ICL: Indian Cricket League

Ponting, Clarke put Australia ahead


pontingCenturies from Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke pushed the game towards a stalemate, but the story of the fourth day was Adam Gilchrist, and most likely the final innings of an exceptional career. He didn’t make much of a dent on the scoreboard, but those that witnessed a little cameo will never forget the glimpses of greatness. Amid the outpouring of emotion, Australia gathered a valuable 37-run lead and then picked up the wicket of Irfan Pathan, leg before to Mitchell Johnson, before India had wiped off the arrears.

Virender Sehwag was dropped by Clarke off Brett Lee, and survived two vociferous leg-before appeals as well before ending the day with a six and four off Andrew Symonds. India’s lead was a mere eight, and they faced the same stick-or-twist conundrum that was England’s undoing in the last Adelaide Test.

All of that was peripheral though in the face of a hero’s last stand. Walking out to bat after Clarke’s innings of 118 had ended with a stunning catch from VVS Laxman at second slip, Gilchrist received a standing ovation from a crowd of 19,407. He was also clapped to the middle by the Indians, but the generosity ended there. Ishant Sharma was in the middle of a superb spell, and there was a sense of relief when Gilchrist struck one sweetly past him to get off the mark.

A straight smack for four that nearly decapitated Billy Bowden was a throwback to the halcyon years, and there was a deft cut or two before he drove Pathan straight to Sehwag at cover. As disappointment started to seep through the stands, Ishant ran all the way from third man to shake his hand, and the rest of the Indians gathered in a group to applaud him off.

In the midst of all the sentiment, two superb hundreds were almost forgotten. Ponting had got to his before lunch, but after experiencing back spasms, he soon had Michael Hussey come out as a runner. The runs - there had been 103 in the morning - just kept coming though, with Clarke eager to get to his own hundred. He got there with a single to cover off Sehwag, and though it hadn’t been the usual ebullient and stroke-filled knock, it was vital in virtually eliminating any possibility of an Australian defeat.

Ponting got as far as 140 before an attempt to guide Sehwag past point resulted in an inside edge on to the stumps. The partnership was worth 210 by then, and India’s hopes of a series-equalling win were evaporating in the afternoon heat.

That didn’t stop Ishant from tormenting Symonds with some sensational swing bowling. Two edges flew down to third man, and the ball whizzed past the outside edge on other occasions. Had he not got the wicket of Clarke, it would truly have been rough justice. After tea, he got Symonds too, chopping one on right after Australia had taken the lead.

Pathan then picked up his 100th Test wicket by having Lee caught behind, before Harbhajan Singh and Sehwag wrapped up the innings. Anil Kumble, perhaps nursing a sore shoulder, bowled just nine overs in the day, and it was noticeable that Sehwag was the more potent of the two offspinners on view.

The morning session had been all about Australia grinding the bowling down. On a pitch that showed no great signs of deterioration, the new ball failed to do the trick and the spinners got little purchase either. Ponting and Clarke went about run-making in steady rather than spectacular fashion, and India’s best chance of ending the partnership came a quarter of an hour before lunch, when Clarke moved away to cut Sehwag.

The edge was travelling fast, but all Rahul Dravid could do was palm the ball away from him at first slip. Clarke was on 84 at the time. Ponting had enjoyed his slice of luck early in the morning, when a miscued hook off Ishant just eluded Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s leap on the leg side. Ishant wasn’t as accurate or threatening in the morning as he was on Saturday, and with Pathan also unable to break through, Kumble turned to Harbhajan.

Heroics with the bat aside, Ponting’s tormentor has had a poor game, and the batsmen easily picked up singles and twos with pushes and drives into the gaps. It took Clarke all of 126 balls to bring up his half-century, and he celebrated by clipping Ishant through midwicket.

After all the criticism of the past few weeks and sly jibes about being Harbhajan’s bunny, it was perhaps fitting that Ponting should get to a 34th century off his bowling. After taking 114 balls for the first 50, the second had spanned just 69 deliveries.

Kumble brought himself on soon after, but India’s fortunes didn’t change on a baking hot morning. While Clarke slog-swept both spinners for four, Ponting did damage with the pull, effortlessly piercing the field when Kumble dragged it short.

After the euphoria of the first two days, it was India’s turn to feel the pain and appear lost for answers. A soft ball didn’t help, but neither did two premier Australian batsmen determined not to cede an inch. The third couldn’t make the same impact, but it was his 21-minute stint that many folk might talk about years from now when the I-was-there stories are dusted off.

Source:Cricket News

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