| Ajit Agarkar during his innings of 53 in the first tri-series final against Australia in Melbourne on Friday. (AFP)
Melbourne: India were outclassed as Australia pulverised them for a seven-wicket victory and a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three cricket tri-series finals here today.
Chasing a modest total of 222, the world champions raced to the target in 40.1 overs, thanks to a quick-fire 80-ball 88 by captain Ricky Ponting and his 139-run stand with half-centurion Matthew Hayden.
Beaten hands, India now have 48 hours to regroup for the second final on Sunday in Sydney and to take the final series to the third match in Brisbane on February 10.
India were hardly ever allowed into the game once Adam Gilchrist gave a characteristic whirlwind start to the Australian innings with a 20-ball 38 and Ponting revived memories of his World Cup form with his blitzkrieg.
The hosts raced to the 100-run mark, losing just one wicket in the 18th over and although they did lose a couple of quick wickets, it hardly mattered as they had already cantered to the 200 run-mark by then.
Nothing seemed to go right for the Indians after Sourav Ganguly won the toss and elected to bat — they lost six wickets with just 75 runs on the board — and it was only because of Hemang Badani (60 not out) and Ajit Agarakar (53) that they were saved from further ignominy.
The record 102-run stand between Badani and Agarkar for the seventh wicket turned out to be the only saving grace for the Indians who looked a pale shadow of the side that had been quite impressive right through the summer.
Having restricted the Indians to a quite manageable total on a good batting track at the MCG, the Aussies launched the chase in their usual aggressive fashion, entertaining the near 50,000 crowd to the hilt.
Gilchrist was simply amazing as he slammed seven fours to rip apart the pedestrian Indian attack before he pulled a catch to Sachin Tendulkar at fine leg-off Lakshmipathy Balaji who also picked the only other two wickets to fall in the Australian innings. Ponting then carried on from where his deputy left off, cracking seven fours and two sixes. He was dismissed when he fine-edged to be caught behind by Rahul Dravid.
The dismissal of Hayden, subdued during his 91-ball 50, was a little dramatic as Balaji made a half-hearted appeal after he had the batsman caught off a half-volley. Umpire Steve Bucknor thought it had carried on the bounce but the third umpire ruled in the favour of the bowler after much thought.
Damien Martyn (20 not out) and Andrew Symonds (10 not out) then took Australia home. That the winning four runs came through an overthrow only summed up India’s miserable day.
Earlier, the star-studded Indian top order was made to look like a bunch of schoolboys by Brett Lee & Co.
India owed their total to Badani and Agarkar whose 63-ball 53 (four fours and two sixes) must have done enough to blow away his batting blues down under.
The duo stitched together 102 runs off 119 balls, bettering the record of 100 runs between Sourav and Sunil Joshi in the Singer Cup at Colombo, 1996.
Lee rattled the famed Indian batting line-up once again with his sheer pace and picked up two for 34, including that of Sachin Tendulkar (8).
India’s misery began with the third successive failure of their openers — Virender Sehwag (3) and Tendulkar being dismissed with only 14 on the board in the seventh over.
Sehwag was caught unawares by a lifting delivery from Jason Gillespie (two for 39) which hit his handle and lobbed up for Gilchrist to take the catch.
But Lee did not need any assistance to get Tendulkar out, the straight and quick delivery screaming past the batsman’s defence and uprooting the off-stump.
V.V.S. Laxman (24) and Rahul Dravid (12) led a brief revival before both fell within an over of each other. Dravid, incidentally, in the course of Friday’s innings, crossed the milestone of 7,000 ODI runs. (PTI)