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December 7, 1999


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Hopeless against hopefuls

Chinmaya Pande

A bunch of 11 hopefuls, playing in the Prime Minister's XI, mauled the Indians today at the picturesque Manuka Oval, thus throwing up a lot of interesting questions.

First, what was India doing playing a one-day, festival match? And that, after two full four-day matches, just three days before an important start to the Test series. Having accepted the itinerary, however, a full fledged attempt should have been made to win the match and go into the Test with a high morale.

What we noticed, however, was a most dispirited performance, the Indians falling apart in the field for most of the game. The bowlers were massacred for 334/5 in 50 overs.

India decided to rest their main bowlers Srinath, Prasad and Kumble, to keep them fresh for the first Test. While that was a good move at the time of deciding the eleven, it embarrassingly showed up India's bench strength, or the lack of it rather.

The PM's XI openers Michael Hussey and David Fitzgerald began busily, taking 10 runs of the first over off Agarkar, setting a trend which would take the full course of the 50 overs.

A pattern of 48/1 in 10, 76/1 in 15, 116/1 in 20, 144/1 in 25, 181/1 in 30, 212/1 in 35, 249/3 in 40 297/4 in 45 and 334/5 in 50, would indicate that the batsmen never let up the onslaught, with Fitzgerald and Symonds cutting loose on the Indian bowlers.

Hussey was the first to go, caught splendidly at square leg by Kanitkar, diving to his right and holding a low catch off Kumaran. Interestingly, this was Kumaran's first delivery of the match, which produced a wicket against the run of play.

Thereafter, it was a Symonds and Fitzgerald show. Together, they slaughtered the hapless Indians, raising a mammoth partnership of 187 in 169 balls, a brilliant effort by any standards. The key to the partnership was the intelligent running between the wickets, converting the 1's to 2's and 2's to 3's, sometimes even the 3's to 4's.

That meant added pressure on the Indian fielding, which, sadly on the day, fell apart. Fumbling badly, there were misfields galore, sprawling dives - which to memory didn't produce a single stop - wild, wide, throws which never looked like hitting the stumps. Overall, a pathetic display of fielding, not befitting an international side.

All the bowlers used - and there were eight in all - went for 6 or more an over. There were 26 boundaries and a 6 in the innings. Which means a total of 110 runs only in boundaries. Which is one-third of a total of 334. An indication of the amount of running for singles and twos which the batsmen were prepared to do. Something the Indians will do well to learn in the future matches. 'Shouldn't they already be doing this?' one might ask.

Fitzgerald and Symonds continued merrily along, both posting their 50's in style and then, seemingly in no time, reaching their 100's. South Australian Fitzgerald, who's enjoying a splendid season, completed his 100 in exactly 100 balls, a superb knock.

Symonds, meanwhile, proved his fetish for the Indian attack wasn't just a one-match affair. Continuing from where he left off during the Queensland vs India match 10 days ago, he plundered runs at will and was out only because he went for slog over mid on off. Kumaran and was caught by Laxman, immediately after reaching his century. The PM's XI at this stage was 2/227 in 36 overs and looking to score 350-plus.

A couple of quick wickets, those of Hodge and Fitzgerald, kept the PM's cabinet in check. Any thoughts which the Indians might have had of restricting the opposition to less that 300 were rubbed in the dust with the arrival of Shane Lee.

Displaying brutal power, he slaughtered the now disprited Indian attack to all parts of the ground, taking special liking to Kumaran. He finished with a quickfire 55 off 42 balls, which included 5 hits to the fence.

For the Indians, Kumaran took 3 wickets, but went for 63 in his 9 overs.

PM's XI finished on 334/5, not the ultimate goal they would have had in mind - the last 5 overs produced 'only' 37 runs. A winning total nonetheless, which meant India would have to come out with all guns blazing.

It was not to happen though. Completely contrary to the ongoing script, the Indian top order fell apart.

A point to ponder here. The Indians came out with Laxman and Ramesh as openers. Which seemed to indicate a defensive mood, considering that the target was 335 in 50. It would have made sense to come out with the best batsmen you have. Tendulkar and Ganguly, that is.

As it were, however, Brett Lee didn't give the Indian team management much time to think on these lines. Bowling fast and furiously, he had the Indians on the hop. This young Aussie is undoubtedly the new bowling star in the Aussie line-up. An interesting thing about his bowling is that, his first and last overs have the same kind of zing about it, he just doesn't seem to lose his pace as the overs go on. After today's performance, his omission from the first Test squad would have raised some eyebrows.

Ramesh went first, playing a lazy forward defensive push - something he seems to be prone to early in his innings - left a gap between bat and pad and was bowled. India 1/4.

Laxman followed, playing a rash off drive to a wide Lee delivery and was caught behind. 2/4.

Sachin came in to huge applause. And looked distinctly uncomfortable against the pace of Lee, who cut him into half with huge incutters on a couple of occasions. In 11 balls though, his misery was brought to and end, Tendulkar going, cutting at a rising Lee delivery outside off - the resultant nick taken by a jubilant Haddin behind the stumps.

India were 8/3 and and then 22/4 when Kanitkar was bowled round his legs by an Ian Harvey slower one. Another failure for Kanitkar, which would mean India were running out of batting options for the crucial No. 6 spot for the Tests.

Dravid, meanwhile, was beginning to settle in. A few crisp drives, a fine leg glance and a couple of neat flicks indicated that he was back in touch. His innings of 21 though, was brought to an abrupt end by Harvey, Dravid edging an outswinging delivery to Fitzgerald at first slip.

At 44/5, it was as good as over. Ganguly and Bhardwaj helped themselves to some good batting practice before the first Test, Ganguly specially looking in supreme touch.

A partnership of 88 between the two ensued, which only gave some respectability to an inevitable Indian defeat.

India folded up for 170, Agarkar playing a neat cameo of 25, at the death. A huge defeat, by 164 runs, would come as a shock, specially after a spirited performance against NSW just two days ago.

True, India went into the match without its main bowlers. But what of the batting? This line-up is pretty much one which would play in the Tests and one-dayers and for them to fold up the way they did, is indeed worrysome.

The Indian team needs to pull its weight around, gear up and do well in the Tests. Sure, they have the talent, all they need is the heart to stick around and fight.

Mail Sports Editor