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Bowled and beautiful

cricket Updated: Oct 22, 2008 01:13 IST
Atreyo Mukhopadhyay
Atreyo Mukhopadhyay
Hindustan Times
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In an indirect way, Mahendra Singh Dhoni being named Man of the Match was a tribute to the collective effort of his bowlers. Ideally the award should have gone to a bowler because taking wickets was tougher than scoring runs here. But it was even tougher to pick one from the four who did the job. They all chipped in to emerge Men of the Match in India's biggest ever Test win in terms of runs.

Just how good they were can be gauged by the contrasting manners in which batsmen of the two sides fared. While India rarely looked in trouble, the Australians always had their backs to the wall. The visitors could make nothing more than a desperate and unsuccessful attempt to break free.

Amit Mishra scalped seven to top the list of wicket-takers, but the quick bowlers especially Zaheer Khan formed the backbone of the attack. Glimpses of the kind of trouble he can cause bowling in tandem with Ishant Sharma were seen in the first Test and in the second, they led the mission to dismantle a strong batting line-up. Aggressive and crafty, this combination rarely let batsmen relax.

Having lost his way after a promising start due to lack of fitness and loss of form, Zaheer has come back stronger than ever before. He hardly bowled a loose ball, gave the batsmen no room to play shots and kept asking questions from a probing length with clever variations.

Zaheer had to wait for 32 overs for his second wicket of the match after cleaning up Matthew Hayden with his third ball in the first innings. But he got one to move back in to Haddin in the first over of the final day to uproot his middle stump and with it Australia's hopes of offering resistance. It was difficult to produce a better delivery, but he did that in his next over to hit the top of Lee's off stump after pitching the ball on the leg stump.

"Zaheer is bowling as good as he ever has and giving more than 100 per cent," said Dhoni. "It was a difficult pitch for bowlers and that we still succeeded in taking 20 wickets using four bowlers shows how well they bowled. Everyone contributed but our bowlers were special."

Ishant was not far behind. This was a match where he kept bringing the ball in to the right-handers without getting it to straighten like he had in Australia. But any captain would take it if his bowler hurries batsmen with pace from an awkward length and makes Ricky Ponting look like a novice. That the player occupying the sixth spot on the list of scorers in Test history can't find a way indicates just how good a job Ishant is doing.

In terms of numbers, the spinners were more successful and took 12 of the 20 wickets, the tally swelling largely due to Mishra's five-for in the first innings. The batsmen did better against him in the second and Dhoni pointed out that the leg-spinner has to work on variations and being quicker in the air. It's difficult to keep Harbhajan quiet when things are happening and he made things dramatic by striking thrice in his first two overs in the second innings. It's a batsman's game, they say, but it's bowlers who win matches. India won the Test because they kept finding the right bowlers at the right time.