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Monday, February 1, 2021

Sydney Test - India needs 309 runs more to win !!

A slowing-down pitch and a good start to the fourth innings have given India hope of competing on the final day of the Sydney Test after they fell behind by 94 runs in the first innings and were set a daunting 407 to win in four sessions. India ended the first of those at 98 for 2 after Rohit Sharma and Shubhman Gill put together the biggest opening stand of the series on either side.

In case, you thought the target is unattainable – here is some history.  Way back at Adelaide, India started the final day (6th day of the Test – yes 6 day test it was) on Feb 3, 1978, chasing an improbable 493 !!   493 runs to win - or more than fourteen hours to bat out for a draw. Their only comfort was that Thomson was still unfit to bowl but they had to face Wayne Clark, Ian Callen, Gary Cosier, Bruce Yardley and Captain Bob Simpson.

India seemed doomed to a massive defeat when Gavaskar, who had already had one escape, fell at 40, Chauhan, his opening partner, was also dismissed before the end of the fourth day, at 79. The Australians could have struck one more crushing blow before stumps, but Viswanath was dropped at slip when only two.

Viswanath and Amarnath batted right through the morning of the fifth day, adding 131 before Viswanath fell to the second new ball, at 210. Amarnath carried on to make 86, and with Vengsarkar batting with composure, India continued their struggle in an encouraging manner. Both  Mohinder Amarnath and Dilip Vengsarkar fell in making belligerent shots, but with Gaekwad failing again, India were 348 for six at Vengsarkar's dismissal. The seventh-wicket pair, Kirmani and Ghavri, got sufficiently entrenched for the Australians to start worrying.  The score card reads: Sunil Gavaskar 29; Chetan Chauhan 32; Mohinder Amarnath 86; Gundappa Vishwanath 73; Vengsarkar 78;  Anshuman Gakwad 12, Syed Kirmani 51; Karsan Ghavri 23; Erapalli Prasanna 10*; Bishan Bedi 16 & Bhagwat Chandrasekhar 2.   The  third new ball gave them the decisive breakthrough. Still, India fought to the bitter end.

In 1976, India toured West Indies under Bishan Singh Bedi.    WI won the first test at Bridgetown, by an innings and 97 runs.  The second one at Port of Spain was drawn and the third one on Apr 1976 was historic.  Indians chased 405 in the fourth innings and won by 6 wickets with Sunil Gavaskar and Vishwanath making centuries, ably supported by Mohinder Amarnath, Brijesh Patel and Madanlal… .. after that ignominy came the Fourth Test at Kingston – Test no. 776 on 21 – 25th April 1976.  The score card would read  India 306/6 decl !! ; WI 391 all out.  India 97 all out and West Indies making the 13 runs required without losing a wicket.  Statistics will never reveal the real story. WW Daniel made his debut in a bloody test, where Indians were intimidated with crowds calling for blood.

In the final Test of 1979 Series, Sunil Gavaskar played a classic knock in the 4th innings. Chasing a mammoth total of 438 runs in the fourth innings, he set the The Oval stadium on fire with a masterly knock of 221 runs. On that tour, Indians were  beaten comprehensively in the first test by an Innings & 83 runs at Headingly and the 2nd & 3rd Tests were drawn.  Srinivasan  Venkatraghavan and Mike Brearly were the captains. In the 4th Chetan Chauhan and Sunil Gavaskar were involved in a grand partnership of 213 and then Dilip Vengsarkar added another 153 – thus Indians were 366-1 at one stage, which for sure created jitters. At tea, India was in a commanding position at  304 and  England played negative tactics in slowing down the game.  When mandatory overs began, India required only 100 runs and were on course to a historic win.  Not to be, as in the end, India sort of throw away the match, with couple of poor decisions hastening the end.  Eventually India fell short by 9 runs with 2 wickets in hand losing the series 1-0. Bharat Reddy was the wicketkeeper then.

Today at close of play on day 4 at Sydney – the score card reads : India 244 and 98 for 2 (Sharma 52, Gill 31) need 309 runs to beat Australia 338 and 312 for 6 dec (Green 84, Smith 81, Labuschagne 73, Saini 2-54)

After a promising opening stand of 71 by India, Australia's relentless pace attack got rid of both Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill within half an hour to remind the visitors that they were still facing an uphill task of not just needing another 309 runs but also surviving 97 overs on the last day. With India 98 for 2, and Ravindra Jadeja dealing with a fractured thumb which may not let him bat, Australia could be only three wickets away from opening the tail and storming their way towards a 2-1 series lead.

Australia propelled themselves into a dominant position with half-centuries from Marnus Labuschagne, Steven Smith and Cameron Green, who put on a display of belligerent hitting after crossing 50 with the help of four sixes that enabled them to score at 5.65 in the second session. Once Australia declared with a massive lead of 406 at tea, Sharma and Gill gave India a glimmer of hope by stitching a partnership of 71, but Gill fell to Josh Hazlewood's stifling line outside off and Sharma pulled a short ball straight to fine leg to leave India 92 for 2.

Australia's Test captain was fined 15% of his match fees for showing dissent at an umpiring decision. Paine expressed displeasure through an expletive-laden outburst after an unsuccessful lbw review against Cheteshwar Pujara in the final session on Sunday. He was handed one demerit point to his offence, his first in 24 months.  India's 34 overs also saw as many as four reviews taken, all off Hazlewood's bowling. The first two came within a space of three balls in the eighth over when Hazlewood thought he had Sharma lbw with a delivery that jagged back in. Replays, however, showed the ball was going over the stumps. Two balls later, after Sharma nearly chopped on in between for a single, Tim Paine reviewed when they thought Gill edged one behind but the ball had only flicked the pad.

Whatever be history – with Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill back in the pavilion, Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteswar Pujara are at the crease.  With Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant †, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Navdeep Saini, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj to come – the position is not all that rosy.  Jadeja may not be in a position to bat and not sure of the injury of Pant !  However, the eternal Indian fan hopes that something good might happen on day 5 at Sydney.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

10.1.2021 @ 10.32 pm.


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