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January 14, 2000


India Down Under

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Points for Ponting

Daniel Laidlaw

One of the better things to emerge from the third match of the triangular series is that Ricky Ponting seems likely to be the next Australian captain. At 25 years of age, the right-handed Tasmanian batsman was given another position of authority within the Australian team for the match against India and responded to the responsibility magnificently. Awarded the vice-captaincy for the first time, Ponting welcomed his new status with a splendid century and now appears the natural successor to Steve Waugh, when he eventually decides to hang up his baggy green.

The side injury to Shane Warne presented the Australian selectors with an intriguing decision – who will be appointed interim vice-captain, the man to take charge should injury befall Waugh in the next few matches? They have hinted at Australia’s future leadership with the nomination of Ponting. When Waugh was injured in the one-day series this time last year, current second-in-command Shane Warne took over with Mark Waugh as his deputy. But with the future of the junior Waugh somewhat uncertain due to form he was overlooked in favour of Ponting, who Steve Waugh has claimed is the future of Australia’s batting. He is probably a future leader, too.

With Warne, 30, possibly facing retirement by the time Waugh leaves the game, Ponting is shaping up as the next Australian to captain his country. He has always seemed a potential candidate, but his volatile character and temperament has been seen as his biggest drawback. It has surely been hoped that Ponting would mature with time and as a player, he has certainly shown maturity in abundance with his recent on-field performances.

The new vice-captain put Australia’s one-day campaign back on track with an innings that helped derail India’s. The Australian batting failure in the opening game against Pakistan was in all likelihood and aberration in the transition between the Test and limited-overs format. One failure could be excused in the adjustment period, but not two. It was important from the home side’s perspective to put together a decent innings and they did, thanks to Ponting’s excellent knock.

Meanwhile, India’s disappointing tour has the potential to become an outright disaster. Although one-day fortunes can change rapidly and we are only one quarter of the way through the competition, India is on bottom of the table after two matches and competing with the two World Cup finalists, they look like remaining there. Australia, while scratchy, should only improve whereas India seems to be performing as best it can but lacks that intangible something that winning teams possess. It is easy to foresee Pakistan finishing first and Australia second after the preliminary stage, with Australia then winning the finals when it moves up a gear.

An opening victory against Pakistan could have reversed India’s current slide, but now the trend seems set. Perhaps it is a question of attitude. India played with a noticeably higher level of intensity in the match against Pakistan and as a consequence pushed the Pakistanis to the final ball. It was clear from the body language in the field that there was an urgency and desire to win. In Steve Waugh’s most recent diary, when looking ahead to the World Cup final, he wrote: "Pakistan will not be intimidated easily. They are a pretty aggressive bunch of cricketers, much different from the more passive Indians." It shows. India must realise the aggression and intensity it displayed in the field against Pakistan is required all the time if it is to be a consistent force.

Charged with compiling a big total on an excellent batting pitch with consistent high bounce, the Australians batted reasonably but floundered when they should have been accelerating towards 300. Aside from Ponting, it was a generally patchy innings and the last 10 overs were used inefficiently. Only 67 runs were scored in that time, which used to be acceptable, but now the bar is raised higher and at least 80 is the norm on a good batting surface.

The expansive MCG can make boundaries difficult to find, however, and India had the same problem in its innings when for the most part they remained out of range. By picking only 3 specialist bowlers, the Australian attack becomes quite thin and a large total all the more important. Australia got away with it this time, as India were never quite close enough to really threaten, but in future that policy could come unstuck as 20 overs have to be extracted from part-timers Symonds, Shane Lee and Martyn. Leg-spinner Stuart MacGill has been added to Australia’s squad for its next two games in the absence of Warne, which should bolster the attack by giving it variation.

India shot itself in the foot from the beginning of the run chase, when they opted not to open with Tendulkar and, worse, promoted rookie ‘keeper Samir Dighe to No. 3. As well as allowing Australia to take the initiative with Tendulkar down the order, India compounded its problems with Dighe apparently given the express instruction to see off the new ball, much as Prasad was asked to do in the third Test. The intention must have been to protect Tendulkar and Dravid, which always has an adverse affect because they inevitably come in with India in much more trouble than when they started, instead of allowing Tendulkar to shape the innings from the outset. With Dighe taking 18 balls to score and making 3 from 25, this is probably where India lost the game.

Dravid at least discovered some form with Ganguly, but they were always behind the run rate after Tendulkar was run out. Throwing is one difference between the teams and it accounted for Tendulkar. McGrath, Ponting, Symonds, Brett Lee and Shane Lee all possess outstanding arms, as Tendulkar discovered when he gambled on Shane Lee’s and lost. Lee was three quarters of the way to the boundary and his hard throw reached Gilchrist beside the bails. Importantly, it was not only thrown fast but with a flat trajectory, rather than arcing through the air, which made all the difference.

The Australians hit the stumps with impressive regularity but, ironically, most of the times they hit were with the batsmen in their ground while the ones that missed were genuine run out opportunities. Summing up Australia’s night was Damien Martyn, who took a sharp catch to dismiss Dravid at mid wicket, made a great throw from side-on to run out Martin first ball, and then missed the fielding hat-trick when he fumbled another opportunity for a run out next ball. Two out of three ain’t bad, but it ain’t quite enough to win the series, when every chance needs to be taken.

One throw which did strike the timber came from Symonds, to run out Ganguly and break the crucial partnership. Ganguly neglected to ground his bat when taking a single to mid off after reaching his hundred, a piece of stupidity from the Inzamam-ul-Haq school of deplorable running. This careless but straightforward dismissal sparked an angry reaction from the Indian section of the crowd on the boundary which resulted in play being stopped for approximately 15 minutes.

Apparently unaware that the batsman must ground his bat to be in or oblivious to the fact that Ganguly failed to do so, the spectators vented their anger by raining plastic bottles onto the outfield. The volatile element of the Calcutta crowd seemed to have found its way to Melbourne. With the decision indisputable, the excuse that a close or even a wrong decision mitigated the crowd’s behaviour could not be used. Even though the verdict was clear cut, it was evident that this is why they don’t install replay screens in India.

In the Caribbean during a one-day international in Barbados last year, the crowd rioted when Sherwin Campbell collided with Brendon Julian and was run out. A dangerous precedent was set at the time, as Campbell was recalled to placate the mob. The mob got its way then and cricket was the poorer for that forced decision, and the repercussions of that are now being felt in incidents like this one.

Interestingly, a decision was made earlier in the season to show only one replay of any given delivery on the big screen to protect the image of the umpires and avoid possible crowd trouble. Presumably, the spectators at the MCG were shown only one angle, which may not have clearly depicted Ganguly’s bat in mid-air. Now, if unlimited replays were permitted, it is quite possible that the disenchanted Indian contingent would have seen an enlightening angle and not reacted in the manner it did.

Coupled with immature spectators, the one-replay policy has well and truly backfired! It is extremely ironic that in trying to avoid this very situation, officials may have, in part, helped to create it. It would therefore be ludicrous if the reaction of this fractious few were in some way to bring about an end to replay screens, which are such an asset to the majority of sensible fans at the ground.

Daniel Laidlaw

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