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Commentators had attached great importance to the toss, almost saying that the team batting first would definitely win the game. When Sachin Tendulkar won the toss in his first game at the start of his second term as captain, he said that his team needed to first bat well to fancy their chances. How true his words were. Did he have a premonition of what lay ahead? We'll never know.
What we do know is that from the first ball of the match bowled by Gillespie, India were totally outplayed. The Aussies have got into a winning habit, and today's win was their ninth in succession (seven in the world cup and one yesterday against Sri Lanka). Obviously, they are loath to throwing away this winning habit.
Sachin and Saurav started off with a plan, which as far as I could tell was to see off the frontline pace bowlers Gillespie and Fleming. They almost did that. In the past, Ganguly has shown a weakness to the rising ball, and this match was no exception. A few quick rising balls from Gillespie had him in trouble, before he was finally beaten for pace, struck right in front of middle stump - plumb leg-before. He fell at the score of 25 in the ninth over. If he was not looking for the short pitched ball, he would have played the ball easily, but his mind already set, he was stuck on the back foot. If he doesn't improve in this area, most teams will have their quickies going for his throat.
Meanwhile Sachin was biding his time and incoming batsman Rahul Dravid seemed confident as well. Steve Waugh decided to bowl Moody and Symonds - ginger medium pace stuff because ... Sachin was still in (remember Shane Warne has nightmares about bowling to the little master blaster) and this strategy paid handsome dividends. Moody's second ball to Sachin was short and rose higher than Sachin expected which meant the pull shot over mid-wicket was mistimed and ended up in the safe hands of Lehmann. The Aussies were delighted, and a cacophony of gleeful howls went up among them. As far as they are concerned, Sachin is two-thirds of Indi
a's batting and when he has failed, the Aussies have always won.
A couple of overs later, Dravid looked to play Symonds to third man by opening the face of the bat (something which does not come naturally, and forced upon him by the need to score quickly in one-dayers). The shot resulted in a snick to wicket-keeper Gilchrist and Dravid departed absolutely livid with himself. Not often do you see all three - Sachin, Ganguly and Dravid - at the top failing collectively and this broke the back of India's batting. Jadeja, Khurasiya and Robin tried hard to retrieve the situation but to no avail. A rain interruption after the 20th over saw the match reduced to a 38 over game and from 65 for 3 in the 21st over, India scored a further 86 runs in the remaining 17 overs to reach 151.
Jadeja got 30, Robin scored 38 but no serious support was provided by the other batsmen. Due to a few calculations using the Duckworth-Lewis formula, the final target was 159 in 38 overs, a fairly simple target unless the Indians bowled brilliantly - which as we saw was wishful thinking.
Srinath and Prasad bowled poorly. Period. Having watched the Aussie fast bowlers in the morning, they should have realised that this pitch was a slow one and never going to favour short pitched stuff. Even if they knew that in the pavilion, they didn't practise it on the pitch. They were repeatedly cut and pulled and soon the Aussies found themselves past 50 in the 7th over. Mark Waugh was dismissed early at the score of 21 but from then on it was slaughter without fear or favour. Both Gilchrist and Symonds, who was promoted in the batting order, enjoy short pitched stuff and to make matters worse, spinners Anil Kumble and Nikhil Chopra indulged in bowling short as well.
Kumble was smashed for 10 runs in his first over by Symonds, a powerhouse who enjoys clearing the ground. A pulled six over mid-wicket was followed by another near six, this time a little squarer. He was immediately taken off to change ends but it didn't help. Out of frustration, Kumble was forced to bowl at leg stump from around the wicket - a very defensive move which didn't make sense as India needed wickets desperately as the target was a small one.
Chopra followed his senior partner and was pulled and cut savagely by Gilchrist, who was lucky to escape a stumping chance. Keeper Prasad seemed ill at ease keeping to the spinners, which didn't help matters and soon the hundred was posted in the 16th over.
After this, the game petered out into a totally one sided affair with the Indians giving it away as quickly as possible, as if they had enough of the thrashing. Heads dropped, and the fielding disintegrated. These signs are not good especially as we are at the beginning of a new season - a tough one at that involving a home series against New Zealand, and then another tough series against Australia Down Under.
We can only hope for the sake of Indian cricket that the performance in this game is just an aberration brought about by lack of recent match practice. Moreover, if Sachin fails again and India lose a couple more matches, people will again begin saying that captaincy is affecting his batting.
For the record Symonds scored 67 n.o, which along with his spell of 1 for 32 fetched him the Man of the Match award. Gilchrist scored 68. Their partnership for the 2nd wicket was 134 in 24.3 overs. The bowling analysis of the Indians do not deserve a mention.
Brief scores :
India 158 for 7 in 38 overs.
Gillespie, Moody and Warne - 2 wickets each.
Australia 159 for 2 in 29.1 overs
Symonds 67 n.o.
India's next game is in Colombo against Sri Lanka on the 25th. Read more
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The views of this column are the author's own, and do not necessarily represent the views of NRI Online.For a listing of past columns by Arjun Raja, please Know more.