On Matters That Matter

The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones

A Colombo Classic

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‘Match turning out to be a classic’ was what Justin Langer said after the fourth day’s play of the second Test of Australia’s 2004 tour of India. It was a four Test series and Australia had won the first Test in Bangalore by quite some margin. Ricky Ponting was unavailable for the first three Tests due to a finger injury and Sachin Tendulkar returned to Test cricket in the third Test in Nagpur after his first layoff due to tennis elbow.

Australia had not won a Test series in India since 1969-70, when Bill Lawry led them to a 3-1 win in five Tests and India was holding the Border-Gavaskar Trophy as they had drawn the previous series in Australia 1-1 and had won the one prior to that in India 2-1.

The feeling at the end of today’s play at the P Sara Stadium in Colombo was reminiscent in some ways to the one in Chennai at the end of the fourth day. The fifth day in Chennai was washed out and a green top at Nagpur sealed the series for Australia; but at the end of the fourth day in Chennai everything was tantalisingly poised. David Boon reckoned later that India would have chased down the 210 left for the fifth day while Geoffrey Boycott said that India should not mind the draw too much as over 200 runs on a fifth day surface was advantage Australia.

The fourth day had started with great promise for India as Australia was 150 for four; effectively 9 for four with Hayden, Langer, Katich, and Gilchrist back in the hut. The nature of the pitch and the state of the game made Mohammad Kaif say that India would prefer to chase less than 100. Kumble had destroyed Australia in the first innings taking seven for 48 and turning the game from 136 for no loss to 235 all out.

The prospect of Kumble and Harbhajan on a crumbling wicket with a handy lead gave enough hopes of squaring the series. Night watchman Jason Gillespie was standing with Damien Martyn and play going to the fifth day was not even a distant thought. Then frustration and more frustration unfolded for India as the fifth wicket partnership put on 139 runs, and more importantly, ate up about 56 overs. That partnership killed India.

Today in Colombo was a similar frustration for India, although at the end of it the match is tilted in favour of the Lankans and not precariously-balanced as it was on that sultry evening in October 2004. The Sri Lankans did their best to commit hara-kiri in the morning session with Randiv, Mahela, Sangakarra, Mathews and Prasanna Jayawardene falling within 24 runs. The score was 87 for seven; effectively 76 for seven.

The unbelievable collapse was followed by an even more unbelievable rearguard action that saw Lanka post 267 runs with Samaraweera getting 83 and Mendis 78. There weren’t many missed opportunities and Dhoni did try all sorts of bowling changes but made the big error of being defensive when the team should have gone for an all out attack.

The small session with the bat also left India bleeding as Sehwag departed for a duck and the poor series continued for Dravid and Murali Vijay. Unlike the Chennai Test, there is a good chance that this Test in Colombo would go on to be a classic even after the fifth day and that would be a great result for Test cricket.

Written by Deepan Joshi

August 7, 2010 at 1:47 am

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