Australia will hold most of the aces going into the final day’s play at Mohali. Having claimed four of the top Indian wickets cheaply late of the fourth day, after themselves being dismissed for a disappointing 192, the visitors would feel elated. All they have to do now is somehow get through Sachin Tendulkar, MS Dhoni and an unfit VVS Laxman to get the 1-0 lead in the two-Test series. And they have Ben Hilfenhaus to thank for for putting them in such a commanding position.
He may have been extremely lucky to get the wicket of Gautam Gambhir, who was adjudged lbw despite hitting the ball. However, the short-pitched deliveries directed at first innings Virender Sehwag and Suresh Raina were perfectly well planned. The bounce the bulky paceman generated caught the Indians off-guard and undid all the good work done by their bowlers earlier in the day. After his disappointing effort in the first essay, it was a strong comeback by Hilfenhaus, one that will give him a lot of confidence for bigger battles ahead.
As things stand, Tendulkar holds the key to India’s hopes. However, on a fifth day pitch, even the best can struggle. It remains to be seen whether the maestro can pass yet another stern test. Of course, he can’t be expected to see the team home alone. Skipper Dhoni’s contribution would be crucial, more than ever, since India’s ‘rescue specialist’ is fighting a battle of a different kind. Like in the first innings Laxman will definitely give batting a short. But one can’t expect him to do a Colombo encore time and again. If he does, it will be nothing short of a herculean effort. Thinking practically though, the home team will need Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh to chip in and ease the pressure somewhat on Sachin, Dhoni and Laxman.
Whatever the result of the game, Australia need to be credited for fighting back from difficult positions time and again, and, in fact, should be considered favourites from hereon. In India’s first innings, things looked down and out for Australia when Raina and Tendulkar were carving their attack with minimal discomfort. However, once they got an opening courtesy Marcus North’s surprise dismissal of Sachin, they capitalised on it wonderfully, so much so that they ended up getting the first innings lead despite the fact that the Indian batting had dominated almost the whole day.
India, on the other hand, must look at themselves in the mirror and ask whether they got complacent. An honest assessment would be yes. Both Sachin and Raina played across the line whilst approaching the tons and Zaheer Khan batted like he possessed a million runs under his belt. The rest, including Dhoni and Harbhajan, were undone by some excellent bowling by Mitchell Johnson, and India’s hopes of batting out the Aussies were gone. To their credit, the Indian bowlers also hit back strongly. Ishant’s triple strike after Australia looked like running away with the game set the match up nicely. Soon the spinners got into their own as Australia crumbled a la 2001. Of course, Harbhajan did not single-handedly run through the batting order, as Pragyan Ojha and Zaheer provided ample support. Still, the result was exactly what the sparse Mohali crowd desired.
The same cannot be said about the Indian batting effort, however. Gambhir may consider himself unlucky at having got a tough decision. But every time such an occurrence takes place, they will be reminded by all and sundry about the refusal to use the UDRS. And so, the Indians should neither expect sympathy nor do they have the right to feel hard done by. Also, the opposition team also got a shocker when Micheal Hussey was adjudged lbw to Harbhajan despite the ball pitching way outside the leg. So things had evened up by the end of the day.
Nothing would be level by the time the game finishes though. We are sure to have one winner and a loser, quite a drastic development considering a draw seemed to looming large after the first three days. But then again, that’s the beauty of Test cricket. And the final twist is yet to come.
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