Shamik Das

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Rampant India thrash Australia

Siddle skittled: India's players celebrate one of their greatest Test triumphs

INDIA'S annihilation of Australia in the second Test today has been one of the highlights of the year, a welcome respite from the financial gloom, ever-darker mornings and bracing autumnal chill.

From centurion Gautam Gambhir to seven-wicket Amit Mishra, the entire XI delivered, inflicting on the Australians their heaviest defeat for ten years, a crushing 320-run reverse.

On Friday, the greatest Indian batsman of them all, Sachin Tendulkar, broke Brian Lara’s world record for the most Test runs en route to 88, sparking wild scenes of jubilation and setting India on course for victory.

Other notable performances came from Saurav Ganguly – who scored 102 in one of his last ever innings – Mahendra Singh Dhoni (92), Virender Sehwag (90) and second innings bowlers, with only Shane Watson (78) shining for the visitors.

And it's not just India who've been bringing the Antipodeans to heel, with Bangladesh falling agonisingly short of a maiden Test win against a major cricketing nation, losing to New Zealand by three wickets this morning.

The star performers for the Tigers were Mehrab Hossain Jnr (83), Mushfiqur Rahim (79) and Shakib al Hasan (71 & 7-36), while Aaron Redmond (79) and man-of-the-match Daniel Vettori (76, 5-59 and 4-74) shone for the Kiwis.

One of the features of the two games, however, were the empty stands in Mohali and Chittagong respectively, a worrying trend witnessed at many a five-day match on the sub-continent.

Golden delight: Zaheer Khan wheels away in celebration after dismissing Brett Lee to leave the world champs reeling on 144 for 8    Nearly there: Amit Mishra catches Mitchell Johnson off his own bowling to take India to the brink of glory

It would be remiss to place all the blame at the foot of twenty20, for attendances at Test matches worldwide – with the honourable exceptions of Australia and England – have been falling for some time; the emergence of T20 has merely hastened that decline.

This dwindling support over recent years has led to calls for the Asian superpowers to play Test matches in England, against other teams as well as each other.

Last week the England and Wales Cricket Board, who would need to be consulted before any non-England Tests could be played in England, gave the strongest hint yet that neutral matches were on the way.

"It's something we are considering, how we can play these types of games and where we can play them," said Giles Clarke, chairman of the ECB. "And it may be in the interests of cricket; that's the most important thing for me."

Concerns about security leave Pakistan as the favourites to stage Tests in England, following the political instability in the country which led to the cancellation of the ICC Champions Trophy last month.

"It might be said that Pakistan might get a better crowd in Leeds than in Karachi," added Clarke.

"I like the idea of providing the opportunity with our fabulous grounds and our huge ethnic minority populations who are keen to see their own heroes."

Also on board are the doyens of the game, the Marylebone Cricket Club, a byword for old-school attitudes to the sport, who are surprisingly in favour of the plan.

The ECB's Giles Clarke is in favour of neutral Tests    Keith Bradshaw, chief executive and secretary of MCC, believes Lord's would benefit from hosting non-England matches

The gatekeepers of Lord's appear to be keen to profit from any additional Test matches that may be played at the home of cricket and take advantage of the huge numbers of Asians living in Britain.

"It is our heartbeat to have major matches, so as well as our England Tests and one-day internationals we have to look at the potential to stage other sorts of cricket here such as neutral Test matches," explained Keith Bradshaw, MCC secretary and chief executive.

"We would be very open to staging neutral Tests and, in terms of embracing what's been mooted in terms of the Indian Premier League, Champions League or the English Premier League, why not?

"We have a very open mind."

So it's a done deal then? Hardly. Don’t get too excited about the prospect of seeing India taking on Pakistan on a sun-kissed midsummer's afternoon at Lord's anytime soon.

The proposals are still in an embryonic stage, and although England and in particular London have staged neutral internationals in many sports before – namely football and rugby – the history of neutral Tests remains patchy at best.

Though many neutral ODIs have been staged in England before, the most memorable being Bangladesh's five-wicket defeat of Australia at Sophia Gardens in 2005, there hasn’t been a non-England Test here for fully 96 years.

Just once before have Tests been played in this country not involving the host nation, in 1912 – when Australia and South Africa joined England for a three-month triangular tournament, won by England but in front of poor crowds and played in terrible weather.

And with the IPL now clashing with the first half of the English summer, the window for staging matches has narrowed considerably, though were television to drive the project forward, it could well happen as soon as July 2010.

Just imagine, Sachin smashing Murali over the Pavilion to bring up his fiftieth Test century...

India v Australia, second Test: Mohali scorecard
Bangladesh v New Zealand, first Test: Chittagong scorecard


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