Harbahajan, Zaheer raise hopes after top-order collapse (Lead)

October 11th, 2008 - 7:57 pm ICT by IANS  

Harbhajan SinghBangalore, Oct 11 (IANS) Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan treated a 35,000-strong holiday crowd to pre-Diwali fireworks while rejuvenating India to end day three of the first cricket Test at 313 for eight in reply to Australia’s daunting first-innings total of 430 at the M. Chinnaswamy stadium here Saturday.Thanks to their quick-fire 80-run eighth-wicket partnership, India finished the rain and bad light interrupted day in a position that will at least raise their hopes of saving the four-Test series opener. At stumps, Zaheer was batting (35) and Kumble (0) promising to whittle down the first-innings deficit further.

India were staggering on the ropes at 232 for seven. Desperate to rid the stubborn Indian tail, Ricky Ponting summoned the second new ball at 251 for seven (86 overs). But to the Australian skipper’s chagrin, Harbhajan and Zaheer turned the heat on the visitors, smashing the ball to all parts of the park.

The spectators, who had been in a slumber for most part of the day, rose to their feet as the Harbhajan-Zaheer pyrotechnics began. The ball disappeared to the pickets no sooner than it left their bats, though a 28-minute shower had rendered the outfield heavy.

The Punjab da puttar (Punjab’s son) went hammer and tongs, audaciously pulling Brett Lee to the wide mid-wicket fence when the Aussie pace spearhead dug one short. He showed scant respect for Mitchell Johnson, Stuart Clark and Shane Watson, as well, disdainfully hitting them over the top, as he would treat spinners.

Zaheer once again proved he is no bunny with the bat, joining Harbhajan in savaging new ball. He drove through covers and spanked Clarke and Watson with admirable gusto.

Left-arm quick Johnson wrecked the Indian top order to bag four wickets for 62 on a track which was far from fast-bowler friendly. Striving more for accuracy than pace, he put the ball in the right areas to keep the free-stroking Indian batters on a leash. Today’s performance was his best against India, bettering the four for 86 at Perth earlier this year.

Australia had a game plan for the celebrated Indian batsman, obviously enriched with inputs from former India coach Greg Chappell. There was intelligent field placing for Sachin Tendulkar, V.V.S Laxman and Rahul Dravid, all prolific scorers against them in the past. The target area was their specific weaknesses.

The strategy paid dividends in the premature exits of Tendulkar (13), who chipped a clever slower delivery from Johnson to Cameron White, strategically placed close to the wicket. Laxman, as is his tendency early in his innings, nibbled at a Johnson delivery which left him late.

There were positives for India with Rahul Dravid (51) and Sourav Ganguly (47) showing that they still had the fire in their belly for tough international cricket. Both were in their element before they succumbed to debatable leg-before-wicket verdicts by umpire Asad Rauf.

While the tail-enders showed character when it mattered most, Mahendra Singh Dhoni disappointed fans. He did well to last 65 minutes at the wicket, but offered his wicket on a platter to part-time left-arm spinner Michael Clarke. His back foot stood rooted to the crease, as the harmless delivery sneaked between the yawning gap between bat and pad. With the question being repeatedly raised over his credentials as a Test cricketer, the dapper wicketkeeper batsman would have to pull his socks and deliver before Dinesh Kaarthik replaces him for the third and fourth Tests at Delhi and Nagpur.

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