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07.01.2019  Author: C.NAMASIVAYAM

India are on the cusp of creating history in the fourth Test of the Border- Gavaskar Trophy against Australia at Sydney. Leading the series 2-1, India declared their first innings closed at 622 for 7. In reply, Australia are 122 for 1 at lunch on day three. Australia are still 300 runs away from the follow-on target. India just need a draw at Sydney to achieve their first ever series win in Australia.

For India, Chateshwar Pujara moved from 130 to 193 on the second day and was unlucky to miss out on a double hundred. But the unexpected hero was Rishabh Pant who remained not out on 159 which came off just 189 balls with the help of 15 fours and one six.

Pant showed a lot of maturity in his batting as he was keen in taking the singles and giving the strike back to Pujara as long as he was at the wicket. But the moment Pujara got out, Pant took over and started smacking the Australian bowlers to all parts of the ground.

Pant’s first 50 came off 85 balls while his next 109 runs came off just 104 balls at more than run a ball. Pant was lucky to have Ravindra Jadeja at the other end who showed a lot of patience in his innings of 81.

Pant and Jadeja were involved in  a record 204 run partnership for the 7th wicket. In the process, Pant, playing only in his fourth Test in Australia,  became the first Indian wicket-keeper to score a century in Australia.

At the Oval Test last year, Pant became the first Indian wicket-keeper to score a century in the fourth innings of a Test match.  Besides, with the glove, Pant was involved in the dismissal of 20 Australian batsmen which again was a record by an Indian wicket-keeper.

When the second day started, India though were in a comfortable position at 303 for 4 were still far away from securing the match. Australia had the new ball in hand and were lucky to get the wicket of Hanuma Vihari through an error of judgment from the  TV umpire. All they needed at that stage was to get one more wicket to get into the Indian late-order which has not shown any skills with the bat in the series.

But for some strange reasons, the Australian captain deployed defensive tactics and thereby played into the hands of the Indian batsmen. It was India who were sitting pretty with a lead in the series. The only way Australia could have come back into the match at the start of the second day was by setting the attacking field and by terminating the Indian first innings to a premature closure.

But that didn’t happen as Paine was playing the waiting game which suited India perfectly. As it turned out, the double century partnership between Pant and Jadeja took the game and the series away from Australia. Finally, Australia had the mortification of taking the third new ball in the Indian first innings.

When the series started, it was the Australian batting which was under scrutiny in the absence of David Warner and Steve Smith. The Australians had a potent bowling attack with the presence of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins, and Nathan Lyon.

But as the series progressed, the Indian batsmen led by Chateshwar Pujara, slowly started to dominate the Australian bowling. The Indian domination was complete at Sydney when the Aussie bowlers were made to toil for two days bowling 167 overs for just  7 wickets. The bowlers were finally grounded to the dust. The ordeal is not over yet as Kohli might not enforce the follow-on to complete the process of mental disintegration.

Turning back, on numerous occasions, in their earlier tour Australia, the Indian bowlers were subjected to a huge dose of mental disintegration. Actually, the word “Mental Disintegration” in cricket was coined by the Australian Captain Steve Waugh as a euphemism to sledging. Now all the Indian fans are extremely happy to see the mental disintegration shoe on the other foot.  In this series, it is the Indians who are using the disintegration tactic to utmost perfection.

As we happily watch the Indians pile on the agony on the Australians in this series, let us revisit some of the mental integration the Indians were subjected in the past in Australia which would compose the present reversal of fortune more ecstatic.

Though in the initial stages, the margin of defeats for India against Australia in Australia were huge, no attempt was made to wear down the opposition player’s psyche. It all started in the series in 1999 when Steve Waugh was the captain.

Scars of the past

The 1999 -2000 series

The 1999-2000 series was a three-match series. In this series, Australia won the first Test at Adelaide and the second Test at Melbourne by massive margins of 285 runs and 180 runs respectively.

After winning the series, Australia went on mental disintegration spree in the third Test at Sydney. After knocking out India for 150 in the first innings,  Australia piled on the agony scoring 552 for 5 declared. Justin Langer made 223 and Ricky Ponting 141.  At one stage, though Australia reached a position of safety, they still continued their batting to wear out the Indians. In the end, Australia won that match by a huge margin of innings and 141 runs.

By the time that series got over, the Indian players, especially the bowlers, were both physically and mentally drained. This was reflected in the performance of the one-day tri-series that followed after the Test series in which India lost 7 of the 8 matches so badly.

The 2011-2012 series

This was a four-match series. India gave some fight in the first Test at Melbourne which Australia won by 122 runs. It was in the second Test at Sydney where the Australian bowlers and batsmen started to dominate. First India were bundled out for 191 in the first innings.

In reply, Australia at one stage were 37 for 3 before the new Australian  captain Michael Clarke joined former captain Ricky Ponting at the wicket. The pair added 288 runs for the fourth wicket before Ponting finally got out for 134.

When the Indian bowlers thought their ordeal was over, Mike Hussey joined Clarke and they added another 334 runs for the fifth wicket. In the end, both Clarke and Hussey remained not out on 329 and 150 not out as Australia piled up 659 for 4 declared against India’s paltry first inning s score of 191. The mental disintegration of the Indian bowlers was complete.

The humiliation of the Indian bowlers could be explained with a few statistics. After losing their 3rd wicket for 37, Australia added 622 runs for the loss of only one wicket, that of Ricky Ponting.  The Indian bowlers Ashwin(44 overs), Ishant Sharma(33), Zaheer Khan(31), Umesh Yadav(24) & Sehwag(23) were made to toil for 2 days before the declaration finally came.

In the next Test match at Perth, the Australian openers Ed Cowan and David Warner put on 214 runs before Cowan got out.  If one put together the performance of the Australian batsmen in the second Test at Sydney and the third Test at Perth, from the fall of 3rd wicket at Sydney for 37 runs till the fall of the first wicket at Perth, Australia had added an astounding 836 runs for the loss of just two wickets, that of Ponting at Sydney and Cowan at Perth. The hapless Indian bowlers were taken to the cleaners.

The mental disintegration of the Indian bowlers was complete in the next Test at Adelaide where Australia batted first and scored 604 for 7 declared. Ricky Ponting and Michale Clarke scored double hundreds and were involved in a partnership of 386 for the fourth wicket. For India, R.Ashwin toiled for 53 overs for 3 wickets.

In reply, India were all out for 272 in the first innings and conceded a massive 332 runs first innings lead. The Australian captain Michael Clarke chose not to enforce the follow-on to further disintegrate the Indian bowlers.

Australia made 167 for 5 declared in the second innings and set an improbable target of 500 runs for India to win. India promptly got out for 201 to give Australia a massive win by 298 runs. When that series ended, for the Indian bowlers it was like a nightmare coming to an end.

It is payback time in the current series

Coming back to the current series, India are comfortably placed to win their first series in Australia. At Melbourne, in a must-win game, Kohli refused to enforce the follow-on even after a first innings lead of 292 runs and despite the dodgy weather forecast. In all probability, Kohli might not enforce the follow-on at Sydney irrespective of the quantum of a first-innings lead.

The Australian legend Shane Warne suggests that Australia should declare their first innings the moment they cross the follow-on target to bring life back into this game. That would give Australia an outside chance to win the Test and level the series. But for that to happen, Australia should score 423 in the first innings. Australia ’s previous best score in the series was 326 in the first innings of the second Test at Perth.

Ishant Sharma and R.Ashwin, who were part of the  2011-2012 series and were at the receiving end, are also part of the current squad. They must be delighted with the turn of events in the current series where,  for a change, the Indian batsmen made the Aussie bowlers toil, first at Melbourne and now at Sydney.

During this payback time, both Ishant and Ashwin might be suggesting to their captain not to enforce the follow-on and keep on batting until the cows come home.