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The tailblazers

While the lower order rallies around Kumble to help India put on an imposing 526, the Aussies start cautiously, reports Atreyo Mukhopadhyay.

cricket Updated: Jan 26, 2008 02:00 IST
Atreyo Mukhopadhyay

Apart from reaching a total that was beyond everyone’s estimate, the Indian team made a sound statement of intent on Day 2 of the fourth Test. Given that they must win this one to have something concrete to show for their spirited performance in this series, they had to display certain qualities not found in coaching manuals or text books.

They had to play some of the toughest cricket they have ever played, but considering the calibre of the opposition, they needed something more. Call it resolve, gallantry, commitment, verve, pure passion or a combination of everything, Anil Kumble’s team produced loads of that. The skipper led from the front and that he did it with a bat in his hand, indicated how focussed on the task he and his team was.

A very good day of work would have ended on a great note had they got at least one wicket. That was not to be as Matthew Hayden and Phil Jaques looked untroubled against the medium-pacers. But with runs on the board and the option of having men around the bat that those runs ensure, India will attack on Saturday. They must also take all the chances coming their way because the pitch is still good for batting and errors like the one committed by Dinesh Karthik, who failed to run out Jaques, will prove costly.

With a big total being of paramount importance, things were not bleak but not bright either when Sachin Tendulkar became the seventh man to fall, after an hour. The total was 359 and having seen their quicks strike twice with the second new ball, the Australian openers were getting ready for a few overs of batting before lunch. That they had to see their bowlers toil against the Indian bowlers for over three hours more at the cost of over 150 runs underlined just how well the tail rallied around Kumble.

There were plenty of numerical highlights like Kumble and Harbhajan adding 107 for the eighth wicket, registering their fifth and fourth career half-centuries, and Kumble putting on 58 for the last wicket with Ishant Sharma. Hidden behind these figures were facts depicting how frustrated the Aussies must have got. Chances or half-chances nothing stuck, the fast bowlers ran in hard only to be blunted by those with little batting credentials and it was a rare sight when Ricky Ponting placed six men on the fence with Kumble on strike instead of crowding him with close-in catchers. What impact it makes on the mental state of the teams will be interesting to see as the match goes on.

The way Kumble and Harbhajan thwarted, tamed and then dominated a potent attack was as important as the number of runs they added. Tail-up after getting Tendulkar with a short ball, Brett Lee was steaming in and the batsmen had to contend with many deliveries near their ribcage. The two spinners rocked back and patted them down without showing any intention of being adventurous. Kumble was frequently speaking to his partner, probably asking him not to undo the good work in a rush of blood.

Harbhajan was still very much the aggressor in the partnership, but in a departure from what is associated with him, he was seen practising a forcing shot right after blocking a delivery. Usually, it's the other way around because he tries to perfect a defensive shot only after a wild swing and miss. Whatever it is, on this day he connected most of what he wanted and the ball sped through the covers.

Australia must have thought they had wrapped it up when R.P. Singh followed Harbhajan back into the pavilion and this is when the batsman in Kumble post The Oval century took over. Each run he added with Sharma pinched Australia as they saw the pair escape everything they hurled at them, including another furious spell by Lee. The runs kept coming and by the end, Ponting's men were waiting for the batsmen to err.

India would have been delighted to cap such a day with a few wickets. They didn't get it and the pair to have given them this unexpected boost will have to come to the fore again. After having a ball with the bat, it's Kumble and Harbhajan's turn to script a fresh twist to the tale. Won't be easy, but even that century stand was not easy.

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