Sunday, January 27, 2008

Uncomfortable times for India?

It’s interesting to see India not being able to dislodge Australia’s new Sir Don, Mitchell Johnson (career average 108 as I write) and Brad Hogg at the Adelaide Oval today. May be they’re not complaining about it. After all, if India get Australia all out soon, they will have a difficult hour and a bit to negotiate. What with Australia’s bowlers fresh after a two-day rest, with a new ball and in fading light; and an Irfan Pathan coming in after two tiring days on the field. Did anyone say that the lack of a specialist opener will not affect India? Oh oh, as I am about to upload this, Johnson falls and leaves Sir Don alone at the top again.

Australia happy with 2–1?

Matthew Hayden speaking to the media after the third day’s play at Adelaide (emphasis mine).

They wanted us to be attacking. It was indicated by the way they didn’t take the new ball. It was perfect for us to bat time in the game. The way they’ve bowled has been perfect for us not to lose. If it’s wide outside off, we don't have to play. Australia are 2-1 up in the series and that’s the way we definitely want it to stay.

It seems to suggest the Australians are playing for a draw, but more than that, does it hint at a certain unheard-of defensiveness in the Aussies? When was the last time they played for a draw?

It is the same Australia (well, almost; if you disagree, that makes its own point) that chased down a target of 168 in 36 overs (they knocked it off in a ball shy of 33) against England in the last season at the same Adelaide Oval, a game they didn’t really need to win, having won the first test and this being just the second of five. It is the same Australia that pummelled South Africa at the Sydney Cricket Ground, chasing 287 in about 70 overs (they breezed through half way down the 61st over), a game they just needed to draw to take the series.

Is this Hayden statement a tribute to India? Or am I just reading too much into it?

Adam's contribution

Whatever else he did (and you don’t need to read the different pieces on cricket sites and in the blogosphere to know that he has done quite a bit), Adam Gilchrist has ensured one lasting change in international cricket: the wicket-keeper can no longer be a just a useful batsman and an irritant for the opposition. (A wicket-keeper who is a rabbit with the bat? You are a sly Englishman, aren’t you?). Today’s wicket-keeper has to be a specialist batsman first. No longer for us the Alan Knotts, the Syed Kirmanis, the Ian Healys and the Ian Smiths. Instead, we have the likes of Mark Boucher, Kumar Sangakkara, Tatenda Taibu and MS Dhoni. The last-mentioned may not be the best wicket-keeper in his country, but he is perhaps their best wicket-keeper-batsman. Even Kamran Akmal, that ultimate anti-wicket-keeper, is persisted with by Pakistan, purely for his batting skills. And England, er, who is their wicket-keeper now?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A lot to play for at Adelaide

Australia may have retained the Border-Gavaskar trophy, but there still seem to be too many things at stake in the Adelaide test starting tomorrow. India has a chance to end with a 2-2 scoreline and thus enable this series to lay claim as one of the tightest contests ever. Australia, on the other hand, will go all out to prove that they can be nice and win. That’s as far as the cricket on the field is concerned. There’s as much, if not more, off the field as well.

The “monkey-calling” hearing comes up a day after the test, and the response to it could well be governed by the Adelaide, and hence the series, result. It will be a matter of eternal debate, but the correlation between the series result and the hearing verdict is bound to be discussed at least until the next big controversy.

The big five of Indian cricket – Anil Kumble, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman – are surely playing their last test match in the country they have thrilled and tormented in equal measure over the years. And considering only Tendulkar is staying back for the one-dayers, the others will be stepping on to an Australian ground for the final time. And the likes of Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist may be facing off against India in the test arena for the last time as well.

Well, the match is just a few hours away, but the game is already on. Ricky Ponting is trying his best to hide his grin when he claims that Australia has not ruled out Shaun Tait from the playing eleven. So the Australian eleven is clear then – Brad Hogg for Tait and Matthew Hayden back in for Chris Rogers.

The Indians, on the other hand, don’t necessarily possess Ponting’s media savviness and sense of humour, so when they make noises about playing five bowlers, you tend to take them a bit more seriously and worry. I hope sanity prevails come match day morning and they get back to their 6 + Dhoni + 4 composition.

The old adage says that if you can’t win with six batsmen, you can’t do so with seven either. I think the same applies to the bowling as well – if four bowlers are not good enough, a fifth isn’t going to turn the tables for you. One of them is likely to be under-bowled any way.

Moreover, look at the imbalance that a five bowler line-up creates for India. If Wasim Jaffer is dropped for Harbhajan, India starts with one opener short. Revert to Dravid as opener? That, I reckon, was one of the key factors that cost India the first two tests. And Dravid at No. 3 was also a key player in the WACA win. What about Irfan Pathan as opener? Pathan’s decline before the recent comeback can be attributed quite a bit to his ever-changing position in the batting order in the Greg Chappell regime. Does India want to re-live that all over again?

Hype and tripe aside, India will have to focus on the game to the exclusion of the previous one as far as selection goes. And there really is only one change India needs to make. Draft Harbhajan Singh in for Ishant Sharma (their job expectations are similar, aren’t they – just get Ponting out?). I know Jaffer hasn’t quite been a success on this tour, but getting a low-on-big-match-practice Dinesh Karthik into such a pressure cooker atmosphere isn’t a great idea either.

There is another, more daring option if India dares to think unconventional. Drop Jaffer for Harbhajan, and bring in Karthik for MS Dhoni. Did I hear gasps of shock, awe and horror? Look at it objectively. Karthik is as good a wicket-keeper as Dhoni, and though he was not an opener by choice, he has moulded himself into an adhesive one over the last few seasons, and an adhesive partner to the slippery Virender Sehwag could be just what the doctor ordered for India. And it might just be the spur required to get a glorious swansong century from Sourav Ganguly.

Anil Kumble is known to be a cool-headed man. Tomorrow morning, when he exchanges team lists with Ricky Ponting, we will know whether the heat of the occasion has got to him.

So how will the next five days pan out? As the good lord quite often decides, the more the hype, the less the real excitement. So we could well be in for a damp squib of a game, in the form of a high-scoring draw, more likely a rain-affected draw or, most likely a ruthless one-sided victory for Australia, as they lay the marker for the next 16-test winning streak.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Terry’s question and Berry’s spin

It’s proving to be quite an education trying to decipher what different people have to say about Australia’s defeat at the WACA last week. Terry Alderman, that smiling England-slaying assassin of the 1980s, had me scurrying to my favourite search engine when he ordered “an inquisition into why India have been able to swing the ball and Australia haven’t” in a Herald Sun story.

My first understanding of the word “inquisition” was Inquisition (with the initial capital letter), the Roman Catholic Church’s strategy to suppress heresy and anti-religious thought and sentiment. The Spanish Inquisition came in as a logical next connection.

Surely Alderman wasn’t suggesting that the Indians did something heretical by swinging the ball? Or the Australians by not swinging it? Surely swing or the lack of it is not against the (how I hate to use this much-abused and well-past-its-expiry-date expression) spirit of the game?

Then I did what I should have done in the first place. I referred to the good old dictionary. The trusty favourite,, gave the following definitions for inquisition.

  1. an official investigation, esp. one of a political or religious nature, characterized by lack of regard for individual rights, prejudice on the part of the examiners, and recklessly cruel punishments.
  2. any harsh, difficult, or prolonged questioning.
  3. the act of inquiring; inquiry; research.
  4. an investigation, or process of inquiry.
  5. a judicial or official inquiry.
  6. the finding of such an inquiry.
  7. the document embodying the result of such inquiry.
  8. (initial capital letter) Roman Catholic Church.
    1. a former special tribunal, engaged chiefly in combating and punishing heresy. Compare Holy Office.
    2. Spanish Inquisition.

I saw where I slipped. I could only think of the last definition from this list. And good old Terry was probably thinking of meaning no. 3. Or was he? Boy, this game is proving to be tough to follow. Speaking of which brings to mind Scyld Berry’s piece in The Telegraph a couple of days ago.

The true Englishman that he is, Berry sees India’s performance at the WACA as an eye-opener for what England can do when facing Australia in the Ashes in 2009.

In planning their strategy for 2009, England need to think about slow, turning pitches, negating Australia's advantage in pure pace and playing to their own strengths of swing and left-arm spin.

The swing factor is understandable, considering the success (albeit one-off so far) of RP Singh, Ishant Sharma and Irfan Pathan at the WACA, and England’s undeniable strength in that department, in the form of Mathew Hoggard, Ryan Sidebottom et al. But spin?

England hasn’t had a glorious track record with spinners since Derek Underwood a few decades ago (okay, Phil Tufnell for all you romantics). And while Monty Panesar is good, I’m not sure I’d plan my team strategy around him yet. Even if England plays its cards right and gets Saqlain Mushtaq into the squad, I am not sure the idea will still have enough legs. Saqlain’s test record for Pakistan hasn’t quite been outstanding, with an average almost touching 30 over a 49-test career. Moreover, Saqlain is bound to be rusty – after so many years of relaxed cricket with Surrey and Sussex, coming up against the hard-as-nails Aussies in the big cauldron of test-match cricket may be just a bit beyond him. But all ye Englishmen can be romantic and hope for fairy tales.

On a different note, how would the cricket world react if England does indeed manage to create slow, turning pitches? The sub-continental nations, especialling India and Sri Lanka, have always been “accused” of providing turners and thus creating an unfair advantage for themselves; will it be acceptable if England does so? I remember a saying about sauce and geese, but then like with “inquisition,” I may be looking up the wrong meaning.

Morgan’s Mantras

We are in for some interesting times with the International Cricket Council’s president-elect Mr Dave Morgan if this interview of his with Alex Brown of the Sydney Morning Herald is any indication.

First up is his philosophical reflection on incorrect perceptions.

All incorrect perceptions are of concern, just as it’s a concern that the ICC was blamed for every aspect of what was wrong with the last ICC World Cup in the West Indies. That, again, was an incorrect perception.

Yes, The ICC conducted the ICC World Cup, they ensured that it was called the ICC World Cup, but they are not responsible for what went wrong there. The next time you buy a Gray Nicolls bat and it turns out to be a useless piece of wood, don’t blame Gray Nicolls – they’re not responsible for it you see.

Then comes his sage comment on the ouster of Steve Slow Death Bucknor from the Perth test between Australia and India.

The first thing I need to say is that the decision to replace Mr Bucknor with Mr Bowden was not the result of any protest from one of the participating teams. There was a protest, but the decision was not a result of that process.

Absolutely, Mr. Morgan, no pressure at all. Umpires are routinely evaluated after every match and replaced if they make incorrect decisions. And protest? What protest?

And the way he expressed his views on Zimbabwe’s possible return to test cricket is the very epitome of clarity.

I must re-emphasise that they [Zimbabwe] withdrew voluntarily, and they will be coming back to ICC to say when they feel they’re ready to resume Test match cricket. The cricket committee of the ICC may well have a view to express.

Yes, we are in for some interesting times with the ICC.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Changing colours

The Indian team for the upcoming one-day tri-series in Australia is due to be announced today. Fresh from the WACA euphoria, here are some mis-steps the selectors may make.

First up is the case of Virender Sehwag. Dropping him from the test squad was a mistake the selectors made in the past; picking him for the limited overs team was a second, perhaps larger mistake. Think of Sehwag as India’s Michael Slater (plus the bowling and the tactical nous). An unpredictable, game-changing opener best saved for test matches.

VVS Laxman could perhaps come up for discussion as well. His Sydney 167 of many moons ago got him to stay back for the one-day series down under. Great as he is in whites, putting him in coloured clothing again may not be a good idea, not least because it will be a step back for the successful youth selections of late.

Rahul Dravid is a tricky selection. He was discarded half-way through the home one-day series against Pakistan. Should he come back now, on the back of what looks like a return to test match form? I wouldn’t vote for it.

Ishant Sharma is a temptation the selectors would do well to resist. One good spell doesn’t a wizard make. Let Ishant take his time and settle down in the test team, and then we can think of him in the other forms of the game.

Seven players from the test squad pick themselves for the one-dayers – Sachin Tendulkar, Saurav Ganguly, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh, Rudra Pratap Singh and Irfan Pathan. Of the others, I reckon Shantakumaran Sreeshanth, Gautam Gambhir and Robin Uthappa would be shoo-ins. The other six should be interesting selections. Murali Kartik or Piyush Chawla? Praveen Kumar? Rohit Sharma or Mohammed Kaif or Suresh Raina or Subramaniam Badrinath? Yusuf Pathan? Some total newcomers like Cheteshwar Pujara? An interesting day ahead.

The 15 overs that cost Australia No. 17?

Many theories will be offered for Australia stumbling on No. 17 again, this time at the WACA. Yes, the Indians, particularly the bowlers played out of their skin (Why does the press always use this phrase when India wins against serious opposition abroad?); yes, Hayden’s absence affected Australia (Would he have made up for the margin of 72 runs and the 19 runs that Chris Rogers managed between the two innings?); yes, Shaun Tait proved to be as effective as Rawl Lewis; yes, there are many more reasons like these. A certain passage of play could have played a key part as well.

Roll your memory back to overs 46 to 61 of the Indian second innings. India finished the 45th over at 182 for 6. For the next 15 overs, Andrew Symonds and Michael Clarke rolled their arms over, one bowling hopeful seam-up, the other, hopeless donkey drops. And by the time Brett Lee returned for over 62, India had moved on to 234 for 6, which, added to the healthy first innings lead of 118, took India’s overall lead to 352. (As if on cue, Lee softened the Indians and Symonds took two wickets in his next over.)

Were those 15 overs crucial? MS Dhoni, who was having quite a wretched time with the bat in the series, was allowed to settle down; he ended up with a useful 38, and added 75 priceless runs with VVS Laxman. The period also allowed Laxman to contribute, helping him to shepherd the tail around to add a further 56 runs after the Symonds double-strike. Considering the final margin was 72 runs, you can work out the mathematics and the probabilities.

Ricky Ponting’s reason for the Clarke-Symonds duet is perhaps that Australia were lagging behind on the over-rate, and risked incurring the wrath of the match referee even to the extent of a match ban for the skipper. (Eventually, they were only two overs short, and so escaped with just a monetary fine, 20 per cent for the skip and 10 per cent for the rest of the team.)

The imperative of having to bowl 90 overs in 390 minutes (6 hours of normal play plus the half-hour extension) proved to be a bit beyond Australia, more so because of their four-pronged pace attack.

Should this little aside force a re-think on the minimum overs requirement? Is 4 minutes too tight for an over of fast bowling? Is it fair that the requirement be decided based on a certain notional number of overs of slow bowling in an innings? Are teams constrained to choose their line-up based on this requirement rather than the nature of the pitch and the opposition?

In test match cricket, with its five day spread and its acceptance of a draw as an acceptable result (at least officially, if not for the spectators), is this kind of time constraint required at all? Remember the West Indies teams of the 1980s. Do you imagine Marshall, Holding, Roberts, Garner, et al squeezing in anything approaching 90 overs in a day’s play? On the contrary, did they not produce results in test matches?

Of course, there is the other side of this argument as well, where teams delay things to prevent the opposition fro winning. Dilip Doshi, under instructions from Sunil Gavaskar, taking ten minutes (or was it twelve minutes?) to complete an over of slow left-arm comes to mind. So does Desmond Haynes’ (in one of those rare games he captained the West Indies) delaying tactics in the test match against England at Port of Spain in the 1989-90 season.

So yes, we do need some kind of control over time. But whether 90 overs is too harsh is the question. Inasmuch as you don’t want a team to lose because of poor umpiring, you don’t want them to struggle because of regulations that have perhaps been overtaken by reality and pragmatism.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Lasting the distance

As I write this, India is slowly giving the WACA game back to Australia. Why am I not surprised? One thing India does not seem to be able to master is the fact that test cricket is a game played over five games and fifteen sessions. And you need to dominate more than half those sessions, especially towards the latter half of the game, if you are to make a serious fist at winning.

The Melbourne test was a harbinger of things to come. After a bad first session, India swung back and won the next two sessions, thus ending the first day with their nose ahead. That was as good as it got, as Australia swung back and won all the nine sessions that followed, to wrap up the game rather convincingly with a day and most of a session to spare.

At Sydney, India looked like they were getting better, dominating the first two sessions and having Australia in a spot of bother at 95 for 2, in more than a spot of bother half the way into tea at 134 for 6. However, the Aussies battled back to dominate the rest of the day, and the first session of the next day, recovering to a more-than-respectable 462. India did come back strongly over the next session, going into tea at 101 for 1. The next session also belonged to India, as they motored on to 215 for 3 at stumps, though they did lose two quick wickets towards the close to keep the Aussies interested. So on day 2, India had won about the half the exchanges.

Day 3 also belonged mostly to India, as they dominated all three sessions and closed in on 532, and a handy lead of 69. That was as good as it got. The next six sessions belonged to Australia, umps, chumps and all, as Michael Clarke’s scarcely believable 3-card trick towards the very end put paid to India’s hopes of escaping with a draw. In essence, India got the better of the exchanges in 7 out of the 15 sessions, just one less than Australia. But the difference was 122 runs, and it was a defeat grabbed from the jaws of a draw, even from a distant dream of victory.

Perth looks similar. India won sessions 1 and 2, wobbled in 3, galloped through all the three sessions of day 2 (barring the Symonds-Gilchrist counter attack either side of tea), had a bad first session today and what is turning out to be a slightly better second session. That means they have (more or less) dominated five of the eight sessions so far. Can they maintain this and have three more good sessions? History suggests otherwise.

Is it the excess of limited-overs cricket? Is it not having sufficient firepower to deliver twice in a row? Or is it just that Australia is too good a team to fail back-to-back? Think back to the Ashes last season, and the story was quite similar in some test matches. Yes, this Australian team just seems a touch invincible. And Ponting doesn’t even need his Sydney antics to get there. This Perth test can prove that Australia can win while still behaving themselves.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Bhajji the batsman and other tales

Having been a solid test match opener, Gary Kirsten knows the virtues of a good, steady start as opposed to a chancy, attractive one. So when he landed in Australia to begin his stint in one of the two toughest coaching assignments in international cricket, one expected him to open as he did on day one of a test match. So he started, with polite noises about the importance of “specialists” when talking of a specialised opener, and a long overdue No. 3 slot for Rahul Dravid.

But very soon, Kirsten nibbled at one outside the off-stump when he said this about Harbhajan Singh: “…the thing I enjoyed was his batting performance in Sydney. We’ve identified that it’s very important that members of the lower order make a contribution with the bat and he did that in the Test.”

After all the events following the Sydney test, one was wondering how the Indian team was going to justify either decision on Harbhajan. Now the answer is clear: Bhajji is the missing link, er, all-rounder in the Indian line-up.

So much has happened over the last few days it’ll be a shame not to read deeper than necessary into some of those.

The Australian cricket team apparently had a team meeting to discuss their Spirit of Cricket pledge. Without references to bolted horses and broken fences, it’s interesting to wonder why the Aussies did it. Apart, of course, for the noble intentions which they surely had. Is it to lead the administrators to believe that they are a chastened lot now? And thus set themselves up for a repeat in future tests? Is it to come across as a more “spirited” lot than the Indians and thus put India on the defensive? Or is there a more mundane, practical explanation? That they have achieved their ambition of retaining the Border-Gavaskar trophy (and 16-on-the-trot) and so can afford to play cricket the way others want them to?

The Indian team is no slouch when it comes to such done-for-this-but-intended-for-that gestures. How else would you explain their dropping charges against Brad Hogg? Surely they’ve put Australia in a fix? How can Australia not play Hogg on the raging turner that is the WACA?

Peter Roebuck’s suggestion that Australia replace Ricky Ponting with Simon Katich as national captain is as original as any. Having played in England for all his career, Roebuck is perhaps still an Englishman at heart. So his suggestion comes probably with an eye on the next Ashes.

The game is indeed being taken beyond its traditional confines – it is much more interesting and closely fought outside the 22-yard strip nowadays. I look forward to the days after the WACA test.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Corporate governance in cricket

The dust, it appears, will not settle on l’affaire SCG, not for the next few weeks at least, unless a decision is made on what Harbhajan Singh actually said, and what it means in different languages, societies and cultures, and to different arbiters, media personnel, bloggers and sundry other parties.

In the meantime, cricket continues in other parts of the world. After the aberration of the first test loss, South Africa pummelled West Indies in the next two to take the series. West Indian supporters would argue that a 2–1 score line is an upset result, and I for one would tend to accept that, especially considering my pre-series post.

A noticeable moment came up on the third (and what proved to be the final) day of the third test. After making a fluid if slightly chancy century, Marlon Samuels (who finally looks like shaking off the tag of a “nearly man”) was bowled by Dale Steyn. The delivery was an absolute beauty, pitching on off stump and straightening to beat the bat of a settled batsman. The stumps were rattled and the bowler, cock-a-hoop. But what followed is what I am referring to. Samuels, after the initial disappointment, actually looked towards the bowler and acknowledged the quality of the delivery with a nod of the head and a lift of the thumb.

Is this what critics of Australia and the SCG incidents talk of when they refer to “the spirit of the game”? Is this what they expect to see more of in the game? Is it a realistic expectation?

Would Samuels have done what he did if it was the last day of the test and the West Indies had a realistic chance of saving the game? Would Samuels have done it if two of his colleagues had perished earlier to debatable umpiring decisions? Would Samuels have done that if the South Africans had sledged his team mates through the game, and made a few visibly insane appeals?

I think the “spirit of the game” argument is an argument of the past. A past when cricket was a game, when winning was just one of the four possible results, when winning just led to honour and perhaps a ticker tape welcome back home. The present of cricket, and what seems to be its future, is far more straightforward: cricket is as much a business as any other. And success, defined as winning the game, comes above all else. In the process, if some teams approach the game like Enron approached business, so be it. It was for the arbiters to determine whether what Enron did constituted fair practice and act accordingly. And they did, and how.

Is Australia the Enron of cricket? Do the governing bodies have a sufficiently strong and comprehensive “corporate governance” code for cricket that can be enforced consistently and aggressively? Are the punishments for infringements as strict as they are in the corporate world? In the face of such unsolved questions, Indians can whine, the Aussies can preen and the rest of the world can tear its hair in frustration; the game will continue on its merry circus.

The sad truth is that Sydney now, the Oval in 2006 and sundry other matches before these have raised such seemingly unsolvable issues time and time again. Unfortunately, the administrators have been happy just treating the symptoms of the disease and pretending as if all is well. Some day, some one will have to go deep down and cure the disease at its underlying level. Until such time, we can only wait in trepidation for the next Sydney.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Total Cricket from Australia

Let’s not take anything away from Australia – they were so obsessed with getting to the finishing line for the 16th time in a row that they let little come in their way, notwithstanding their captain’s delayed, safety-first declaration.

Leading from the front, as always, was Ricky Ponting. The nick he got off that flick would have shamed many lesser lights to have walked, but then, none of them was standing on the threshold of greatness. Of course, Ponting demonstrated his sporting side by walking when the umpire gave him out erroneously, in one of the rare howlers that went against Australia. And yes, he denied having taken a catch cleanly in the Indian first innings when he very clearly had not. Of course, he made amends for that on the final day when he claimed a catch after having obviously grounded the ball while getting up. (But in a rare lapse of concentration, the umpire seemed to have realized that for a catch to count as a dismissal, the ball needs to make contact with some part of the bat or glove.) And Ponting demonstrated his total commitment to the team’s cause when he took over the white coat to declare Sourav Ganguly out caught by Michael “Pup” Clarke. To which incident we shall turn to next.

Pup is widely regarded as the future captain of Australia and in this game he showed us that he is moving in the right direction. Poor Ganguly, after a dream run in 2007, 2008 seemed to have started well with two crisp half-centuries. And he was looking good for more when fate intervened to send him into the record books (and the pavilion) for being one of the rare batsmen to be “not out” twice to the same ball – except that the scorecard (and the umpire) record otherwise. It was a good ball for sure, Ganguly nicked the ball all right and Clarke did dive forward athletically to take the catch – except that Pup took the ball on the half volley and then touched it on the ground while completing the tumble. Of course, he stood up and claimed the catch – after all, Ganguly was an important wicket for the Aussies. And Pup’s captain confirmed it, using the newly agreed principle that the on-field captain decides the legitimacy of catches when the umpires are in doubt. Of course, Pup had already demonstrated his commitment the previous day when he stood his ground after playing the ball straight to the slip fielder (note: it wasn’t a front-foot bat and pad affair but a clean edge of a back foot drive). In the post-match interview, Andrew Symonds said, “Pup is comfortably one of the luckiest blokes I know.” A pity the umpire did not know it before.

Andrew Symonds’ contribution to the victory was more than just the revelation on Pup. He seems to have found his metier in the test match arena too. Apart from making a few runs, he contributed massively to the Australian victory with his bowling, more so with his appealing. He made it so clear to the umpires that the Aussies were a victimised lot that Steve Bucknor gave Dravid out in a new form of dismissal – pad before bat.

Symonds was ably supported in the Dravid dismissal by Adam Gilchrist. Gilly has cultivated an image of honesty and sportsmanship, someone who plays the game in its true spirit. He walks when he nicks the ball and is known to appeal only when he knows the ball has touched the bat. But even he knows what comes first when it comes to a question of team glory versus individual integrity. Sample his appeal against Dravid – the ball closer to the silly point fielder than to Dravid’s bat. May be when the team gets together to thank the Lord, Gilly will slip in a quick confession to clear his conscience.

The rest of the team did contribute to the victory, but these four clearly demonstrated a level of commitment rarely seen before in the game. Oh wait a minute, quite a few from Steve Waugh’s team (including Tugga himself) might qualify. And some of Ian Chappell’s ugly Australians (what an unfair tag for such a great bunch of winners!) as well.

The Aussie juggernaut seems relentless and ruthless. And with such a total domination strategy, it’s hard to see them lose their grip on the game. May be this is what is called Total Cricket.