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Oz brought down to Perth

India snatch a historic 72-run victory in less than four days in the crucible of pace and bounce, reports Atreyo Mukhopadhyay.

cricket Updated: Jan 20, 2008 01:29 IST
Atreyo Mukhopadhyay

It was a minute before 6 pm on Saturday when Harbhajan Singh ran onto the pitch with the Indian flag fluttering in one hand, the other pointing towards heaven. He did a little jig before getting lost in the huddle as other reserve players and members of the support staff joined the 11 in the middle.

R.P. Singh had just knocked down Shaun Tait's stumps to signal a 72-run win in the third Test which assumes greater significance considering the sequence of events preceding it and also because this was only the eighth defeat for Australia in 35 Tests at the WACA. That they had won 20 of the rest shows how dominant they usually are in the land of Freemantle Doctor and Dennis Lillee. India were made to work hard to maintain the ascendancy they had gained after taking a big first-innings lead. They were denied inroads for a long time in the first session before netting the big fish, dealt decisive blows in the second and helped the Aussies hope against hope for a while in the third, before landing the knockout punch.

Among the few wins this set of players has achieved overseas in the last five years or so, this must be near the top, if not on top, given the kind of opposition and the pressure the team was under. What makes it all the more memorable is that it buried Australia's hopes of a 17th consecutive win and bettering their own world record. One can keep exploring what makes this win so special but that might take the focus away from how it came.

First, India built the platform for a big total, thanks to Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar only to see it crumble due to some reckless shots. The bowlers brought them back and the lead they earned had to have a huge bearing on the match. The batsmen still had to push this lead beyond 400, which was looking improbable at one stage following a familiar tale of capitulation in the second innings. The target of 413 couldn't have been set but for V.V.S. Laxman's rally with the tail.

It was time to go for the kill and Irfan Pathan set them up by removing the openers in the third evening. The countdown had already started when play resumed on the fourth day. Pathan was surprisingly kept out of the attack and it was Anil Kumble sharing the ball with R.P. The skipper was guilty of pitching it short which meant some quick runs for Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey. It was after Ishant Sharma was introduced in the fifth over that India started applying serious pressure from one end. The lanky teenager had Ponting in all sorts of difficulty by keeping the ball just short of driving length and making it move back in. The skipper was lucky to survive the ninth over of the day. Pathan was in action from the other end by this time and the flow of runs dried up.

Sharma was about to be replaced after bowling seven overs and Kumble revealed that Virender Sehwag told him that he usually bowls 10-11 over spells for Delhi. So there he was bowling another and the first ball straightened after being angled in to kiss Ponting's bat and went to first slip — the only wicket Sharma took and the most precious one.

It meant that despite striking just once in the first session, India started the second on a high. R.P. got rid of Hussey in the fifth over after the break and soon after, Kumble's faster one undid Andrew Symonds. Australia still got another partnership going between Michael Clarke and Adam Gilchrist which called for desperate measures and India found a surprise weapon in Sehwag.

There was some lusty hitting in the end and though it wasn't good for the faint-hearted India fans, in the larger context of the match, it didn't mean much. Kumble did lose the plot for a while when his bowlers tried too many short balls with the field spread out, but the second new ball brought an end to proceedings. In comparison to the first innings, it was a patchy performance by the bowlers, but in the end of the day, they were the real winners.