MCG, day 3

Australia’s day. Yesterday I said India gained an advantage without looking comfortable. Today they looked only a little bit worse and conceded that advantage. The day got off to a terrible start for them, as Dravid was bowled in the first over. This time it was off a legal delivery and left India 214-4. (And fulfilled Geoffery Boycott’s adage of adding two wickets to the score, as they had been 214-2 last night.) It also left them with a new batsman and a nightwatchman at the crease. It’s never a good situation, but Sharma batted with poise and demonstrated why he was given the role. In particular he dealt with the short ball well, but the rest of the Indians apparently weren’t watching and collapsed in a heap. There was some pretty good bowling, but the batting was distinctly ordinary. It was certainly not the work of the pitch, which was still only displaying the bit of nip it had on the first two days. At their nadir India were 259-9, having lost 7-45. In the midst of all this, however, Clarke did something which I thought was odd. Peter Siddle had Laxman caught behind in the 73rd over to make the score 221-5. With the seamers having taken two middle order wickets and a new batsman batting with the nightwatchman Clarke decided to take off a seamer and put on Nathan Lyon. I understand wanting to save the seamers for the new ball, but they were doing fine with the old ball. Clarke could have waited to take the new ball and given his seamers a proper go with their tails up, but he didn’t. It did not cost Australia, but Lyon didn’t get a wicket and he let off some pressure. It was not until Clarke went back to two seamers that a wicket fell and it did so immediately after the bowling change. I’ve never really rated Clarke as a tactician (though he’s better than Ponting) and this was another example. (He also had a deep fine leg to a tailender which is is only acceptable if it’s to catch a top edge which this wasn’t.)

I can’t really say India’s last wicket partnership spared their blushes, they only got the score to 282, but the 23 they put on was the highest of the day for India and the third highest of the innings. It meant that Australia had a very handy looking lead of 51 and just needed to bat well to get themselves into a position where India would be under real pressure. They didn’t, of course. Warner and Cowan went out and appeared to have switched bodies. Warner blocked and left and nudged singles (and actually faced every ball of the first three overs) whilst Cowan hooked one which went for four off the top edge. It was only a matter of time before Warner’s patience ran out, though, and you have to think the Indians knew that. The 27th ball he faced was wide outside off and he dragged it on to his stumps. He had made only five. Cowan went three balls later, but refused to do so in such a way as to support my body switching hypothesis. Instead he played one of his almost trademark (if a debutant can be said to have a trademark) leaves to one that nipped back from outside off. It hit the pad, looked a good shout live and the umpire sent him on his way. It probably was not the greatest shot (or lack thereof) selection, given that nipping off the seam was one of the few things the pitch had been doing pretty consistently. Hawk-Eye showed that the ball was actually missing off by a fraction, but it was so close that one could not blame the umpire. (It was Umpire Erasmus, I think.) Apparently Tom Moody on ESPN Star Sports especially could not blame the umpire, and he spent the next several minutes talking bollocks about batsmen leaving the ball too much. Fortunately Marsh played on a few overs later, giving him the chance to talk about something else instead. (Weirdly, he did not mention that Marsh ought to have left that ball outside off.) Marsh’s dismissal was actually a bit impressive. The ball was quite full and well outside off and I still can’t quite work out how Marsh got it onto leg stump. Clarke then went to a much more orthodox inside edge onto the stumps and it was 27-4.

To put that in perspective, when Australia were bowled out for 98 at this time last year their fourth wicket fell for fifty-odd. Their tail was probably stronger then too, and Ponting and Hussey weren’t looking terminally out of form. (Or at least Hussey wasn’t.) Today though Ponting and Hussey put on a stand of over 100. It was probably worth at least twice that, given the position in which Australia had been, and it served to highlight how good the pitch really was. It did not completely take the game away from India, but the body language of the fielders clearly dropped. If Ponting had kept batting the contest might be all but over now, but he let India back in to the game with a loose shot to a wide delivery from Khan that went straight to gully. Haddin did the same thing shortly thereafter, though to an even wider delivery. Haddin’s dismissal actually pleased me considerably, as I predicted the manner on Twitter about two minutes before it actually happened. Admittedly it isn’t too hard with Haddin, but it was still gratifying. Hussey stuck around with the tail (though was fortunate to be dropped by Dravid off Ashwin) and Australia ended the day 179-8, a lead of 230.

I expect tomorrow to be the last day. Hussey might be able to shepherd the tail a bit, but I can’t see Australia getting too many more. If they do it’ll probably be game over though, as India will be hard pressed to chase anything considerably over 250. Right now it is very, very finely poised. Fielding may turn out to be the difference. Both these sides fielded poorly and ran between the wickets poorly when they were losing to England. Since then Australia look like they have made a concerted effort to improve, but India have not. Ricky Ponting’s fifty came when he hit a ball toward third man that pulled up inside the rope. The fielder (I think it was Sehwag, but it might have been Laxman) pursued it very casually and what ought to have been a three became an all-run four. I doubt Australia will win by that one run, but it is indicative of a difference in attitude which may cost India.

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