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January 28, 2000


India Down Under

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Truly Australia’s day

Daniel Laidlaw

The end of January is the best time of year for cricket in Adelaide. Traditionally, the annual Test match is held at this time but with the change of schedule, the one-dayers are hosted instead. With Adelaide Oval hosting only one game involving Australia this season, the Australia Day clash with India was always going to be huge and, unsurprisingly, was a sell out.

I had my seat booked in the Sir Edwin Smith stand but unfortunately left the booking rather too late, and was situated behind two pylons at deep backward square. Fortunately, the pitch was visible between them and it made for adequate but less than ideal viewing, and I could only cast my eyes enviously to the second tier of the Bradman Stand, below the media boxes and directly above the sightscreen, an area reserved for members only in international fixtures. That, obviously, is the place to be.

There is definitely a different feeling between Test match and one-day crowds in Adelaide. Upon entering the ground you could sense the different atmosphere, as if the people there were not necessarily devoted cricket followers, but there for a day out and keen to be entertained. Perhaps it is just the ambience a sell-out crowd generates.

Adelaide Oval is a small ground in terms of capacity, holding a maximum of around 30,000, and when full it is a wonderful sight. The Test match should be the highlight of the South Australian cricket calendar but, for the punters, I sense that this is the day they enjoy most. Intellectually, I am opposed to one-day cricket and see it as the contrived, money-earning form of entertainment it is. But aesthetically, it has undoubted attraction as a spectator sport and makes a neat, if flawed, package. It may not be the future of cricket, but the increasing popularity of the one-day game is a concern, even in Australia where Tests are very well supported.

On a brighter note, I was pleasantly surprised to discover, as I’m sure many people were, that the game coincided with Indian Republic Day, as well as being Australia Day. So before the start, we were treated to the Indian national anthem, a musical affair which I’d never experienced before, as well as that of the home country’s, greeted with much patriotic applause. What was to come gave the patrons plenty more to applaud.

Australia had not had an opening partnership of any note during the series to date, nor did they ever make a start with the Slater/Blewett combination in the Test series preceding it. It was, therefore, surprising when the formidable Gilchrist/Waugh partnership clicked, and in a big way. On a flat track against a mediocre attack, they rarely looked like being separated. Adam Gilchrist made all the running in surroundings ideally suited to his style while Mark Waugh, popular here since his debut Test century in 1991, batted himself back into form in an Australian innings that became a chase for records.

Australia is truly going through a golden period in its cricket, which probably won’t be appreciated until 2025, when they have lost the Ashes on home soil for the third successive time and people are talking about the death of Aussie cricket. The Australian one-day team, which allows the lesser lights to shine, has improved since the World Cup and looks as close as it can get to unbeatable. The main reason for that is the success of all-rounders Shane Lee and Andrew Symonds, in the absence of veteran Tom Moody, plus the addition of Brett Lee. The fielding, too, has reached unparalleled heights and the display on Wednesday was flawless.

With the depth in batting the Australian team now possesses, a commanding opening partnership virtually ensures a match-winning total. That is what happened in Adelaide, and the telling period was when the Australian batsmen were still able to hit boundaries after the fifteenth over, when batsmen usually revert to milking singles and gradually build up to a crescendo in the last ten overs. Australia’s intentions were clear, though, as they never let up. The Indian bowlers, for their part, seemed to do their best on a wicket with nothing in it for them but it simply wasn’t good enough. Venkatesh Prasad, who should have been brought on as soon as it was clear Gilchrist was hitting Mohanty to all parts of the oval, bowled economically but from my vantage point there did not appear to be much pressure applied from either the bowling or the fielding.

All good things come to an end and Gilchrist, back to his best, proved this by impatiently holing out to Kumble at deep mid wicket eight short of a century. Mark Waugh, while going on to the milestone and receiving a tremendous standing ovation, was not at his peerless peak, but with more scores like that he doesn’t have to be. Hopefully he realises he needs to keep scoring runs to quell all the doubt and won’t relapse into a string of single-figure scores. I think most people didn’t realise Waugh was stumped, actually, and were stunned to see him walking but quickly understood what had happened. In a spine-tingling moment, the sun came out for the first time as Waugh walked from the ground to the thunderous applause of all. If that happens to be the last time he graces the Adelaide Oval, then it is a great way to remember him.

With a massive score in the offing, the charge began early. The duck-prone but adaptable Ricky Ponting came out swinging, showing that he can blast from the outset. When he fell for a dashing 43, Steve Waugh sent out the hitting brigade in Andrew Symonds, Shane Lee and Ian Harvey, playing his first ODI after a two-year hiatus. The interest by that stage was what records could be broken, as Australia made its highest ever score in this country but fell three short of its highest anywhere.

At the interval, I boldly predicted that Tendulkar would make the first double-century in limited overs internationals and that India would win by 5 wickets in the 49th over. It didn’t quite eventuate. Tendulkar felt the pressure, particularly after Ganguly was out early, of knowing anything less than a brilliant innings from him wasn’t going to be enough for India. He didn’t recklessly go after every ball but he knew he had to get on with it, and so was caught in no-man’s-land or, as it happened, third man. Ian Harvey strangely opened the bowling with Glenn McGrath but when Brett Lee replaced McGrath, his pace resulted in a Tendulkar top-edge to third man, where Stuart MacGill took an excellent catch.

Some of the Test match spectators are sad to see Tendulkar out but the one-day crowds have no sympathy, as his dismissal drew wild cheering and a standing ovation for MacGill’s catch. At this point, some of the Indian spectators decided it was time to leave, to the jeers and sardonic waves of some Aussie fans. They hardly have a right to be derisive, though, because supporters of the local football team, the Adelaide Crows, are known for leaving early when the team looks like losing.

Brett Lee beat Kanitkar for pace next ball to trap him leg-before, and put a bowler on a hat-trick for the nth time this season. Lee’s first over was a double-wicket maiden and he received a tremendous reception in front of the Sir Edwin Smith stand. With India 3/39, the contest was virtually over and held little interest thereafter.

When Shane Lee grabbed the wickets of Dravid, who seems to have run into some form at the wrong end of the tour, and Singh, who couldn’t see the "white" ball which becomes extremely discoloured here, it looked like the game might finish early. But no such luck. At times like this the crowd amuses itself, with the enduringly popular "Mexican" wave, complete with plastic beer cups tossed skywards, throwing around a beach ball and other such distractions the Aussie crowds use when the game is dull, and often when it isn’t. One gentleman was even crowd surfing on the hill, under the famous scoreboard – in an inflatable swimming pool. He could only stay up for a few seconds at a time, though, which caused a fair bit of mirth.

The game, really, proved to be a gross mis-match. In the middle overs, with India 6 wickets down and no chance of winning, and the part-time bowlers in operation, it was desperately in need of a mercy killing. If it were American football, they would have brought on the second-stringers to play out the remaining time. Everything the Australians did remained sharp, however, which is due to Steve Waugh’s ethos of treating every single game as if it is important. This can be taken too far, though, because Ian Harvey slid dangerously into the fence to save one particular ball which could just as easily have been left for four. It is all very well to be professional and maintain your intensity, and Harvey wanted to impress in his first game back in national colours, but the judicious thing to do in that situation is surely to guard against injury.

Thankfully, Brett Lee came back to deliver the euthanasia and collect his first five-wicket haul in ODIs after a modest start to his pyjama cricket career, to send the majority of the 29,506 people home happy. This was, truly, Australia’s day.

Daniel Laidlaw

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