This should have been the new beginning that we had heard was round the corner. For a while, those of us watching the second Test between India and Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground here believed it was.
Even as sounds of hum honge kaamiyaab and yeh dosti hum nahin chhodenge rent the air, and Indian flags waved brightly amidst a sea of yellow and green in the stands, a mood of euphoria spread across the stadium. What we were witnessing was surely something special, history perhaps, in the making.
India, confused about their team composition till the nth hour, losing Zaheer Khan, their strike bowler, on match day morning itself, losing a vital toss yet again and already tormented by the spectre of the Australian juggernaut rolling them over, had conjured up a miracle out of nowhere.
The young & the restless
RP Singh, a man just turned 22 and barely eight Tests old, had been handed the baton. To him fell the charge of making sure that India did not miss Zaheer’s incisiveness at the start, at least not too much.
Bowling in tandem with him would be the gangly Ishant Sharma, 19 years and two Tests old; an earnest young face, somewhat unnerved, and skinny long legs sitting uncomfortably with the idea of a paceman who was to menace the Australian batting.
Incredibly, they managed it. Ishant stuck it out gustily at one end, erratic and enthusiastic, not helped by the fact that he had to bowl against the wind for most of the day, while RP ripped apart the Aussies at the other, lethal to the southpaw openers with his natural away-swinger.
It was heady stuff. Australia’s openers, who have not had an opening stand of less than 48 in their last five outings, were perhaps a touch too sure of themselves. And before they knew it, they were toast.
Those magic moments
The wicket of the morning perhaps was the one that got the in-form Hayden. A batsman caught in the slips while defending and nicking off the back foot is a rare sight. RP was on a roll.
With Harbhajan too joining the party, cleverly bowling slower, loopier ones and also getting the ball to drift in dangerously to the right-handed bats, things were looking good. Soon, the scoreboard made for an incredible read. Australia 0-1, 27-2, 119-3, 119-4, 121-5 and 134-6… Ponting, Hussey, Clarke and Gilchrist were also all gone. Despite a couple of umpiring bloopers, India were rocking.
When the unheralded Brad Hogg walked in to join Andrew Symonds, little did anyone realise that the Great Indian Dream was about to turn sour.
Ooh, aah, ouch!
In fact, it made for strange viewing: Not to see the Aussies launch a counter-offensive that left India somewhat bemused but to see Hogg and not the aggressive Symonds being the dominant partner of that stand for the most.
Taking his chances and taking on the Indians, wilting under a baking sun, Hogg made merry as he indulged in some bowler bashing all around the ground. Symonds, somewhat reticent at first, soon opened up and the 100 partnership was up in 115 balls. The game had been turned around.
They finally went on to put on 173 valuable runs, helped infinitely by decisions that went their way, an attack that suddenly seemed toothless when put under pressure and some sloppy fielding. Hogg was dropped at short-leg off Kumble when Jaffer was too slow to get down and grab what should have been a regulation short-leg catch, Ishant, running back, couldn’t get his hands to a tough one from Hogg off Harbhajan.
Tired legs gave away runs too, as the Aussie duo made the most of things en route to making their highest ever seventh wicket stand against India.
Where did it all go?
As for India, they will go back wondering what happened between their wonderful start and then, just letting go. Simply put, they allowed the Aussie lower order to get away on two counts: First, their limited bowling resources were exposed once the two Singhs tired and made way for the others. On this day, the other bowlers didn’t look half as penetrative.
Second, the difference between Australia and India is that when the world champions have a team by the throat, they either go for the jugular straightaway or suffocate them. India were stuck in no man’s land, without the wherewithal to go for the kill and without the energy or intensity to choke the life out of the bottom.
Still, when they walk out on Thursday, they would have to try and put the events of this dramatic, ultimately woeful Wednesday behind them and try and recapture the magic of the morning. Australia 376-7 on Day One of a vital match is depressing of course, but this is when India’s bats can step up and be counted. Sydney could yet be theirs again.