The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Indians let the Cup slip
- Sourav fails fitness test; Aussies remain best

Calcutta: The spirit and unity of the Australians have been the secrets of their success. At times, they enjoy being scrutinised but will always prevail in the end, whatever the circumstances and conditions.

The huge pride in their national colours and love for the game guarantees that no one steps onto the field and diminishes that in any way. They came on this tour not too sure of their chances but a bunch of unknown and untested faces made sure that the responsibility and faith shown in them was kept intact. The victory huddle included even the support staff along with coach John Buchanan and showed the camaraderie and harmony in this team.

The TVS Cup triumph not just underlined their capabilities, it was an indicator of their resolve and prowess in the years to come once the senior brigade of Steve Waugh and Co. calls it a day. Their invincibility and professionalism has laid to rest the words exception and off-day.

For India, the 37-run loss remains a tale of lapses and the what-could-have-beens.

The decision to play with five bowlers will be debated upon. An extra batsman is always an added advantage, since the tail starts early, once the top-six is dismissed. The lower-order has never delivered when it matters and it will take a huge task to make the improbable happen.

The Indians seemed overawed and overcautious. Even Sachin Tendulkar was not convincing during his 45. Rahul Dravidís confident 49 was not enough and Hemang Badani and V.V.S. Laxmanís cameos were only flash in the pan.

Laxman earned abuse from Brad Williams since the Aussies were not willing to surrender even a single inch. India made a mess of an achievable target as they played into the Aussie gameplan of disturbing the batsmanís rhythm at any cost.

Michael Clarke and Ian Harvey left enough proof that on their shoulders will rest the Aussiesí future and the world will only have to sit and watch their ascending career graphs. The way Clarke bottled the Indians down with his tight line and variation only went to prove that he is getting richer by experience.

The Indians did everything that was needed to stop the invincible Aussies for a while in their tracks. They were aided by a pitch that offered assistance to the spinners and a dour attitude.

The full-house was in for a shock even before they took their seats. Word spread like wildfire as Sourav Ganguly failed a fitness test for a groin strain and pulled himself out of the match. He hobbled across while running and stretching and decided to take no chances.

Andrew Leipus reportedly ruled against Sourav taking cortisone injections to make himself match-fit because of the strenuous tour Down Under. If all this was not enough, Rahul Dravid lost the toss and the gathering went into a sulking mode.

Sourav moved around aimlessly as the team went through the customary warming up session. But he was quick enough to overcome the disappointment and it did not stop him from performing his duties.

Sourav remained the leader even if it was meant to be from the sidelines. Be it carrying drinks onto the field and passing necessary instructions or tips to Ajit Agarkar at the third-man fence once he went for nine runs in his first over, or lending a helping hand to Dravid.

The Australians were never going to let the psychological edge gained at Souravís expense evaporate in a hurry. Aggression remained key as the openers set about the task of sending the bowlersí line into disarray. The ploy may have worked earlier but Agarkar and Zaheer Khan seemed to have learned from experience.

They were not allowing the batsmen that extra width, concentrating on an off-stump line and made use of the early life on the wicket. There was a fair amount of carry and bounce during the opening hour and the bowlers exploited it.

Nicks and mishits were frequent as Adam Gilchrist tried to prevail upon the attack in his own indomitable style. But all that was shortlived as he paid the penalty of playing across to Agarkar.

Matthew Hayden never seemed in his elements. That India failed to seize the maximum advantage was because of the fieldersí ineptitude. V.V.S. Laxman dropped catches at will and was the worst offender. The ball followed him to every nook and corner of the ground. While two of the chances were accepted, four were dropped ó Ponting (twice), Hayden and Michael Bevan being the beneficiaries.

Ponting and Damien Martyn then forged together an 80-run partnership for the third wicket in 94 balls. They were merciless against Avishkar Salvi. Agarkar also suffered but the introduction of spin changed equations.

The Indian thinktank had bargained for a turning track and their hopes paid off on a virgin surface as the loose soil on the top crumbled after a little wear and tear. Murali Kartik made use of the footmarks, getting the ball to turn appreciably. Harbhajan Singh also did not disappoint as the spinning duo tied down the Aussies. The Australian momentum suddenly seemed disturbed as only 59 runs were added between the 20th and 40th overs.

Martyn (61 off 101 balls) was the most impressive but Michael Bevan ó who batted with a runner in Andrew Symonds for the most part ó and Michael Clarke added 65 in an unbroken stand. The last ten overs fetched 69.

Martynís ability to play late and with soft hands nullified the spinnersí purchase from the wicket. Clarkeís improvisation was the highlight of his 28-ball 44. But it was Bevan who stood out with his superb judgement and shot selection despite a calf injury.

Symonds, however, earned a warning from umpire David Shepherd in the final over, after Dravid had complained, for repeatedly leaving the crease at the strikerís end while Bevan was not even through with his stroke.

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