Only history and Tendulkar can derail mighty Aussies

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The Independent Online

Australia took a decisive grip on the First Test and the series against India yesterday. Sometime early today they will achieve an overwhelming victory. It is difficult to see how India can come back from this staggering defeat, and they have only four days to replot their strategy for the Second Test.

One thing will niggle at the tourists, one thing will give India scope to believe. All of the above was the case nearly four years ago. Australia sprang from the traps, left their opponents reeling and were then astonishingly overtaken. From being 1-0 up (all but one and a half to nil if you count the fact that they made India follow on in the Second Test) they eventually lost the series 2-1.

But this time it is different. This time, Australia have not sprung from the traps with gleeful anticipation, they have emerged with the ferocity and intent of a caged tiger forced to spend almost four years licking his wounds.

From the toss onwards, they have dominated. Australia's batsmen, with barely an exception, all looked as if they knew how they wanted to play on these pitches. Michael Clarke made as accomplished a century as it is possible to imagine from a player in his first Test.

But their bowlers have helped them to stand apart, two of them in particular, the two men who have themselves stood apart, who have been so largely responsible for a decade of Australian pre-eminence: Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne.

Warne did what Warne does yesterday, taking a wicket with his first ball of the innings. It was maybe a tad fortunate as leg-before verdicts go because V V S Laxman had planted his front foot well forward. But it was a devilishly clever ball, the one that comes out of the front of the hand and goes straight on. Call it a zooter, call it a flipper, call it unplayable first ball up.

Warne needs two wickets today to become the world's leading Test-wicket taker, overtaking Muttiah Muralitharan. He will get them.

If his leg-before appeal was one of those that might not have been upheld on another day, that granted to McGrath in the first over of India's second innings should not have been given on any day. It is often said, sardonically, when batsmen get a little edge on to their pads that they knocked the cover off the ball. Virender Sehwag made extravagant contact and since Australia were soon asking for the ball to be replaced he might indeed have removed most of the seam. The poor decision meant India made the worst possible start.

Next year the ICC's cricket committee will be examining an appeals system, limited to three in an innings by each side against an umpire's original decision. This sort of judgement, by Billy Bowden, would not have required a set of Law Lords to overturn it.

But it was inescapable that McGrath was bowling beautifully. His first five overs went for one run. When he came back he got rid of Yuvraj Singh, by inviting him with relentless accuracy to have a dart outside the off stump. McGrath had worked out that it was an offer Yuvraj was incapable of refusing. And to think a fortnight ago, McGrath was finished.

India had played indifferently enough for four days to make saving the match an extreme improbability. Still, Sehwag's departure (0 for 1) took improbability to the next stage. Not long after, Sourav Ganguly was calling for a single having hit the ball to mid-on, charged on and was run out by the length of the pitch. Ganguly makes the great bad callers of the past look like surgical run-assessors.

There are ways for India to get back but all of them now would seem to revolve round the return of Sachin Tendulkar. His tennis elbow might, just, have eased sufficiently to allow him to wield a bat properly later this week. It is not simply the runs he brings to the team, it is his effect on the opposition, his very presence. When they get Tendulkar out, opponents feel better about themselves, and although Rahul Dravid has been India's best batsman for two years, it is still Tendulkar who gives others the chance to thrive.

Since it is improbable, not to mention impossible, to avoid mentioning the next Ashes series, which is now after all only nine months away, this match is a warning. Certainly, the Ashes cannot come soon enough, and England do not want to beat a discredited side, but it may be time to stop saying: "Bring on the Aussies".