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January 26, 2000


India Down Under

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Aus thump India to make it six in a row

Prem Panicker

What exactly was Australia's final score?

The board showed one thing -- a whopping 329/5, Australia's second highest ODI score of all time -- but as early as ball three of the first over, those watching got a pretty fair idea that the runs on the board told only half the story. McGrath bowled, Tendulkar went across to off to convert the line and flick fine to leg. Andrew Symonds raced along the line, then dived headlong -- not caring a whit, seemingly, that he ran a very real risk of crashing head-first into the fencing there -- and converted a certain four into just two.

Contrast that with the Indian fielding, which created fours out of singles, and the real magnitude of the problem became evident. Another classical on drive from Tendulkar, again in the same over, yielded zip as Steve Waugh at short midwicket flung himself across to stop what seemed a boundary, and it was pretty evident that India would to pull off an improbable win need to score at least 50 runs more than the board actually said they had to.

That kind of thing brings pressure even on the flattest of batting tracks -- and Ganguly was the first to succumb, as he flashed at a McGrath delivery outside off. Adam Gilchrist flung himself across in a shallow dive, completely unsighting first slip. Shane Lee, fielding at first slip, kept his nerve, kept his eye on the ball (mental radar, probably, considering that for a period of time, he could not have seen the ball?) and grabbed an opportunistic catch.

At the end of 10 overs, India had managed to get to 39/1. In that time, both Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid had played shots and found them cut off by some superb Australian fielding, and in the process had seen the ask rate going up to 7.28. And Glenn McGrath, backed by some out of this world fielding, had produced a 5-1-13-1 opening spell, which wouldn't have been out of place if he were bowling with just 200 on the board.

And that told. In the twilight, before the main lights were turned on high, Brett Lee came charging in to produce an over that finished off India's hopes. A ball short outside off had Tendulkar going for the slashing drive, looking to clear the infield. The thick edge saw the ball whistling away, and out of nowhere, Stuart McGill (if you were asked to name the top six fielders in the Australian side, you wouldn't name him, would you? And that goes to show -- in this team, e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e produces) raced around the bend from a squarish third man position, flung out his hand and pulled in an absolute flier.

One ball later, Hrishikesh Kanitkar was walking back -- beaten for pace, and trapped bang in front of the stumps with his bat a lifetime late in coming down on a ball of full length. At the end of the over, India were 39/3 and India was effectively out of the match. More to the point, India at this point probably saw its slimmest chance of getting into the final go down the drain -- the indications were that the margin of defeat would be so huge, that even if India won both its next games, the run rate equation would be heavily against the side.

From then on, there was a partnership -- of sorts. Rahul Dravid settled in after a quiet and rather nervy start, and looked to bat himself back into touch. At the other end, Jacob Martin looked to survive, period. It was all grim stuff, made grimmer by the fact that Martin was just not able to work the ball off the square.

The results showed in the progression -- at the 20 over mark, India were 67/3. At that point, Dravid was batting 36/61, Martin batting 3/24. At the 25 over mark, India had gone for 101/3, Dravid had gone to 59/63 and Martin had inched along to 13/37. The real statistic to keep an eye on, though, was this: India's ask, 6.6 at the start, had climbed to 7.94 in 15, 8.7 in 20, 9.16 at the half way mark.

The 28th over saw Shane Lee, expensive by his own and Australia's standards, bowling one down leg side for Dravid to flick an inner edge, Gilchrist diving to snaffle the catch. Dravid had made 63 off 82 balls -- a return to form of sorts, but one suspects it has come too late in the series to do the side any good. The partnership with Martin yielded 68, off 15.4 overs, at 4.34 -- a statistic that, given the dimensions of the ask, was neither here nor in the other place.

And then it all went rapidly to pot. Robin Singh played all around a decent line and length ball from Shane Lee, looking to fiddle it down for a single to third man, and lost off stump. Martin's tortured tenure finally ended when Andrew Symonds straightened one to trap him in front, Martin having struggled his way to 17 off 50. At that point, after 30 overs, India had managed 112/6, going at 3.73 and more to the point, needing 10.9 from there on.

Which situation seems to make the task of reporting the rest of this innings pretty redundant.

Earlier, Steve Waugh won the toss and on a nice batting strip, opted for first strike. India needed to produce a good, tight bowling performance early on -- what they got was a shocker. Adam Gilchrist looked a bit nervy, and his wicket seemed on the cards when Mohanty, in good control the previous day, completely lost the plot. He bowled short, he bowled wide, he varied by bowling too full and the wicket-keeper batsman, needing a good score after a few low-scoring outings, cut, pulled and drove merrily to rocket Australia off to a flier. 52 came in the first ten, of which Mohanty had contributed 34 in 5.

That pretty much set the pattern. Mark Waugh, who began with a gorgeous cover drive off the first ball he faced, settled down to do what an out of form batsman should on a track like this -- he guided the ball around, never looking to force his shots, concentrating instead on staying there and adding runs to his name, getting the scoreboard ticking over and rotating the strike. It was the 27th over before he got his next four -- but he had by then crossed his 50, and was motoring along nicely, having seemingly shaken away his personal gremlins and looking well on the way to full recovery. It was hard-edged, professional cricket from the man known to be a cavalier, and it had a lesson in it for the Indians watching from close range.

Gilchrist meanwhile got the bit well between his teeth, and began going for the maximum. The rate of progression tells the story, really (and do keep an eye on the upwardly mobile scoring rate, given in brackets): 21/0 in 5; 52/0 in 10 (5.2); 80/0 in 15 (5.3); 108/0 in 20 (5.4); 134/0 in 25 (5.36 -- a minor slump occasioned by a steady spell from Venkatesh Prasad); 163/1 in 30 (5.4); 197/1 in 35 (5.6); 231/1 in 40 (5.78); 281/3 in 45 (6.24, with 50 coming off those five overs).

Ricky Ponting, who came in after Gilchrist holed out on the one big hit too many and, in the process, missed a century he fully deserved, read the situation right and opted for the stand-and-deliver style of strokeplay. Such niceties as foot positioning and bat-and-pad-close together were eschewed in favour of concentrating on giving every ball -- irrespective of whether spin or pace was on offer -- as healthy a thump as he possibly could. There was in his strokeplay the feeling of confidence that comes when you are fronting a side that bats deep, and wherein pretty much every member could be relied on to contribute as the situation warranted -- when you have that luxury, you don't get in two minds, you are not wondering whether to attack or defend. Yours not to reason why, yours merely to keep hitting the boundaries till your own headlong momentum gets you out.

Off the first ball of the 41st over, Mark Waugh meanwhile got to the century he badly needed. It was an innings that was a few notches short of his best, but there was enough in there to indicate that he was on the road to recovery.

His dismissal, coinciding with the slog overs -- though as far as this innings goes, some would say the slog began in the second over, not the 41st -- brought in first Andrew Symonds, then Shane Lee, to continue the acceleration. Both batsmen are known for lusty hitting, the situation called for them to bat in carefree fashion, and the result was two blinding cameos that contributed substantially to an Australian charge that saw 98 off the last ten overs.

For India, the bowling was best left unmentioned. Kumble, so very effective the previous day, went for 22 in his first three and never looked back. Srinath and Prasad did their best to stem the general rot, but though India used as many as eight bowlers, there was never a period in the innings when the ball looked like holding its own against the bat.

But I'm not sure you can blame the bowlers alone for the performance -- on four different occasions, shots that would even against decent (we are not talking here of the high-quality fielding sides like Australia and South Africa, merely competent ones) fielding sides would have fetched one, that rolled merrily on to the boundaries. And being sensible folks, we didn't bother to count the singles that were given away because fielders couldn't be bothered to attack the ball, or the number of twos that were taken because the fielders apparently rated the Australians on par with themselves, and didn't reckon they would actually run at anything above a gentle jogging pace.

Check Australia's performance over the last few games -- time and again, when the bowling has looked ordinary, the fielders have put them back into the game with some spectacular work. When India takes the field of late, even competent bowling is being made to look shoddy by the general sloppiness in the field -- and such teams don't win.

Tailpiece: If all this weren't enough, the administration appears to have hit a point in its existence when it couldn't care less about the fortunes of a side it sends out under its name.

We learn that very early on in this series, skipper Tendulkar and coach Kapil Dev telephoned chairman of selectors Chandu Borde and informed him that the middle order being completely clueless, they could do with the experience of Ajay Jadeja.

Borde for his part called up his fellow selectors on the phone, for discussions.

But even before a consensus could be achieved -- and we learn that the five selectors were unanimously in favour of sending Jadeja over to bolster the middle order -- Borde was in his turn taking a call, this time from a senior BCCI functionary. The message was simple: under no circumstances were the selectors to pick Jadeja for the tour.

Why? 'Fitness reasons', was the only answer the board official would give. He did however make it clear that it was an order that could not be ignored.

What was ignored was the fact that the 'unfit' Jadeja had already played a Wills Trophy match and batted and fielded with distinction and more to the point, showed no sign of any injury.

Does it make you wonder just what is happening behind the scenes, in Indian cricket?


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