Towards the end of this game, as wicket after Indian wicket fell at one end and Anil Kumble, magnificent in his defence, grimly held on to the other, many of us gathered at the Sydney Cricket Ground were praying for India to survive; practically willing Ishant Sharma to survive four balls before Kumble would face what would almost certainly be the last over of this match.
Ishant, young and tense, lasted three, giving Michael Clarke his third wicket in four balls and it was all over. India had lost this second Test by 122 runs, about five minutes before play would have ended on this final day.
Ricky Ponting’s Australia, whose players jumped, whooped and exulted all over the place with uncustomary exuberance, equalled the world record of 16 wins on the trot set by a Steve Waugh-led Aussie team seven years ago.
Not quite cricket
Most — other than the men screaming victoriously out there in the middle — did not think this 16th win did them proud. For what happened over this Test and this final day was not a good advertisement for the world champions, those who run the game or the game itself. It was just not cricket.
Many people were in tears by the end. Others were furious. All across the ground and outside, there was a sense of disbelief and shock, a feeling of injustice having being done to India.
There was just no way you could have been impartial. You wanted India to win so badly not because you were Indian, but because they had been cheated of a chance of a draw and a shot at keeping this series alive. As simple as that.
Yes, it can be argued, and it will be, that they could have batted far better in the fourth innings, shown more character and defensive technique. As Kumble would say later, “That is a concern”.
At the same time, with the exception of Wasim Jaffer and Yuvraj Singh (both of who have looked out of their depth), the remaining players had a role in helping India first fight back into this game after Australia put on 463 and then, be a heartbeat away from saving it after some atrocious decisions that went against them.
Shock and awful
On Sunday, India were done in by two terrible mistakes by the on-field umpires, Steve Bucknor and Mark Benson.
First, when Rahul Dravid was given caught behind off Andrew Symonds when the ball clearly went off the pad. It was a shocker, as the bat, placed behind the pad, was nowhere near the ball he was padding away.
Dravid, on 38, had been looking extremely solid, bar the one chance he gave on 18, when Symonds at first slip dropped an easy edge off Mitchell Johnson. He had been punishing the loose deliveries, running the singles hard, defending with ease and looking in no discomfort.
More important, at that stage, he and Sourav Ganguly had been involved in a vital 61-run partnership for the fourth wicket, one that, if it had continued in the same positive vein, would have saved the day for India or got them close.
Yuvraj fell immediately after but Ganguly, looking in light, lovely touch, was still there, with Dhoni at the other end seeming tense but standing true. And then, just as you thought it couldn’t get worse, came another bad ‘un. Ganguly edged Brett Lee to second slip, where Clarke got his fingers low to the ball.
Replays showed enough doubt that the catch had not been cleanly taken, the two-dimensional image showing that the ball was probably touching the ground, with his fingers on either side. In any case, the benefit of the doubt would logically have gone to the batsman — if it had been referred.
Ganguly stood his ground and asked if it was clean, Benson, unsure, looked at the celebrating Ponting for confirmation. Ponting nodded, held his index finger up and Benson, turning to Ganguly, did the same.
Out of control
Apparently, there was a gentleman’s agreement before the series between the captains that basically stated that in the case of contentious catches, the fielder’s word would be taken if he was 100 per cent sure. Ponting said later Clarke said he was. As it is, he was wrong. A very upset Kumble said after that that the agreement was based solely on players being “honest”. This game clearly showed several deviations from the truth.
So here are some questions: How could the word of Clarke, who stood his ground in the second innings after being clearly caught in slips, be taken? Two, how could Benson, the man in charge, take the word of Ponting, who had appealed for a bumped catch just a couple of overs earlier? And finally, given that this match has been controversial and combative, played out in a scrappy, tense atmosphere and the delicate stage at which the game was then poised, shouldn’t Benson have had the commonsense to refer it to the third umpire, overriding the players? He could have been excused on any ground.
Though Dhoni and Kumble, grim and gritty, bravely concentrated on sticking it out, with six close in fielders breathing down their necks for most of the 21 overs of their 48-run stand, it was a stage where one error would mess it up and expose the tail. It happened when Dhoni padded up to an off-break.
Harbhajan, booed as he entered, stayed for half an hour but then came that Clarke over. And the end.