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Players conspire with pitch, lose

Calcutta, Nov. 18: Ricky Ponting isn’t known to be uncomfortable laying a wager, but he would still have been hesitant at the break this evening. Australia’s 235 for five, after all, couldn’t have guaranteed the TVS Cup.

Pretty early in the Indian innings, though, it became apparent even that was too many. Moreover, with a batsman less (to accommodate five bowlers) the ask was destined to get tougher. Actually, keeping the larger picture in focus — with the tour of Australia days away — an Indian victory was a must.

Bottomline, however, is that the world champions forced a 37-run win on an Eden wicket where the ball turned prodigiously, stopped disconcertingly and kept low alarmingly. Hardly the surface for a star-spangled ODI but, then, that can’t be an excuse.

“We’ll have to improve 25 per cent in all departments… Not batting for the entire 50 overs is a cardinal sin,” fumed stand-in captain Rahul Dravid. Man of the Series Sachin Tendulkar (466 runs) was as biting: “The batsmen should have completed the job… We batted poorly…”

Of course, there were moments when the sporting 100,000 turnout found reason to be optimistic: like when Hemang Badani launched an exciting counter or, later, when Ajit Agarkar suggested he would single-handedly make it a down-to-the-wire finish. But, then...

Eventually, India was stopped in the 42nd over, at 198, with Ian Harvey prising out wickets at a most decisive time. He returned handsome figures, with the four victims falling in eight deliveries.

Reflecting on one more victory over India, Ponting said Badani’s dismissal (159 for five) was the “turning point.”

Virender Sehwag left early, Tendulkar didn’t exactly fire and top-scorer Dravid was unlucky to play-on after a character-laced 49. In fact, nothing went right for India.

Sourav Ganguly’s “80 per cent” fitness remained just that and a body blow was taken before the final got underway. Losing the toss didn’t help either.

The Indians themselves made it worse by dropping five catches, with V.V.S. Laxman the culprit four times. Also, the move to keep the wicket “dry” didn’t fetch the expected result.

For Australia, Damien Martyn top-scored with 61 and, towards the end, the visitors were excellently served by stalwart Michael Bevan and Michael Clarke, who was adjudged Man of the Match. Clarke remained not out on a punishing 44 (from 28 balls).

Despite much life early on, circumstances forced Dravid to rely more on the spinners — regulars Harbhajan Singh and Murali Kartik as also the many part-timers. Kartik was easily the best and, if not anything else, must have embarrassed the selectors by another stand-out performance — 10-1-30-1.

Yesterday, Kartik told The Telegraph: “I’m not demotivated at not being picked for Australia… I’ll work harder now.…”

Intended or not, he did make a point.

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