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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Tendulkar's class keeps India in game: Fourth Test Day 1

India 5/309 (S Tendulkar 124 no, V Sehwag 63, VVS Laxman 51) v Australia.

Test cricket returned to the Adelaide Oval today to what used to be its traditional place in the cricket calendar: around Australia Day.

A crowd of just under 20,000 turned up to watch an intriguing day's play which was shortened not, as seemed likely when it rained overnight and early this morning, by the weather but by the slow Australian over rate. Only 86 of the scheduled 90 overs were bowled in the six and a half hours which are nowadays allowed to complete a notional six hour day.

Both teams made changes. Australia's were predictable: Matthew Hayden, recovered from injury, for Chris Rogers and Brad Hogg for Shaun Tait. India raised some eyebrows by restoring Harbhajan Singh at the expense of Wasim Jaffer: the opening batting vacancy was filled not by Rahul Dravid but by Irfan Pathan, who looks like being the first test player for a long time to open both batting and bowling.

India won the toss and chose to bat in bright sunshine: the temperature hovered in the high 20s for most of the day and there was a breeze which varied from north-westerly to south-westerly.

Virender Sehwag got off to a cracking start, despite occasionally playing and missing: the photo on the left is of the second ball of the day's play. For the first 45 minutes or so the scoring rate kept pace with the clock, despite the loss of Pathan, who didn't look comfortable, at 34. Thereafter until lunch the Australian pace bowlers kept a pretty tight rein on the innings: Mitchell Johnson picked up his second wicket, Dravid caught in the slips, and at lunch the Australians would have been satisfied with 2/89 from 26 overs.

In the second session Sachin Tendulkar began to assert himself. Three fours in an over from Johnson, all along the ground and each to a different quarter of the oval looked ominous but then a couple of wickets (Sehwag caught at slip off Brett Lee for 63/90b and Saurav Ganguly lbw to Hogg for 7) fell leaving India a below par and, were it not for the presence of Tendulkar and VVS Laxman at the crease, precarious 4/156.

At tea the score had reached 187 from 53 overs without further loss. Both batsmen looked comfortable and often exceedingly so, against the Australian spin attack of Hogg and Michael Clarke. But Lee rose to the occasion and pegged both Tendulkar and Laxman back, even though they brought up their century partnership in 159 balls, and Tendulkar reached his century (see the photo on the right above) in 133 b (9x4, 3x6).

Lee should have had Laxman caught behind for 37 but Adam Gilchrist fluffed a straightforward catch to his right. Fortunately for Australia the lapse was not too costly as Gilchrist caught Laxman off a much simpler catch from Lee's bowling for 51.

5/282 still didn't look enough but Tendulkar remained in command, despite easing off a little in the overs before stumps; M S Dhoni supported him with a stubborn and uncharacteristically dour 6 no/ 54b. Australia should have had Dhoni but Hayden, in another senior player's moment, grassed a standard slip catch.

Australia took the second new ball in the last over. Oddly enough, given that today he had the lightest workload of the four frontline Australian bowlers, Stuart Clark was given first and, as it turned out even though he ran (yes, ran) back to his mark to try and make time for another over, the only over with it. So the day finished at 5/309 with only three innings of any size, and a substantial number - 31 - of "sundries", as the classic Adelaide Oval scoreboard calls extras.

Lee, who bowled 22 overs, and Johnson, who bowled 25, were the backbone of the attack.

I've heard some commentators award the day to India.
I wouldn't go that far but will sit on the fence for now. Before the start of play I thought that India needed to score at least 450 to be competitive. If they are to do so Tendulkar will need to continue in today's vein of watchful defence mixed with occasional aggression and receive some support from the tail.

What everyone who was at the ground today will agree is that Tendulkar's innings was memorable. What those who attend tomorrow (and there should be more than today) will hope is that he adds to his total and demonstrates more of the masterly strokeplay we were privileged to see today. Even if he doesn't do so there should be plenty of other things to sustain the interest of cricket followers.


Cricinfo Bulletin.

PS A word of praise for Umpire Bowden who today showed considerable restraint in his on field demeanour. He signalled three sixes without the ostentatious waving of arms and legs we've come to associate with him, though you could see vestiges of his repressed flamboyance in some of his signals for four and leg byes. I'm happy to allow him those signs of individuality.
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