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Summer of spunk

HT Sports Desk takes a look at the key men who made the summer Down Under special for India.

india Updated: Mar 05, 2008 16:54 IST

The smiling assassin, Anil Kumble

For long thought to be the most intelligent cricketer never to lead India, Anil Kumble, after winning against Pakistan at home, took the battle to Australian shores. That he presided over the most contentious and ill-tempered series in recent memory and came out with his reputation enhanced showed that he had the leadership qualities to go with his burgeoning list of performances. He was not afraid to take difficult selectoral calls and the Australians, who knew all about his aggression as an opponent, got a peep into his mind when he declared, "there was only one team playing in the spirit of the game," in that famous Sydney press conference. Had a lesser man uttered those words the Australians would have retorted with the sharpest of verbal volleys. Simply because it was Kumble who said those words the Australians were forced to sit up and think, even if they did not agree with what was being said.

Rookie of the year, Ishant Sharma

When his Test debut against a weak Bangladesh team yielded just one wicket in two innings experts were quick to dismiss Ishant Sharma as the latest in the line of tall, young Indian fast bowlers who disappeared before they could make a mark.

It might have been a forgettable debut, but against the formidable Australians Ishant stood taller than his 6 feet 4 inches, bringing some of the best players of fast bowling to their knees.

The spell he bowled to Ricky Ponting in the second innings of the Perth Test match was the most awe-inspiring performances from an Indian fast bowler in recent memory.

He teased, pried, probed, pushed back and finally squared-up and knocked over Ponting, paving the way for India's first-ever Test win at Perth.

Even Steve Waugh was impressed enough to call Ishant the "best thing to have happened to India".

The maestro, Sachin Tendulkar

Sachin Tendulkar scored more runs in this Test series in Australia than he has ever scored in a series in his life.

He scored two crucial half-centuries on top of two scores in excess of 150. Statistically 2007 has been his most productive year in One-Day Internationals since that famous run in 1998 which included the desert storm series. Yet when the CB Series began there was constant talk about how he was out of form.

He'd got starts but the big scores were not coming and the usual suspects began carping about Tendulkar not being a matchwinner.

When it counted the most, in the finals, Tendulkar produced two innings of such quality that no other batsman in either team came close to matching him.

His unbeaten 117 buried Australia in Sydney and at Brisbane he shut them out with 91. There's little more a captain can ask from his best batsman.

The quick witted, M.S. Dhoni

He announced himself in world cricket as a fearsome hitter of the cricket ball, the kind of manic batsman who dealt in fours and sixes and got crowds to their feet.

By the end of the Austrlian tour Mahendra Singh Dhoni had established himself as a top-draw wicketkeeper in Tests and one of the coolest heads in the Indian one-day team.

His batting had evolved into something far more valuable than big hitting, with construction of innings and control of proceedings standing out.

That he stuck his neck out for a group of players that few believed in, at the exclusion of two of the biggest names in Indian cricket, and then managed to get the most of his group mean that he won't have to demand respect any more; with this group he commands it.

Highs

A Lax Special at Sydney

After a disappointing start to the tour at Melbourne, VVS Laxman regained his silken touch - lighting up the SCG with a brilliant stroke-filled ton that went a long way towards lifting spirits.

Perth Glory

Going into Perth, there was talk of the bounce undoing the visitors — but it played to their advantage, for the young attack made the Australians hop, skip and jump. Ishant Sharma and RP Singh stood out as India won.

Birth of a star

There was one spell that defined Ishant Sharma's arrival in international cricket. It was the nine overs or so over which the lanky speedster made Ricky Ponting look nothing like the world's best bat or thereabouts. Ishant finally put Ponting out of his misery.

The Show Must Go On

The best part of the summer was that the cricket continued despite the innumerable stand-offs between the two teams. Anil Kumble displayed statesmanship and maturity time and again, handling India with dignity and grace.

Rattling the Aussies

The Australian top-order is often known for its imposing strokeplay early on in the innings. This time around, the Indian bowlers hardly allowed them to get away.

That man, Sachin

Sachin Tendulkar shrugged off concerns regarding his form when he delivered at times it mattered the most — in the finals. Of course, he was superb in Tests.

G-force and PK factor

Gautam Gambhir's maturity has been one of the positives for the Indians in the one-day summer. Praveen Kumar was drafted into the side in must-win matches and the lad did not disappoint.

Lows

Mauled in Melbourne

India were low on practice for the Australian summer. With their tour match against Victoria rained out, they went in under-prepared for the first Test at Melbourne, where they were comprehensively beaten.

The umpires strike back

India got a whopping eight doubtful decisions in the Sydney Test, some of which definitely played a part in India narrowly losing the Test. Steve Bucknor's howler that gave Symonds a massive reprieve cost India dearly.

Opening conundrum

Over the Test series, India used three combinations in Dravid & Jaffer, Sehwag & Jaffer and Pathan & Sehwag. Jaffe looked horrible and his show was a big letdown

68 overs and gone

Controversy aside, India were at fault for failing to bat out 70 overs in Sydney.

Monkeygate

Maa-ki or Monkey, whatever Bhajji may have told Symonds, this was the ugliest moment of the summer for both and for cricket.

In the final analysis, Indian idols made the difference

(by- Anand Vasu)

IT'S NOT quite achieving the impossible, but the magnitude of what India did over this Australian summer cannot be overstated.

It's premature to say the effects will be permanent or whether this is beginning of the end of Ricky Ponting's team of indomitable Aussies, but there is no disputing that for the first time, over an entire summer in both Test and one-day cricket, the Australians have looked vulnerable.

Even as a young team of whippersnappers has doggedly come at them and given to them what they usually dish out, several un-Aussie like frailties have been exposed. Forget about showing grace under pressure, the Australians, individually at times and occasionally, collectively, seem to have fallen apart. The Sydney affair with its Harbhajan—Symonds monkey controversy threatened to put an end to the tour, and divided the cricket-watching world along racial lines. Even in Australia, opinion was far from homogenous and the game desperately needed a return to the business of bat and ball. That it did in Perth, with India's marvelously unexpected win in the world champions' best known 'graveyard for visitors' and from then on, it's been quite a rollicking, glorious ride. When the confetti flew into the Brisbane air as the Indians took over the podium to hold aloft the Commonwealth Bank Trophy, a series of two halves had come to a joyous end.

When Mahendra Singh Dhoni spoke soon after the win - perhaps the only Indian in the squad calm enough to say a few sensible words - he, perhaps for the first time, referred to this bunch as "my team" rather than "the boys" or "our team."

When the selectors left out Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid for this ODI series, and made it quietly clear that they had picked the team at Dhoni's behest, perhaps they thought they were shielding themselves from criticism; today, they better not take the credit away from Dhoni.

Playing Australia in Australia is widely regarded as the game's most difficult task and halfway through the second final, the Indian team was coming apart at the seams.

Ishant Sharma was out with injury, Sachin Tendulkar off the field after copping a painful blow on the shoulder, Dhoni had his back strapped on the field and could barely use his right hand. If Australia had held out, somehow, and lived to fight another day, it might just have been too much for the Indians to take, just physically, for some like Dhoni, who have now been playing non-stop for months.

But Dhoni's team, the young and occasionally unknown, went the distance and sealed the deal. And while you're apportioning credit stop and look at what Sachin Tendulkar did. Come the two finals, and like the blue-chip stock that he is, 208 runs that stood defiantly in the way of Australia's bowlers. Those look suspiciously like the statistics of a match-winner. The team had come through, and now Dhoni can do what he wishes with it, taking it forward.

The first half of the series, thanks to all the muckraking that has gone on off the field, now seems a distant memory. But Anil Kumble, perhaps only given the captaincy in the first place to keep Dhoni away from the big bad wolves for a while, showed what leadership was. He did not merely lead the team to victory in Australia's ultimate fortress, Perth, but barring some incredible 'misfortune' would have won, or at least drawn, in Sydney and walked away from the series with a more fair result than 1-2.

Ponting admitted that India "outplayed" them in the ODI finals. A more graceful captain would also have admitted that India had out-behaved Australia all summer.

A little more than a year ago, Malcolm Speed, the ICC chief executive, and former Cricket Australia CEO, took a low blow at Indian cricket at an ICC press conference in Mohali, saying: "I don't judge (Indian cricket) by how much money they have in the bank. “I judge them on how their team performs on the field." India have just beaten the top-two teams in ODI cricket, and won the under-19 World Cup, all the while raking in the millions. How will they be judged now?