Don’t worry about analysing videos of India’s anxious tail without a wag, no need to dissect film of the Australians playing Murali Karthik in the India one-dayers, forget sitting in front of a computer and inspecting Sachin Tendulkar’s footwork. The piece of film the Indians need to see first, before their final journey to Sydney, is of Steve Waugh’s press conference on Tuesday.
No need to view it all either, one brief segment will suffice.
His magnificent career one Test from its finishing line, at his home ground, with the series beautifully balanced, the Australian captain was asked, well, did he like that. The delight in his voice would have made the sternest Indian shift uncomfortably in his chair. ‘‘That’s good’’, Waugh said. ‘‘You want pressure, you want the occasion. The best team and best players lift to the big occasions, the more at stake the better we play.’’
Tuesday was the end of the most peculiar of fortnights, a time when Indians have strolled the quiet streets of Australia with a giddy head and crooked grin, attempting to reconcile themselves to the absurdly pleasant feeling that they are leading the world’s finest cricket nation 1-0.
That wonderful, dizzy time has now passed, for Australia, with only a single hiccup (Justin Langer’s wicket), cantered to victory yesterday morning. The series is levelled, the Australians are irresistible favourites now but who would dare think, even in a narcotic-fuelled dream, that India would go to Sydney with the series undecided? Fasten your seatbelts was not a phrase we had in mind at tour’s start.
Whatever the end result, Saurav Ganguly’s India will return home with upright shoulders and steady gazes. Respect in this hard land has been earned the hard way. They have rubbed shoulders with leathery fellows with flinty stares, who probably chew their beer cans after drinking them dry, but India have neither blinked nor buckled. This Test, too, was scarcely a surrender, but a match lost to the team who were superior over two crucial sessions.
Two statistics, soulless as they may be, aptly suggest the distance this team has come. On the last tour here, in 1999-2000, India never crossed 300 in three Tests. This time we have been dismissed for less than 300 just once.
Last year, England surrendered the Ashes in 11 days of cricket, yet this summer India has taken each Test to the fifth day and a series winner has yet to be found.
As Steve Waugh said yesterday, when asked of India’s toughness: ‘‘Batting-wise definitely. They’re pretty hard to get out, they’re really making us work very hard, (and) not many teams have done that against us. Every game has gone into the fifth day. In the field they are pretty strong as well, although they dropped a few times here under pressure.
‘‘They play as an overall unit, John Wright has instilled that and Saurav Ganguly has done a good job. They’re talented and people expect them to do well as talented sides should do.’’
But Ganguly and his team will not be impressed by this, which is exactly what makes them invigorating. Little solace will be found in a 2-1 series defeat, in merely ensuring the cruel memory of last time’s 3-0 is erased. They have tasted victory in Adelaide and they like its flavour and, as Ganguly said yesterday, ‘‘Sydney is a new day, a new match’’.
The unshaven captain, or so he was on Tuesday, is the very definition of defiance and, though it sometimes jars, mostly it refreshes the senses. Yesterday he produced the finest verbal cover drive of the series. When a reporter asked him about his own abysmal fielding, he replied, ‘‘That’s a fair statement, but we’ve caught better (than Australia this series).’’ It is a spirit that has served this team well.
Failure in Melbourne will have displeased him, for even Waugh suggested India had let opportunity go past. Both captains know India’s abbreviated first innings was fatal, though Ganguly was quick to add the tail required more courage against Australia’s fast bowlers. Zaheer Khan’s injury also meant a threadbare attack was further amputated, and Murali Karthik had better start quickly scrutinising whatever material India has on Australia’s batsmen.
Australia has refound its smile, none more than Waugh, a fascinating multi-faceted man built of both compassion and ruthlessness, one day his face washed by laughter as he holds children at the home he has built in Calcutta, next day on the field turning to stone.
He is not a man easily moved when dressed in cricketing white but on Tuesday, as nearly 30,000 people arrived, not just to celebrate a quick victory but him, his pleasure could not be hidden.
Satisfaction is mixed with nervousness, but iced with intent. As Waugh said, with some conviction, of Sydney: ‘‘I don’t want to go out as a losing captain.’’ India has been sufficiently warned.