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January 30, 2000


India Down Under

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It's all over for India

Prem Panicker

The WACA -- true to form, good-paced, bouncy with a lightning-fast outfield -- was packed to capacity for the final league match in the CUB Series. More to do with the fact that this is the only chance for the locals to see Australia live in an ODI this year, than any intrinsic interest in a match in which one contestant is way ahead of the field and the other, way behind.

Both teams came in with major changes. Sourav Ganguly (with a knee complaint), Anil Kumble (thigh) and Jacob Martin (knee) were rested; Nikhil Chopra has a back ailment and could not be considered. Which meant that India were effectively reduced to just 12 men -- which must have rendered the job of picking a side easy for the tour management. Then again, very curious this sudden epidemic of ailments that appear to have afflicted the side once there was nothing further to play for. There was, of course, pride -- but that is not a commodity this particular team has dealt in of late.

For Australia, Andrew Symonds and Ian Harvey got to rest, Shane Warne got back into the 11, and Stuart McGill yet again found himself relegated to Pura Milk Cup action -- hard lines, one would think, on McGill who finds himself sitting out yet again because his rival for the leg-spinning slot has a bigger reputation.

India won the toss, elected to bat, and managed exactly six runs in the first five overs as Glenn McGrath produced a spell of 3-2-1-0. This was to become 7-3-9-0 before McGrath ended his first spell -- figures that reflect not only the bowler's accuracy, but an approach from the Indian openers Tendulkar and Laxman, of letting every single delivery go through that they possibly could, that would have been more suited to the Test series earlier.

There was an exaggerated air of caution to the way the two openers played, and that kind of thing inevitably produces wickets. India put its first run on the board after 17 deliveries, and Tendulkar left shortly thereafter when Fleming produced a beauty, fullish in length, pitching middle and off and straightening to hit off stump as the batsman played inside the line. Tendulkar gone for an uncharacteristic 3 off 21 balls, and VVS Laxman following him back to the hut soon after when he edged the first ball of Brett Lee's first over behind. Laxman, in the Test series, had produced a beauty of an innings when there was nothing left to play for -- in an identical situation here in the ODI arena, however, his batting was a more accurate barometer of his form on tour. In the ODIs, after being retained following his 167 in the final Test, Laxman has made 9, 2, 2, 7, 1, 3 -- if you dial that number, you'll probably get connected to a guy who got his fair share of chances, and allowed his lack of mental strength to get the better of his presumed talents.

Rahul Dravid, showing some sign of returning to a semblance of form as the tour winds to a close, then came in and settled down to play a decent innings -- helped initially by Shane Lee, whose wayward first couple of overs got taken for 21 with Dravid doing the bulk of the damage with a succession of fours through the on side. Hrishikesh Kanitkar, at the other end, began in tentative fashion, then settled to rotate the strike around, and India, from 17/2 at the end of 10, went to 46/2 in 15, 69/2 in 20, and 94/3 in 30. The third wicket to fall was Kanitkar, falling to an attempt to whip the ball off his pads, for Ponting at midwicket to dive forward to take a superb catch. Ponting has, time and again, produced electric displays of fielding just when the bowlers seemed to be losing the plot somewhat, and this effort was on par with anything he has done this summer. The take ended an 81-run third wicket partnership off 15.4 overs, at a good 5.17 rpo (Kanitkar's contribution being 30 off 49), to bat India out of the initial hole.

Devang Gandhi played a couple of shots off Shane Warne, but looked as underconfident as he has been all summer, and fell to a soft dismissal, spooning a Warne delivery of fullish length to Martyn at mid on to have India 113/4 in the 29th over.

Robin Singh came in and apparently had trouble settling down. Meanwhile Dravid, having brought up his 50 and seeming to be batting in good touch, lost his bearings once Kanitkar was out and Gandhi began scratching around at the other end. The batsman seemed caught in the trap of not being sure whether to try and bat through the innings, or do something about a scoring rate that was slumping dramatically yet again (his 32 run association with Robin came at 2.9, off 10.5 overs).

The slump was unfortunate because the conditions seemed to be favouring the Indians for once. Warne had gone for 25 in his first five, Steve Waugh had given himself a bowl and gone for 14 in 3, and India had gone to 132/4 at the 35 over mark before everyone went to sleep, the next five overs producing a mere 14 runs for the loss of Dravid -- the batsman playing a rather lazy shot, square driving Shane Lee to Mark Waugh at point, in the 40th over, to end an innings of 65 off 106 balls (after being 50 off 72 balls at one point).

For trivia buffs, Brett Lee, during the slog phase, produced a delivery of 154.8 km/h in the 41st over -- equalling the fastest ball bowled this summer, and coming in the midst of a spell of blistering pace that had both Robin and Dighe in all kinds of trouble.

To their credit, however, both Dighe and Singh played with a lot of sound sense, and for perhaps the first time in the series, the Indians had a partnership in the later middle order. Robin tapped the ball around intelligently, Dighe alternated between nudges and hard hits into the outfield, and the two ran briskly between wickets to put on a partnership of 73 for the sixth wicket, off 9.2 overs at a brisk 7.8 per over. Dighe contributed 30 off 34, Robin Singh chipped in with 45 off 51 and India, from 146/5 in 40, went on to 226/6 in the allotted overs -- not enough on a true WACA pitch, but certainly more than India hoped to put on the board after losing both openers early, and missing the services of the in-form Ganguly.

Australia took 12 minutes beyond its allotted quota, and were lucky to escape being docked an over or two on the chase.

Srinath, beginning the attack for India, bowled as though he just couldn't care less. Throughout this tour, Srinath has bowled with great heart, especially in his opening spells. Today's performance was in complete contrast to his attitude thus far -- and I for one wouldn't blame him.

A player has the right to expect that his efforts will be acknowledged. At the least, he has the right to expect that credit, and blame, will be given where due. The other day, Srinath bowled a superb opening spell, and at the other end, Agarkar went for 50+ in five overs. At the end of the match, coach Kapil Dev said he was disappointed in his bowlers, that he thought Srinath had bowled too short and given away too many runs (this, in a game where Agarkar, in six overs, gave away more runs than Srinath and Prasad had given away in 12).

After that, to be the one publicly taken to task by Kapil must have rankled with the Indian quick -- which probably explained (while not excusing) his performance today. A coach's job among other things is to praise where due, to encourage and exhort -- not to play favourites. And while on playing favourites, there is an aspect to this thing that beats me: the consensus among the fans seems to be that Agarkar is Sachin's favourite and that is why he is repeatedly included in the eleven. But why is it that it is Kapil who has been making the silliest noises about the bowler in question? Among his dillies this tour -- 'I rate him one of the best all-rounders in the game' (All round, as in circle, as in duck? Which is what Agarkar has scored right through this tour?). 'He is a tremendous bowler'. 'He is like a Rolls Royce, and should be used only when fully fit' and so on, ad nauseum.

So what's Kapil's stake in Agarkar, anyway?

In any case, Agarkar was as wayward as always, Srinath emulated his example for a change, and the runs came freely at the start of the Australian chase. 27/0 in 5, 47/1 in 10 -- the wicket being that of Gilchrist who, barring a couple of innings, hasn't been in good nick this series. Here he played an airy cut at a short, widish ball from Agarkar and much to everyone's surprise, managed to hit a nothing ball straight to Robin Singh at point. The 39 run partnership, off 7.2 overs at 5.32, had been mainly masterminded by Mark Waugh, stroking very smoothly right from the start and showing signs that his best form is coming back, while Gilchrist's contribution was six off 12.

The Indians rotated their new ball bowlers for a while, and Australia made it to 75/1 with Mark Waugh going nicely at 39/58 at that point while Ponting, taking advantage of some lax stuff from the seamers, made 17 off 24 balls. Tendulkar finally brought Sunil Joshi into the attack and off the second ball, the left arm spinner made one jump and turn in a fashion one looked for, in vain, from Kumble the star spinner, got Mark Waugh edging for Dighe to take a good catch. Ponting and Waugh had added 39 runs at 4.3, with Waugh putting a good 40 off 63 against his name.

That brought Bevan and Ponting together and with thunderclouds looming, both batsmen pushed the pedal to the floor with some aggressive strokeplay, looking to stay ahead of the Duckworth-Lewis ask in case the threatening storm did in fact break over the WACA. Australia needed 97/3 in 25, the cut off point -- as it turned out, with Bevan outscoring Ponting at that point (Ponting seemed more than a touch lucky to survive two LBW shouts in the 10th over of the innings, one of which seemed pretty adjacent to all but the umpire), Australia was 113/2 at that point and well in control. Despite the general mayhem, Joshi at that point had sent down 5-0-14-1 (in contrast, incidentally, to Kumble's 30 runs in five overs the other day, on this same track), and yet again, made us wonder why he was benched for the entire duration of this tour.

Joshi continued his good work, bowling an extended spell and Australia, after 30, were 136/2 (as compared with India's 118/4 at that point), Joshi's contribution to the proceedings being 7-0-28-1 at that point. This analysis has to be taken in context of the field setting, which by then was totally defensive, allowing both batsmen to work the ball around for singles and, given the foot-speed of Ponting and Bevan and the lethargy of the Indians, the twos and threes as well.

Bevan in fact backed his new found belligerence to try and take on Joshi, producing two superb fours in the 27th over -- the first one played with enormous power back past the bowler, the second a little waltz down the track to lift over mid off. Bevan, after his promotion to four, has been adding some attacking all-round strokeplay to the repertoire he relies on when coming out in the slog, and these two shots were typical of the new-look Bevan.

Joshi struck again in the first ball of the 31st, when he floated one up, tempting Ponting into the big hit, the flight and loop deceiving the batsman who only managed to hole out to Agarkar, taking a good running catch at mid on after failing, a few overs earlier, to hit the stumps with Bevan stranded halfway down the track, from the same position. The two batsmen had put on 58 for the 3rd wicket, at 4.19, with Ponting weighing in with 33 off 52 balls, Bevan having played the dominant role in the partnership with 40 off 58.

Even as Ponting walked back, the threatened rain came down and at that point, Australia, needing to be 116 at the end of 31 by the D/L system having lost 3, were well ahead of the ask.

The WACA must rank among the best-drained grounds in the world, and within minutes of the deluge ending, the ground was ready for resumption. At resumption, Australia with seven in hand needed 91 more off 19.5 overs.

Australia progressed to 151/3 at the 35 over mark (India 132/4, Aus needing 76/90 at that point), and Joshi finished his spell, going 10-1-33-2 and being the most impressive of the bowlers on view. In his final over, the 35th ov the innings, he in fact produced a lovely delivery, loop and flight deceiving Steve Waugh into mishitting, with the ball ballooning just out of reach of Tendulkar at cover. At the other end, Srinath, back for another spell, continued to bowl short, which is what he was rather unfairly accused of doing by his coach the other day, and Bevan continued his new-found belligerence, rocking back to pull savagely to the square leg boundary. He then produced a crackling cover drive to bring up his half century off 76 balls -- his 3rd in four outings, underlining his development from late overs finisher into consistent batsman after getting a well-deserved promotion.

Steve Waugh had a struggle out in the middle, managing a mere 8 off 33 as Australia got to the 40 over mark at 179/3. This was the point during its innings when the Indians had completely lost the plot, managing a mere 14 runs between overs 35-40, and the negative impact of that phase was now showing, here, as the Australians pulled smoothly away despite the skipper struggling. At the other end, Bevan was in cruise control, going at 68/86 balls and looking like he could bat forever, and the Indian effort with the ball and in the ground was running out of steam (some would say, rightly, that the Indians in the ground never had any steam to start with -- Gandhi being one of the worst offenders, twice between overs 35-40 letting balls go through to the fence where there was only a run there).

Michael Bevan has been threatening centuries without quite getting there, through this series, and this innings proved no exception. Just when it looked like he would see Australia past the post, he flicked at a Singh delivery, trying to go over midwicket but finding Tendulkar in the way, the Indian skipper judging and holding to perfection to have Australia 190/4 in the 43rd over. The 4th wicket partnership had yielded 54 runs at 4.44 rpo, Bevan's contribution being 71 off 92 while Steve Waugh had weighed in with 18 off 45 during that association. Australia were going along at 4.48 at that point, needing 4.91 from there on -- but with wickets in hand, the task was well under control. And talking of control, Agarkar showed some sign of that commodity in his second spell, at this stage -- typical of the bowler, who has during the course of this tour produced the odd good controlled spell in the midst of several shockingly loose ones.

Damien Martyn, playing with a complete absence of pressure, was hitting every ball right off the middle from the moment he came out. But Robin Singh kept interest alive with a lovely off cutter that went through a Steve Waugh drive, to take out middle stump -- Singh, with two wickets into his 9th over, yet again showing a big-hearted capacity to give his all no matter how trying the conditions, an attitude some of the other Indians could with profit learn from. The wicket came in the 45th, with Waugh walking back for a rather patchy 19 off 48. At the end of 45, Australia had made 201/5 (185/5 India), leaving them 26 adrift with 30 balls to go (the ask above the five an over mark for the first time in the innings, and India sweating for lack of runs on the board).

Srinath, who had among other things contributed 11 extras to the total thus far, produced a tight 46th over, Shane Lee felt the pressure of the 22/24 ask, charged for a single off the first ball of Robin Singh's final over, and was shy of the crease by a foot when the bails were taken off. India, in the last few overs, had apparently realised that there was much to be said for actually playing some positive cricket, rather than thinking about the flight back home and what the airlines would serve for dinner -- and as a result, what seemed a walkover at the halfway stage was suddenly developing into something of a contest, 22 needed off 23 with Warne to the wicket. 3 runs plus the wicket in the Singh over (10-1-37-2, a fine spell under pressure from the all-rounder) and Australia's ask rate was above 6 for the first time.

Prasad came in for the 47th. Three singles off streaky edges to third man, then a lofted four by Warne, and Australia had pulled the runs-to-balls equation back into black, needing 11 off the last two. Around this point, you had to wonder -- India makes its runs against the best fielding side in recent times. Australia, against the worst fielding side in the business. And yet it proves a close run thing -- so by your estimation, how many such matches has India lost in the field alone?

Srinath came in for the penultimate over, strayed too far to leg first ball, gave away the four to Martyn off the pads to fine leg, and it was pretty much curtains, Australia going into the final over needing just 5 runs.

It's the kind of situation that calls for self-belief. The Australians are full of it. The Indians, never really stocked with the stuff, were if anything at their lowest possible ebb. Prasad bowled the final over, produced a nice half volley first up, a nice gimme ball, and Warne smashed it to midwicket to bring parity. One ball later, another nice gimme, shortish this time on middle stump, had Warne slogging a four to finish it off with three balls to spare, and India had ended its CUB campaign with just one win out of eight visits to the middle.


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