Remember the ball of the century? The one that Shane Warne turned from outside of leg stump to dismiss Mike Gatting’s off stick in 1994 Ashes? That one was one in a million, thus got its deserved label, however, in almost every series, a bowler produces one such defining dismissal. In the current India’s debacle down under, I would say Ben Hilfenhaus produced one beauty do dismiss Laxman on Day 4 at Sydney. But the ball that turned the whole series around was delivered by Peter Siddle, in last over of Day 2 at MCG. If you recall, at the end of that day I wrote a blog: “Assault, the wall, and sheer carnage”, describing the performances of team India’s three batting pillars, by the end of the test series it had changed to “Chaos, the breach, and defensive rut”. The one thing that was responsible for this was the golden beauty bowled by Siddle.
It was definitely not the Warne kind of delivery and was not even unplayable like the Hilfenhaus’ at Sydney (to Laxman), however, the surroundings and the after-effects of that delivery caused the entire series to turn at 180 degrees. It was a regulation; in-coming delivery from a fast bowler, and 9 times out of 10 Sachin would have driven it convincingly through the off side. Till that over Sachin had displayed positive frame of mind, and had taken the attack to the aussies, Sehwag had just completed a blitz with his 67 and Dravid looked determined for a long one (unbeaten at 72), as a result, India was sitting at a dominant position 2/214 in reply to 333. That’s exactly when the demons crept into Sachin’s mind, instead continuing to be dominant, he decided to think too much, and wanted to be there to drive the advantage home on day 3 and thus the fatal thought of “playing out the last over” had entered his otherwise uncluttered mind.
The thought process led to twin state of mind and the debate of whether to defend or drive and the right decision of “drive” was made but a tad too late as the ball found that faint gap and thudded on to the stumps, not only breaking the sticks but also crashing all of India’s hopes of winning any games on the test leg of the tour. On any other day that would have been at least three runs through the off side and we would have seen Sachin coming out to bat on Day 3 and who knows what would have happened. One thing can be said with certainty that with a first innings lead and after having Aus at 9/190 on Day 4, India would have gone on to win and 0-1 start would have made it difficult for Australia to dominate.
For the next two innings, Sachin stayed positive and looked the one batsman batting on a completely different planet as compared to the ten others. He had full array of shots and even though the second innings at MCG and the first at Sydney didn’t pan out to be a half century they were innings of a confident batter. By the time Sachin went out to bat on Day 3 at Sydney for his fourth innings of the tour, he had seen the trend of team-mates against the new ball and at the start of new session. That again prompted the thoughts of protecting his mates from the shining new red cherry, hence we saw him get 1 run of 25 balls towards close of play on Day 3 and that ultimately led to defensive ruts against likes of Clarke (next day) and Lyon (Adelaide). That was definitely not the Sachin I wanted to see.
Was Sachin’s defensive approach the reason behind India’s failure? Did the Golden Ball by Siddle spring up the Aussie confidence to eventually lead them to 4-0 victory? The answer, to both these questions, has to be a “no”. India lost only because they failed collectively as a batting unit. In the first two games it was “only Sachin” while in the last two it was “only Virat” who clicked, as a result these are the only two who reached close to 300 runs in the series while no other batter even got a total of 200. I know it is easy to compare that to Clarke’s single innings of 300+ at Sydney and Punter’s 200+ at Adelaide, however, in each of those innings there was someone at the other end ensuring a big partnership. Test Cricket is a team game and can’t be won by a single batsman or a bowler. Yes every now and then, we get some heroic individual performances, but victory is achieved only when those gigantic performances are aided by some key contributions by team-mates.