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On January 19, 2008, India recorded one of their most memorable overseas victories at Perth. It symbolised the Indian team’s mental strength, as the victory came in the gloomy backdrop of the controversial Sydney Test. Nishad Pai Vaidya looks back at the game.
In the 2000s, Indian cricket’s golden generation scripted numerous memorable victories away from home. It was a self belief, that wasn’t seen before, which helped the Indians conquer their fears outside their comfort zone and challenge the best teams in their own den. However, the victory at Perth in 2008 would stand out for the sheer mental strength the team exhibited in those tough situations. Played in the backdrop of the ‘Monkeygate’ scandal and the controversial Sydney Test, Anil Kumble’s men showed nerves of steel to trump Australia in their supposed fortress.
Perth is said to be the fastest surface in the world and although, the Indian team had some genuine class, they weren’t expected to last on that surface, especially after they had lost the first two Tests; whatever the reasons be for the second. There was bad blood, tensions around with relationships souring between the two teams. But, once Kumble won the toss and elected to bat, the Indians put their heads down and focused on the task at hand. Harbhajan Singh, the man at the centre of the controversy at Sydney, was left out as India went with the extra seam bowler. Virender Sehwag was making his comeback to Test cricket and Irfan Pathan was also drafted in.
On Day One, Sachin Tendulkar (71) and Rahul Dravid (93) dazzled in a 139-run stand. Those knocks helped India to 297 for six at the end of day’s play, but they were bundled out for 330. Australia came onto bat and they were troubled by an inspired pace attack. At one stage, they were 61 for five before Andrew Symonds (66) and Adam Gilchrist (55) helped them recover. But, once their stand was broken, Australia were bundled out for 212, giving India a crucial 118-run lead.
India finished Day Two at 52 for one, at a comfortable spot with Pathan and Sehwag in the centre. However, there was a mini-collapse and at 125 for five, the game was in the balance. It was then that VVS Laxman essayed another rescue act against the Aussies. His innings of 79 took India to 294, which handed Australia a target of 413 with a little over two days to go.
It was Pathan who was into the action again in the second essay. Snaring the openers, Chris Rogers and Phil Jacques, Australia were reduced to 65 for two by the end of day’s play. Thus, when January 19 donned on Perth, India eyed that famous victory, a redemption like never before. On the other hand, Australia had the chance to record their 17th Test victory in a row, a feat that would have beaten their previous record.
Australian captain Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey soldiered on. They battled the bowlers with grit and looked determined with each passing over. Ponting though, had his fair share of problems to Ishant Sharma. He was hit, beaten by movement and troubled by bounce. But, he continued fighting. Just when Kumble thought of taking Ishant off after a long spell, Sehwag pleaded the captain to continue as he was a whisker away from a breakthrough. Kumble asked Ishant and was handed the ball.
Ishant ran in, squared-up Ponting and the edge flew to Dravid at first-slip. India celebrated the big scalp; a star was supposedly born. Australia were now 117 for three.
Hussey and Michael Clarke continued to bat on what seemed a good pitch. But, on 159, Rudra Pratap Singh, got one to move into Hussey and it hit him on the pads. The umpire ruled it leg-before, but replays indicated that the impact was too high.
India’s bête noire, Symonds walked out. He was in good form throughout the series and smashed a few boundaries. But, just then, Kumble fired it in and hit his pads. The Indians appealed with confidence and Symonds was on his way back. However, replays showed that he had got an edge on the ball. Perhaps, it was karma as Symonds had a few lives at Sydney! Now, Australia were 177 for five, virtually out of the contest.
Gilchrist walked out and started attacking the Indian bowlers. Even Clarke grew in confidence and was batting well. The duo had put on 50, largely dominated by Clarke, when Kumble introduced Sehwag. The opener delivered his gentle off-spinners and got one to pitch outside Gilchrist’s leg-stump. He went for the sweep and missed; clatter! “He’s bowled him round the legs!” exclaimed Harsha Bhogle on air. Few overs later, Sehwag had Brett Lee caught through the bat-pad mode. Australia were now 229 for seven.
Clarke then waged a lone battle, with Mitchell Johnson also chancing his arm. However, 24 runs later, Clarke charged at one off Kumble and was stumped by miles. This was India’s game now.
But, the Australians don’t stop fighting and Johnson started showing that he could bat as well. He slammed everything in his half and mercilessly dispatched the Indian bowling. He was bowled off a no-ball and caught at mid-wicket, only to see the fielder touch the ropes. India started getting nervous as even Stuart Clark started hitting. One of his audacious pull-shots flew over fine-leg and went into the stands.
The ninth wicket partnership took Australia past 300 and added 73 on the board. Then, Pathan returned and induced an edge that was taken by Dhoni. Clark had to go for a fighting 32. Johnson got his half-century soon after, but RP Singh finished things off by bowling Shaun Tait. India sealed the deal by 72 runs and celebrated to no end. Harbhajan ran outside with the tri-colour and it just showed how much it meant to them.
- The fourth Test at Adelaide was drawn and Australia clinched the series 2-1. The scars of the Monkeygate scandal lasted for a while, but it died down with the passage of time.
- A young side under MS Dhoni then trumped the Australians in the One-Day Internationals (ODIs) as they beat them in the finals of the Commonwealth Bank series that followed the Tests.
India 330 (Rahul Dravid 93, Sachin Tendulkar 71; Brett Lee 3 for 71, Mitchell Johnson 4 for 86) and 294 (Virender Sehwag 43, Irfan Pathan 46, VVS Laxman 79; Brett Lee 3 for 54, Stuart Clark 4 for 61) beat Australia 212 (Andrew Symonds 66, Adam Gilchrist 55; RP Singh 4 for 68) and 340 (Ricky Ponting 45, Michael Hussey 46, Michael Clarke 81; Irfan Pathan 3 for 54) by 72 runs.
Man of the Match: Irfan Pathan.
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