On December 15, 2003, Ajit Agarkar made the cricketing world sit up and take notice of his skills to generate late swing and occasional movement off the pitch with a breathtaking spell of swing and seam bowling at Adelaide against Australia. By turning the clock back to 2003, Bharath Ramaraj relives that memorable spell by the Indian pacer.
India’s slingy seam bowler Ajit Agarkar would unfortunately be remembered for notching seven consecutive ducks against Australia in Test cricket. However, if we scratch the surface underneath, he was also India‘s twinkling star at Adelaide against the same opponents — Australia who had tormented him earlier — by taking six for 41 in 2003. The wondrous spell by the Mumbaikar turned the match on its head to help India script a houdini act and beat Australia.
Going into the Test series in Australia, India seemed to have a window of an opportunity to upset the apple-cart and give the hosts a few seismic shocks on the way. Australia’s spearhead Glenn McGrath was down with an ankle injury and Shane Warne was missing from the action after having failed a dope test during the 2003 World Cup. Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie too were struggling with fitness issues at that time. But even to defeat a slightly weakened Australian set-up, it was a herculean task those days.
If we turn the clock back to 2003, Ricky Ponting had touched the outwardly high of dizzying heights with his stunning artwork of batsmanship. He continued that majestic form with a glorious double ton in the first innings against India. Replying to Australia’s humongous total, India found themselves in dire-straits when they lost four wickets in quick session. However, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman built, brick-by-brick, a large edifice of 303-run partnership to take India within touching distance of Australia’s mammoth first innings score of 556. And then came Agarkar’s monumental spell that gave India more than a sniffing chance of a historic win.
Agarkar flies on the wings of a fantasy dream by taking six for 41
In Test cricket, Agarkar was an enigma. When he cut down on pace and looked to concentrate on generating prodigious movement in the air, he caused plenty of problems to batsmen. Sadly, every now and then, he seemed to lose his rhythm by attempting to bowl quicker. At Adelaide, though for once, he did cut down on his pace and it paid rich dividends for him.
Agarkar started Australia’s spiraling downfall with a banana-bending inswinger from over the wicket that tailed back into the left-handed Justin Langer to trap him dead in front. Australia’s opening batsman Langer was certainly done in by the late swing on view. He followed that up by snaring the all-important wicket of Ponting. He was a touch lucky to take that wicket. Ponting tried to play a rapier-like square-cut of what was a short and wide delivery, but Aakash Chopra took a fine catch at backward point to send Australia’s best batsman packing to the pavilion.
Agarkar then came-back to clean up the lower-order with a clever piece of reverse swing bowling. He didn’t necessarily swing it zig-zag to leave the Australian tail-enders in a state of trance, but did get the ball to shape both ways, just enough to make the red-cherry talk. The natural variation on a fourth day track also helped him to keep the batsmen on tenterhooks.
Andy Bichel was the first of his victims during that crackerjack spell which broke the camel’s back. He was done in by the one that left him ever so slightly to shatter his stumps. The gritty left-handed batsman Somin Katich though, was still batting with gladiatorial-like intensity. Agarkar took the crucial wicket of Katich by bowling the surprise short-pitched delivery on an off-stump line, only for him to top-edge an attempted pull shot and spoon a catch straight to Ashish Nehra. It won’t be a shot that Katich would be proud of, as he had to pull the delivery from an off-stump line. Having said that, all the credit has to go to Agarkar for enticing Katich to play the pull by bowling it outside the off-stump at good height.
Australian speedster Gillespie was always renowned for frustrating opposition ranks by defending for long periods of time. Agarkar though, sorted him out by giving him a taste of chin music and then followed it up by pitching it on a good length and getting the ball to hold its line to catch the edge of Gillespie’s tentative poke outside his off-stump. It was a classic seamer’s dismissal, where Agarkar delivered the coup de grace.
The last man in Australia’s pecking order, Stuart Macgill was nothing more than a rabbit with the willow in hand. So, on expected lines, it didn’t take much time for Agarkar to send his stumps somersaulting in the air. It was a spectacular collapse that was unheard of from an Australian batting line-up at that time. Agarkar was undoubtedly the architect of Australia falling like a pack of cards and losing their last five wickets for a mere 13 runs.
Chasing a modest total of 230, India had their own share of hiccups on the way. However, Dravid, yet again with unwavering concentration prowess and a tunnel visioned focus to win the match for India, took them to a monumental victory. It was India’s first Test win in Australia in a little more than two decades. It was a superb team effort that won the game for India. From Agarkar’s heart-stirring spell, Dravid and Laxman’s coup de theatre in the first innings act to Sachin Tendulkar landing blows with a ball in hand by snaring two crucial wickets, almost everyone contributed to India’s fabulous victory. The series finally ended 1-1, with Australia winning the third Test at Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) and drawing the final game at Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG).
Agarkar is even now ridiculed with snide jokes for his five ducks against Australia. However, lest we forget that by erasing the fine lines of pain and distress, with a stirring performance, he also took India to a significant victory at Adelaide against Australia in 2003.
Australia 556 (Justin Langer 58, Ricky Ponting 242, Simon Katich 75; Anil Kumble 5 for 154) and 196 (Steve Waugh 42; Ajit Agarkar 6 for 41) lost to India 523 (Rahul Dravid 233, VVS Laxman 148; Andy Bichel 4 for 118) and 233 for 6 (Rahul Dravid 72*; Stuart MacGill 2 for 101) by 4 wickets.
Man of the Match: Rahul Dravid
(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)
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