India were left hoping for something dramatic in their bid for victory after a prolonged and largely fruitless struggle for wickets on Republic Day. Following a few more hours of toil under the sun on Day 4, they were left looking for something miraculous.
Slowly but surely, Australia consolidated on the strong base they had built a day earlier, making sure that the visitors didn’t enjoy any advantage of posting a big first-innings total. The time they consumed killed all practical chances of India setting them a target and bowling them out again, barring something that logic can’t explain or foresee.
India’s slim hopes hinged on what they could do in the morning session. Keeping an eye on the clock, that was the period when they needed wickets, as many as possible. For the second day running, they went without success before lunch which all but buried their hopes of squaring the series.
When the umpires called play on Sunday, the second new ball was four overs old and India’s medium-pacers once again failed to make hay when it was shining. Ishant Sharma and Irfan Pathan were far better with the old one and got it to reverse swing with good effect, but just like they got it to move late, it was too late in the day.
The onus was thus very much on Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh who were expected to trouble the batsmen in this stage of the match. That was the thought behind fielding the extra spinner at the cost of a specialist opener and after Harbhajan was pressed into the attack in the 10th over of the day, Kumble brought himself on in the 13th.
These two were in action for the next 15 overs and ironically enough, with the team’s most experienced bowlers operating, it became evident in this period that India stood little chance of making a match of it. Forget getting out, the batsmen were most comfortable against India’s principal hopes with the ball.
Getting the length wrong...
Harbhajan was the most disappointing bowler and by a distance. After having explored a wrong line – well outside off to the left-handers on Day 3 – he messed up his length this time. On a wicket that was good for batting, his best chance lay in making the right-handers drive against the spin and draw them forward.
Instead, the off-spinner was seen bowling with a fielder at deep point which could only be placed for a short ball, a bad one under the circumstances. To make matters worse, that fielder was forced into action every now and then, because
Harbhajan kept pitching it short in his first spell of seven overs, helping the batsmen milk him for some easy runs.
... And the line too
Kumble, who bowled just one more over in the day after eight in the first spell, was marginally better and apart from failing to make any impact, let the batsmen score facing minimum trouble.
Being someone blessed with an ability to probe a given channel for day in and day out, it was expected that Kumble would at least test the batsmen if not put them under pressure.
It was shocking then to see Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke tuck him comfortably off the pads even when the leg-spinner had six fielders on the off side. It happened twice in the 21st over, after which Kumble increased one man on the leg side.
Despite that, it was still a five-four off side field and in his next over, the batsmen played all his deliveries comfortably off the legs. There were several short ones as well and the message was loud and clear even before lunch that bowling out Australia within reasonable limits was not possible.
A study of the scoring charts of these two right-handers who added 210 runs for the fourth wicket to shut India out of the match will reveal how many runs they scored square of the wicket or in front and that shows just how the bowlers got the length wrong.
Considering that the pitch was as good as the quality of batting, it would be harsh to be overtly critical of Kumble & Co. But given that they had to rise above adversities in a crunch match like this, it has to be said that the effort of the senior bowlers was well below par.