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Final Frontier Conquered - India v Australia

News by Jon Cocks 30/10/04

Steve Waugh coined the phrase and Adam Gilchrist and co lived the dream of winning the Final Frontier of a Test Series win in India, Australia’s first since Bill Lawry’s Australian team in 1969.

When Australia had slumped to 3-86 before lunch as a result of the early incisiveness of Zaheer Khan (21-5-77-2) and Kumble (25-6-99-2), the advantage of winning the toss - on a green-ish pitch that was ‘almost Australian’ in Gilchrist’s estimation – would appear to have evaporated. However, the advent of free-scoring Darren Lehmann (70) precipitated a fourth wicket partnership of 148 from thirty overs with in-form Damien Martyn (114), who batted beautifully, assisted by Lehmann’s ability to rotate the strike.

Consequently, the runrate exceeded four per over all day in a return to more familiar Australian batting practices. Martyn came down the pitch to the slow bowlers and punished the pacemen with his trademark cut shot. Ajit Agarkar (18-2-82-0), in for the injured Pathan, suffered at his hands, pitching too short too often, but Murali Kartik (20-1-57-3), replacing the injured Harbhajan, bowled a consistent, tight line.

Langer (44) and Hayden (23) began well for Australia to post 67 for the first wicket, but their loss and that of Katich (4) put grinding pressure on the middle order, until Lehmann got into his stride. The value of Darren Lehmann lies in his ability and license to play attackingly, a fact endorsed by his teammates. Despite the morning’s setbacks and the pressure on him due to his indifferent form to date, he played his own game and the runs flowed.

Damien Martyn was able to flourish and in a session Australia went from being under the pump to a dominant position. Unluckily, Lehmann strained a hamstring and got out playing a big shot to Kartik, but Michael Clarke (73*) – who endorsed Lehmann to stay in the side ahead of himself and praised the South Australian as a ‘father figure’ – was able to find the inspiration to match his youthful skill and held the tail together, despite losing Gilchrist (2) and Warne (2) cheaply.

‘Dizzy’ Gillespie (4*) was the perfect late order ally, his knock featuring one scoring shot and thirty dot balls. Clarke’s innings again underscored his innate ability and readiness for Test cricket. He was in turn circumspect, watchful, then cheeky and downright attacking. If the first innings was a ‘bat-off’ between Clarke and Lehmann as to who should be dropped when Ponting returns, then the numbers would not be of any real use to the selectors. Australia’s 7-362 at four an over looked good, though, but the late wickets removed a bit of the shine from the middle order recovery. Just how much lustre was lost would hinge around India’s Day Two reply.

India won the first hour of Day Two, dismissing Australia (398) for the addition of just another 36 runs. Clarke (91) might have punished India for dropping him and missing a stumping late on Day One and got Australia closer to 500, but Zaheer (26.2-6-95-4) produced a pearler that beat him and stayed safely in the gloves of an out-of-form but very relieved Patel. Zaheer removed Gillespie (9) as well and Agarkar 23-2-99-1) found the edge of Kasprowicz’s (0) bat, but India had to suffer the indignity of McGrath (11*) swiping two fours to fine leg before the close of the innings.

Despite Sehwag (22) seeking to bludgeon the arrears in a couple of sessions with a flurry of fours from Gillespie’s first over, Australia hit back hard before lunch. Gilchrist pulled in a high screamer to his right from McGrath (20-12-18-2) to extinguish the Sehwag pyrotechnics, while Gillespie (18-7-47-2) shaped one away from the recalled Chopra (9), who guided into Warne’s hands at first slip. Acting captain Dravid and the returning Tendulkar (8) dropped anchor, as the Australian pacemen bowled probing spells, McGrath’s first ten overs containing no less than seven maidens.

But eerie silence was to follow. The first ball of Gillespie’s eighth over pitched just outside off and nipped in sharply, beating Tendulkar and trapping him plumb LBW. 3-49 became 4-75, when Warne (21-8-35-1) struck with his second ball, Clarke in the gully snaring a slash from Laxman (13), ensuring no marathon partnership with Dravid this time. Twenty runs were slowly eked from Gillespie, McGrath (miserly in his one hundredth test) Kasprowicz (18-3-37-0) and Warne for no further loss before tea.

After tea, India managed another 51 for the loss of Dravid (21), whose 140 minute vigil would not translate into the epic that the Nagpur crowd craved. Disciplined line and length combined with relentless fielding sucked the sting from the crowd and the fire from the Indian batting.

Only Kaif (47*), who would not have played had Ganguly been fit, could claim any kind of victory over the Australian attack, although Patel (16*) managed to survive more than an hour before stumps. India had crawled to 5-146 by stumps at barely two an over. The first session of the third day would hold the key to the fate of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

Capturing 5-36 to dismiss the opposition 213 behind, not enforcing the follow-on and then progressing to 3-202 by stumps on Day Three of the pivotal match in the series would indicate an Australian stranglehold on the Final frontier, elusive since 1969. In a day when little went wrong for the visitors, perhaps the only disappointment was the well-flighted ball from Kartik (21-5-50-2) that trapped Katich (99) plumb in front.

Otherwise, Australia trumped everything India had to offer. Gillespie (22.5-8-56-5) cleaned up Agarkar (15), Kartik (7) and Zaheer (0), while Warne (23-8-47-2) removed Patel (20) and McGrath (25-13-27-2) grabbed his 449th Test wicket when Warne picked up the resilient Kaif (55) at slip. The visitors began the second innings slowly, but inexorably advanced their position from dominant to one of total stranglehold.

Zaheer (14-5-34-1) and Agarkar (16-7-25-0) began very parsimoniously, as Langer (30) and Hayden (9) struggled to get them off the square. Hayden in particular seemed to have lost for the moment his subcontinental batting mojo; he was stiff and lacked that killer edge, finally losing his middle stump to a well-pitched straight ball from Zaheer. Langer was patient for a long time, but just as it seemed he was ready to put the pedal to the metal, he holed out at deep mid on to the persistent, accurate left armer Kartik.

However, Katich set about knocking the Indians off their line and – with Langer first, then a very fluent and in -form Damien Martyn (41*) – he set about methodically batting India completely out of the match and series. With a lead of 415 and two days to play, all but those most sublimely in denial might well have uttered: ‘mission accomplished.’

Day Four found an Indian team with no answer to the inevitable Australian blitzkrieg. Katich (99) and Martyn (97) missed triple figures, while Clarke (73) simply added to his glowing profile, as Australia flayed the Indians mercilessly before lunch on Day Four, piling on a further 127 runs en route to a triumphant, crushing 342 run victory, as emphatic a way of breaking a 35 year hoodoo as you would like.

When Martyn edged Zaheer (21.1-5-64-2) to the keeper, Gilchrist (3*) literally ran from the ground, so that the Australians could have an over at the Indians before lunch, to see how they might begin their Five session 150+ overs chase for the victory target of 543.

Openers Chopra (1) and Sehwag (58*) survived that over, but following the resumption a thoroughly magnificent, switched on Gillespie (16-7-24-4) flattened Chopra’s leg stump and – shortly after – the middle stump of erstwhile wall Rahul Dravid (2). McGrath (16-1-79-2) induced a loose shot outside the off stump from an underdone Tendulkar (2), while Kasprowicz (7-1-39-2) removed Laxman (2) and Kaif (7).

At 5-39, another 504 from Sehwag and the tail might have seemed less likely than a bicycle-propelled moon landing, but it didn’t stop the Indian opener, Patel (32) and tailenders Agarkar (44), Kartik (22) and Zaheer (25) from at least seeking to provide the Nagpur crowd with some consolation in sinking ship flurry of defiant boundaries.

It was about all the Indians could extract from a crushing defeat, in which they were outmanoeuvered by an Australian team that had analysed where it went wrong in 2001 and devised successful strategies to strangle the Indian batting and master its bowling to regain decisively the Border-Gavaskar trophy and do what Steve Waugh could not do: conquer India, the Final Frontier.

Victory in Sight

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