A reassuring display from India’s senior batsmen and interruptions on account of poor light ensured that India ended the first Test of the series unscathed, walking away with an honourable draw.
The only blip was Sachin Tendulkar falling on 49, with 15 still needed to get past Brian Lara’s tally of Test runs as India reached 177 for four when play was called off once both sides realised there was no chance of forcing a positive result.
Four days of intriguing cricket, with Australia setting the pace and India fighting hard to keep the game from running away from them had set up the final day perfectly. Ricky Ponting needed only five overs in the morning before declaring the innings closed, leaving India with an unlikely target of 299. His swift declaration meant he was giving himself enough time to have a few overs with the second new ball, an eventuality that would not arise because of bad light.
India’s final dig of the game began badly, with Virender Sehwag slashing hard at Brett Lee with only 15 on the board. The healthy edge went to Brad Haddin’s right and the keeper could only parry the ball. The lapse would not prove costly as Sehwag closed the face of his bat a touch early, trying to work Stuart Clark to the on side, and only managed a thick nick to first slip.
Rahul Dravid once again looked positive from the time he walked out to the middle but an instinctive flick to a full ball on the pads from Lee proved to be his undoing. Unable to keep the ball down Dravid could only watch in dismay as Ponting lunged to his right to take an acrobatic airborne catch.
Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir then calmed the nerves somewhat, batting with care and application. Tendulkar was hesitant when he began his innings, unsure just how much to trust the bounce of the pitch, but when he convinced himself that there was nothing much to fear, he was barely troubled. Gambhir too was resolute in defence, and it was against the run of play that a Mitchell Johnson yorker slipped under bat and rattled his stumps.
At 77 for three the setting was right for one of India’s infamous final day collapses. V.V.S. Laxman, though, was batting without a care in the world, timing the ball as only he can. Even with the ball not really coming onto the bat Laxman was untroubled, waiting on the ball and playing it late.
Tendulkar, who was accumulating runs rather than forcing the pace was in kissing distance of a half-century when he fell. Preoccupied with the failing light, Tendulkar had tried his best to convince the umpires that he was not sighting the ball clearly. This distraction probably played a part in his dismissal, a soft one that would once again give Australia hope.
Cameron White floated a ball outside off and Tendulkar’s uppish drive went straight to cover. Irritated at being dismissed when he was so well set, Tendulkar made the long walk back to the pavilion even as White celebrated his maiden Test wicket.
Two stoppages of play for bad light made India’s task easier, but Sourav Ganguly and Laxman focussed so hard that eventually the Australians had to concede that the game had ended in a stalemate. Ganguly kept things simple, not chancing his arm at any stage, instead occupying the crease with purpose and resolve.
Laxman had batted almost three hours, and with his innings each of India’s senior batsmen had made important runs in the game. Four is an unwieldy number for a Test series, and with one match drawn, it’s now down to the remaining three. With the first Test showing just how evenly matched the two teams are, the matches that follow promise much.