Down Under gets its comeuppance

2008-10-24 00:00

South Africans must have chortled when news arrived about Australia’s heavy defeat in the Punjab. Not that anyone wishes the Aussies harm, but a nation responsible for lamingtons and Germaine Greer must sooner or later get its comeuppance.

Actually, it was not the hiding that was significant but its magnitude. Australia have lost before, but it has been a long time since they were taken apart. Throughout a one-sided contest, Indian supporters waited for a fight-back that never came. No one expected the visitors to be brushed away like dust off a table; not on this pitch, not Australians.

Ricky Ponting’s team were out-batted, out-bowled, out-fielded, out-thought, outrun and outclassed. India might as well have been playing on a different pitch and with a different ball. It was not just the 320-run margin that told the tale. India lost 13 wickets, Australia 20.

India’s batsmen were mostly careless or caught in the deep. Their counterparts were beaten all ends up. Six visiting batsmen were bowled between bat and pad, a gap that is not supposed to exist. India played an aggressive game with cool heads. With Australia, it was the reverse.

India’s batsmen flogged the Australians with startling ease. Apart from an errant hour either side of lunch on the opening day, they were in command. In that period the hosts lost four wickets, two of them to leg-side catches, a dismissal widely regarded as unlucky.

Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly righted the ship and after that it was plain sailing. Tendulkar became Test cricket’s heaviest scorer and then relaxed, Ganguly ensured that he will retire with head held high.

Australia batted without conviction. Restrained in the first innings, they lashed out in the second in a vain attempt to convey confidence. Even Mike Hussey was all at sea. He had been lucky to reach 50 in the first innings, surviving several scares along the way. But Matthew Hayden’s form was the main concern.

As a rule, teams are sustained by senior players. Certainly Australia have been lucky in this regard. Now the elders are faltering. Ponting was entitled to expect Hayden and Andrew Symonds to be his right-hand men. Symonds was missed, but that ball is in his court.

India’s leather-flingers moved the ball in the air and off the pitch. Zaheer Khan’s spell on the fifth morning was the best of the match. Armed with a ball straight from the umpire’s pocket, he produced late and unpredictable swing.

Ishant Sharma has emerged from Kerala, a nominally communist and notably literate state on the tip of the country, and gives the attack its cutting edge. India produced a leg-spinner from impoverished Haryana with 303 first-class wickets and an ability to keep a length and spin the ball both ways.

Australia’s bowling was straight up and down. Admittedly, it was a bad toss to lose, but the pacemen were wayward and the part-time spinners did not once turn the ball away from the bat.

Peter Siddle, the newcomer, might be handy on a hard track, but Brett Lee was impotent.

Lee has been having a rough trot and his bowling lacked bite. Normally, the most comradely of players, his dismay was revealed by his response to a perceived slight from his captain, whose main regret afterwards was that he had not communicated his intentions. In sport, as in life, a man can fall a long way in a short time.

Australia were also out-thought. Mahendra Singh Dhoni, a fighter from the same tough background as Ponting, ran rings around his counterpart. He was decisive, strong with his senior players and led from the front.

The Tasmanian batted poorly and was powerless to stop the flow of runs. Of course it helps to have top class players in the side and runs in the bag. Unavoidably, Australia have replaced great players with good players and the difference is showing.

So much for the new age Ponting proclaimed at the start of the series. So much for the designation of the hosts as trapped in a time warp. Arrogance of that sort often rebounds. But it is too easy to blame the captain.

In any case, the result was not a complete surprise. India’s great players have outlasted their counterparts, besides which Australia had not defeated these opponents legitimately since the Boxing Day Test match. The SCG Test was a travesty and India have won two and drawn two of the ensuing contests.

Most significant of all, India’s opening batsmen and new-ball bowlers dominated this match. It has been a long time since Australia were outplayed in one, let alone both, departments.

Apparently Warren Buffet had been buying equities. Whether he’d be game enough to buy shares in this shattered Australian team is anyone’s guess.

But South Africans must sense their chance has come. The next Test starts the day after Diwali and the visitors must hope that their hosts remain delirious.

• Midlands-based Peter Roebuck is writing for Weekend Witness from Mohali, India.

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