In kangaroo country, they say ‘never take a backward step’. With no room to retreat, the Indians had to be positive in this Test. Anil Kumble showed every bit of it by electing to bat and after hours of hard work, his batsmen had almost laid the foundation for a big total before some unexpected overflow of aggression consigned them to a position which was demoralising considering what could have been.
To understand what India needed one didn't have to know rocket science. A formidable total, a good start — elementary for the layman back home. But to actually get them was just as difficult and if one dissects India's progress by sessions, they shared honours in the first, dominated the second and overcame two big blows in the third until losing the plot big time in a few moments of madness that may prove costly.
The total at stumps wasn’t meagre by regular standards, but the thought that they were no longer in a position to get a huge one because of some acts of rashness by the seniors, could be devastating. To slip to a spot where the psychological edge might have switched camps in a match as crucial as this means that the mental battle starts afresh and the more they look back the tougher it will get.
In varying degrees, almost the entire Indian effort on Wednesday was a story of valour getting the better of discretion. It's a thin line between being submissive and assertive and while reflecting on what happened, all batsmen barring Sachin Tendulkar would realise that it was a day when that line got blurred. Most of them got over the initial period of unease, played themselves in before succumbing to a rush of blood.
What would rankle most is that of all people, Rahul Dravid too paid for it. After being done in by the umpire in Sydney, he deserved some luck and got it when Michael Clarke dropped the easiest of catches at first slip off Stuart Clark while on 11. Circumspect early on, he grew in confidence gradually, leaning forward and driving with regal elegance and rocking back to drop the short ones dead near his toes. He was every inch the batsman who had played the lead in most of India's overseas victories since 2002. The icing on the cake was about to be put when it all went horribly wrong. To make things worse, V.V.S. Laxman perished pulling one from Brett Lee that was too wide and quick and these two dismissals towards the end of the day could well prove to be the difference between a decent total and a formidable one which India badly needed. But these two were not the only ones to blame.
Starting the final session at 172 for two, Tendulkar was less assured of himself than he had been and although the ball that got him was a touch too high, he had survived a closer call for leg-before off Andrew Symonds on 49. This brought in Sourav Ganguly who after a silken off-drive played loosely away from the body to be caught at backward point. It was the third soft dismissal of the day after the openers, who however had got the team off to a decent start. Virender Sehwag tempted the bowlers to bowl outside off, teased them by playing and missing and thumped a few through the open space between point and mid-off. It was almost like the Sehwag of old, but so was the element of risk.
An edge off Clark fell short of third slip, another flew past it and in Mithcell Johnson's second spell, he tried to cut one that grew big on him and was too close to the body. His downfall was almost imminent, not Wasim Jaffer's. After having weathered the new ball, he would regret poking at one from Lee that was well wide.
A lot had been said about the pitch and although the ball jumped more than in Melbourne and Sydney, it was never menacing. The even bounce helped batsmen play shots and apart from the few occasions when Lee got it to rise after a bad opening spell, the batsmen were rarely threatened. Clark was the pick of the lot without luck, but as it so happened, luck smiled on his team from unexpected quarters.