India lose way as Test ends in draw
Craig McMillan and Nathan Astle upset India's applecart with gritty unbeaten knocks as the first cricket Test ended in a tame draw.india Updated: Oct 12, 2003 23:48 IST
For India, this has really been a tragi-comedy of the strangest proportions. On Sunday at the Sardar Patel Gujarat stadium, India reverted to form of old and squeezed out a draw from a match they should have won.
In the end, it was a moral victory for New Zealand --- who did not appear to be looking for a win in any case throughout this final day's play.
But you could not have watched this first Test and not emerged completely confused about what exactly India were up to and where they're going.
The first three days they were right on top, having piled up the usual huge score that they tend to do in India and then scalping the Kiwi top order. The New Zealand middle did okay but it wasn't enough. Day Four witnessed a change in script, with the New Zealand lower order, led by Daniel Vettori, deciding they would show the top just what to do. The day also saw a very sporting declaration by India.
And Day Five, as mentioned above, was tragic-comic. New Zealand, chasing 370 for victory, finished the day at 272 for six. The indomitable Nathan Astle (51 not out) braved fever and food poisoning to come out in near 40-degree temperature and see off the Indian bowlers in an undefeated seventh-wicket partnership with his maverick brother-in-law Craig McMillan (83 not out).
The duo stayed together for about two-and-a-half hours, making sure that the mini collapse (New Zealand were 86 for four at one stage and 169 for six with over a session and a half to go) was safely consigned to memory. There was no drama, no histrionics.
Apart from a brief phase in the post-lunch period, when Lou Vincent (who made a patient 67) cut loose and the Kiwis managed 56 runs in an hour, it was defensive cricket for the most. The Kiwis stuck to their plan. India, seemingly, had lost theirs overnight.
One of the mysteries of the day centred round Indian captain Sourav Ganguly.
To say that the normally enthusiastic Indian skipper was listless might be an understatement. And coming after Saturday --- when he himself was in terrific form with the bat during his breezy cameo and then, when he made what was undoubtedly a positive declaration --- this sudden lethargy was difficult to fathom.
The body language, normally aggressive, even belligerent at times, especially in situations when India are on a high, sent all the wrong signals.
No one quite knows how much the abscess in the region of his upper thigh was bothering him but if it was, he should have been off the field. Physically, he was on the field for most of the day but mentally, only he knows where he was.
He was doing nothing to pep up the team or himself. The casual nibbling of the nails, the periodic kicking of the grass, the drooping shoulders, crossed arms, downward glances and unimaginative captaincy was just not Ganguly.
And for those who've seen him at his fiery best, passionately involved in every facet of the game, it wasn't just surprising --- it was terribly disappointing too.
The Indian strategy, or lack of it, raised many eyebrows.
The players seemed unfocussed almost through the day. Anil Kumble, for instance, was brought on only in the 14th over of the day. Given that he had taken the only wicket to fall on the previous day and was getting the odd ball to dance off the rough patches, it was somewhat odd.
Kumble, incidentally, bowled Daryl Tuffey off his very first ball.
Then again, the field placement for the fast bowlers after the new ball was taken almost on the stroke of tea, defied logic, if you're looking to win.
It was a spread-out field, no one in any close catching positions and it made no sense given that in the post tea session, India had to try and take four wickets to win this game.
Lakshmipathy Balaji bowled quite beautifully for a spell then, getting some movement on a wicket that offered absolutely nothing for the bowlers but if you're not going to back up the bowlers with some aggressive placement, it really amounts to nothing.
This match showed India's lack of penetrative bowling when it comes to crunch situations. No one doubts that for the most, this essentially young team has an attitude to match any in the world but they also need some major thinking before Mohali.
Given that more or less the same 14 (Aavishkar Salvi has been replaced by Ajit Agarkar after he split the webbing on his right hand during practice) will be making the trip to the second Test, the thinking has to be quick.
There's also basically one lesson to be learnt from this match for the visitors.
It's the same one they should have learnt from the tour game at Rajkot --- mock-ups just cannot equal the real thing. They were lucky not to lose this Test. They cannot expect a lower order fight-back every time --- their batting was exposed and like India, they lack a penetrative bowling attack.
Hopefully, Mohali will be a different ball game.
First Published: Oct 12, 2003 09:58 IST