'strangulation' method: discussed in this post on Perth Test.

B. Good opening stands, the Australian catchers' susceptibility & Indian catchers not returning those favours: we discussed these in the series opener preview.

C. Australia being aware that faster pitches may backfire and end up reducing difference between the sides: Find a line on it here and try to forget the rest - Perth should help us to move on.
D. Having good catchers at right positions: Kumble got it right on the 4th day with Dravid back at first slip (RD caught well through the current series and has left behind his frightening catch-dropping spree since England last year) and Laxman at silly point. It wasn't so on the 3rd day (as we discussed in the concluding section of this post)
I said we had not discussed three factors. The second & third are Ponting's continued failure and Indian quicks moving the ball in both directions to up the pressure on opposition batsmen. We will discuss those two in unison, both of which happened in the first session of 4th day's play.
1st session, 4th day, Perth
The Indian quick bowlers exhibited pack hunting intent in the pre-lunch session and that was not lost on Australia. Ishant Sharma's role in that memorable session and his act of removing Ponting in that extra over induced by Sehwag cannot be discussed enough. It is the best passage of Test cricket I have watched since the 5th day of the Old Trafford Ashes Test of 2005 when Ricky Ponting showed his true calibre as a batsman against genuinely fast swing bowling and saved the Test almost single handedly (Mcgrath will think he can take some credit; I included the 'almost' for him).
Ponting and Hussey did an admirable job in keeping the bowlers out for so long on 19th morning. And that is not something we can say often when Indian quick bowlers are concerned. It is common experience to see one of them start yielding soon; the stranglehold seldom lasts this long. In the preview post we had discussed relentlessness against a big team like Australia. We have seen it in the past from our great batsmen. We have seen Kumble do it on Indian pitches with help of other spinners.
But the 4th day morning at Perth is the first session in a long time where I have seen it come from a pack of Indian quicks on an away pitch that is not necessarily the best for their kind of bowling. It would have come to nought had Ponting, the batsman who I believe could actually help his team to this total, stayed on till lunch. But then as cricinfo put it, justice would have been denied had Sharma not dismissed Ponting.
If we watch a replay of the Ponting dismissal we find that the Australian skipper has played at a straight ball from Ishant Sharma on the 6th stump and edged it to Rahul Dravid at 1st slip. To someone who missed out on the morning session this might look like a batting error. Had Sharma been bowling only outswingers all along, Ponting would have left this one alone with ease. Had Sharma been bowling just in-cutters this ball would not have happened. Ponting had barely survived close lbw shouts from deliveries that jagged back from pretty much the same spot. He was eager to get outside the line of his off stump to the one that moved in. The ball held its line and sucked him in.
It was pretty much the same with Hussey. He had obviously gone through videos of his dismissal in the first innings and was intent on not letting the outswingers from the two Indian left arm bowlers kiss the edge of his bat. When Pathan was bowling he saw a few balls get pitched within 2 inches from the off stump line and still left them alone. Being left handed in batting, he was armed with the knowledge that Pathan is only going to swing it outside with the new ball.
RP came and bowled the same outswingers for a few deliveries. However I suspect he bowls to certain plans and backs it up with adequate practice. He is the only Indian pace bowler who looks comfortable bowling around the wicket, something that requires good practice, and employs the move effectively as demonstrated in England. Here he stayed over the wicket to Hussey but soon came up with one that pitched in line and went straight towards the stumps.
RP's extra pace combined with Hussey's predetermination (borne out of having seen only outswing all morning) made sure his bat came down a little too late. Hussey was a tad unfortunate with the lbw decision considering the height where his pads were rapped, quite like Sachin in the first innings. But the ball could beat the bat mainly because the surprise delivery moved unlike the stock one.
UPDATE: Ishant's spell to Ponting and both the above dismissals can be watched here.