| Mahendra Singh Dhoni during his knock of 58 in Kochi on Tuesday
Kochi: It’s generally believed that the Indian batsmen play spinners with utmost ease and that the Indian spinners are among the most accomplished.
Well, at the Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium on Tuesday, the Australians changed that script entirely and sent Team India packing.
With the home team’s strengths turning into weaknesses, the result couldn’t have been otherwise.
First, Andrew Symonds and MoM Brad Haddin were in absolutely no trouble against Harbhajan Singh (playing his first ODI since the World Cup in March) and Ramesh Powar. The part-timers also got the stick.
Symonds registered 87 off 83, while Haddin, who got an opportunity in Bangalore (and posted a lovely 69) only because of regular captain Ricky Ponting’s non-availability, cracked 87 off 69.
Then, part-time spinner Michael Clarke (two for 35) and left-armer Brad Hogg (three for 40) choked the Indians and lifted Australia to a handsome 84-run win in the Future Cup’s match No.2.
The visitors are ahead 1-0 in the series which features seven ODIs.
Encouraged by the obvious moisture in the wicket, Mahendra Singh Dhoni asked Adam Gilchrist to bat. Understandable given the conditions but, logically, one would bowl second if two specialist spinners are in the XI.
Harbhajan came in for Rudra Pratap Singh and while the captain insisted that his buddy had been “rested and not dropped,” it’s a fact that RP went for 67 in the opening ODI, in Bangalore, which was abandoned.
“Had his bowlers done better, Dhoni’s decision would’ve been vindicated… As it turned out, the wicket really helped the slower bowlers in the afternoon and, frankly, the Australian spinners did a much better job,” former Pakistan captain Rameez Raja told The Telegraph.
“We gave a hundred per cent, but weren’t successful… It’s not that we didn’t try hard… We again gave away too many runs between the 31st and 50 overs (as many as 155) and, while chasing, didn’t get partnerships… Under pressure, we couldn’t rotate the strike,” explained Dhoni.
Dhoni, of course, did his bit — being last out after scoring 58. He didn’t agree he’d proved a point to some of his specialists, but the message did get conveyed all the same.
Former captain Rahul Dravid scored 31, but the one who’d looked like making a big impact was Robin Uthappa. Sent in at No.3, he raced to 41 (off 30) before becoming a Stuart Clark victim.
Irfan Pathan can’t be blamed too much but, by being run out (139 for six), did nothing to give Team India some breathing space.
Dhoni acknowledged that the Australians scored both on strategy (“bowled very well and to a plan”) and in performance (“they were ahead of us”).
As the Bangalore ODI got abandoned, Dhoni’s opened his captaincy-account with a defeat. It’s going to hurt, for a while certainly.
“Taking the lead is a great feeling… It’s very satisfying… We’ve had some fighting cricket and have responded (to tough situations) in two games in a row… Five ODIs remain, so I’m not saying the job is done,” remarked a visibly pleased Gilchrist.
Asked to comment on the quality of the Indian attack, he quipped: “It’s very good for me!” Gilchrist fell for a duck to Zaheer Khan. On Saturday, he’d done marginally better — 12, before being claimed by Zaheer then too.
The Australians recovered from 90 for four in Bangalore and, on Tuesday, “climbed out” after being cornered at 66 for three.
Local hero Sreesanth, as expected, was in the thick of things. He starred in exchanges with Symonds and Haddin and, in a moment of madness, appealed for a run out against non-striker Symonds.
Aghast, the captain had to run across and chide him. “At first, I thought he was joking… When I found him to be serious, I had to tell him there are other ways to get batsmen out,” Dhoni said.
Captains in Pakistan have a tough time handling Shoaib Akhtar. In India, the worry is over Sreesanth.
It’s okay for the quick to taunt and make faces (not that the Australians have ever been saints), but it shouldn’t get to a stage where what’s projected as aggression is actually quite sickening.
Footnote: Till late on Tuesday, there was no word on whether Match Referee Chris Broad had spoken to Sreesanth. It won’t surprise if, at least, he has a chat with both Dhoni and Gilchrist.
CAPTAINS ON SREESANTH
Dhoni: A bit of chit-chat on the field is okay... It’s okay as long as it doesn't get personal... Playing at home, Sreesanth was all pumped up... I expect him to learn to behave... He has changed, though...
Gilchrist: Sreesanth has announced he’ll take the challenge to us... He’s aggressive... That’s fine with us... Hopefully, things end on the field... The Indians are showing aggression... Talking up a lot...
Our SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT in KOCHI