Throwback Thursday | Michael Clarke’s unlikely arm lands Australia’s historic 16th straight Test win

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What if you could rewind in time, would you deny the chance or go through it all over again to live a moment in history. Welcome to our series ‘Throwback Thursday’ where we this week look back at the 2008 Sydney Test which in equal measures was iconic, ugly-fought, and highly controversial.

It is January 6, 2008, we are in one of the largest cities in Australia - Sydney - for the second Test of the four-match iconic ‘Border-Gavaskar Trophy’ and India are on the verge of salvaging a draw in one of the most controversial Tests of all-time, with Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble at the crease. With just three overs left in the day, Ricky Ponting has decided to hand the ball to Michael Clarke, who stands between India and a historic 16th straight win for Australia but India still have three wickets in hand and possibly the greatest chance to deny history. 

But for you to understand why this is one of the historic moments in cricketing history - you will have to understand how we reached here and how it will go down as one of the most controversial Tests in the game’s history. India’s rivalry with Australia has been in modern-day perennially one-sided, with the Men in Blue capturing the home series with aplomb while suffering a massacre away from home. 

This series started off no different as India’s fab-four came away with no impact in the Boxing Day Test that lasted just four days. Going into the second Test, the pressure was on the Indian team to break the shackles, the Australian winning streak, and breathe a new life into their tour Down Under. However, the first win was for the hosts as Ricky Ponting came away with the toss and put the Indian players toil in the heat on a bright day in Sydney. 

However, as it turned out, a determined RP Singh literally opened the floodgates sending back the openers for just 27 runs on board. But in between RP Singh’s wicket and the finishing touches by Anil Kumble - the Australian middle order of Ponting, Mike Hussey, and Andrew Symonds - blew open the Indian bowling unit. From 6 for 134, with help from the trusted bats of Brad Hogg, Brett Lee, and Michael Johnson - the hosts were grinning from day to night with 463 runs on board against India. 

India went into the second day knowing that they have to play catch-up in order to salvage something from the Test at the iconic venue but more importantly, umpiring was in prime focus - Steve Bucknor’s dubious reprieve to save Symonds early on in the innings resulted in him massively put the Indian team in a real uphill to climb. India got off the worst of starts but two familiar figures - Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman - ones that gave Australia several headaches in the past were still at the crease, taking control of the situation. 

Even after Dravid’s loss, at the hands of Johnson - Laxman and Tendulkar took the game into their hands and put on a world-class show against one of the best bowling attacks at home - scoring 109 and 154. While Laxman fell to the tamest of deliveries - the Indian maestro with his unbeaten knock of 154 ensured that India got a 69-run lead to put Australia under immediate pressure. Harbhajan Singh’s knock also pulsated his spirits going into the fourth day of the Sydney Test. What caught the highlight during his knock was the ‘Monkeygate Scandal’ where Andrew Symonds had heard the word ‘monkey’ from the Indian off-spinner, which reached Bucknor’s attention and then instigated an ugly passage for the rest of the Test match whilst the reality stood as the off-spinner uttering ‘Teri maa ki.’ 

The game was still in India’s hands and more importantly, they had a unique opportunity of pushing the hosts on the backfoot and even pressuring them against the wall to come away with a historical win. 

On the flattest of tracks that insinuated the Indian bowlers on Day four - Australia thanked the gods, all in unison and in equal measures - thanked their faith for the toss landing their way. Phil Jacques and Hayden who walked out nervously on Day 1 were flexing their arms and their approach was immediate - attack India’s inexperienced bowling lineup and test their bowling depth to its depth. Despite Kumble’s 100th Test wicket, sending back Jacques - the hosts were already in the driver’s seat of the Sydney Ferrari which was driving at a speed tough for the Indians to control, leave alone master. 

Two southpaws - Mathew Hayden and Mike Hussey - made the Indians looked like they were club-cricketers, with absolutely tonking every bit of the leather and trashing the spinners to the fullest while wickets around them fell very cheaply, rather as cheap as the chips in the country. But the hero from the first innings, Symonds and an unbeaten Hussey’s late acceleration propelled the Kangaroos to 401, leaving India a humongous target of 333 on a turning day 5 track in Sydney. The all-rounder absolutely tore into the off-spinner’s bowling with words exchanged here and there between the two cricketers. 

India’s back was against the wall - this time a rather huge one and the only escape was to salvage a draw and stop Australia on their ‘dream’ run. But more was at stake with all the lost pride following the ‘Monkeygate’ incident which ruined the iconic Test for both sides. With the in-form trio of Laxman, Dravid and Tendulkar - India breathed easy, for they knew one day of playing simple cricket was going to be enough but with the Kangaroos taking the field and a dodgy umpiring that set the precedent to the game - the Men in Blue had a task in their hand. 401 was never going to be chaseable. 

In just the fifth delivery of the run-chase, Lee’s bumper was enough to end Jaffer’s dreams and then a perfect trap from Stuart Clark snapped Laxman’s resistance, throwing open the contest. But with three stalwarts still at the crease - Dravid, Tendulkar and Ganguly - the hosts knew that there was a lot of work to be done and India had their noses still tight to save the game. In the span of the next hour, Clark was once again amongst the wickets, this time sending back Tendulkar, who failed to capitalise on his strong start. Seven wickets for Australia, patience for India - who would triumph?

Dravid and Ganguly visibly frustrated the Australians but it was ultimately Bucknor who frustrated the visitors with a dubious decision to break Dravid’s factory-like innings in flame as Symonds breathed a new life in this contest. As he walked back to the dressing room, a visibly dejected and angry Indian dressing room was flashed on the television screen. That followed with Ganguly’s dismissal, which was another controversial point in the game - owing to the way the Australians reacted after the catch - broke India’s back as they folded in a split second, as the hosts were visibly jubilant with an eye on the record.

That’s exactly where the game took a turn - perceivably as India’s Test captain Anil Kumble and the next skipper MS Dhoni etched together a partnership that looked threatening, not to take India to a win but to put Australia’s winning streak on a hold. Once Symonds sent Dhoni packing, the equation was simple - put the middle of the bat on the ball and remove the foot from in front of the stumps. 

With just four overs left in the day, Ponting in frustration threw the ball to remove the tail-enders, who put on a defensive master-class. Three wickets separated both the sides and the left-arm spinner was introduced for his first spell of the game with him having not picked any wicket Down Under. Can Kumble and Harbhajan take responsibility to hold still or can Clarke come away with the goods in Sydney with two overs to spare?

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