Vadodara: Instead of making Ricky Ponting eat his words, specifically the rather sour “fake aggression” bit, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his men allowed the Australians to feast on them in this city of Royals.
The Indian captain tried putting up a brave face (“the series isn’t over, it’s 1-3 for us”) and even told The Telegraph he wasn’t “too disappointed” with the nine-wicket thrashing, but there’s a mountain to climb.
Worse, the Indians will have to lump whatever else Ponting may choose to say.
Bottomline is that the Australians have an unbeatable lead in the seven-match Future Cup. So, at best, the hosts can only catch up. It’s not an encouraging scenario and what’s particularly distressing is that the Indians (after Dhoni won the toss) played such poor cricket on Thursday.
Five down in the tenth over and there was no passion, no discipline and no self-respect.
It was so bad that the fifth ODI finished in a shade over 65 overs and many who’d paid good money began trooping out of the Reliance Stadium within an hour of the Australian innings. Later, a section bombarded the playing area with bottles and assorted missiles.
Thankfully, nothing untoward happened. But it was a close call.
“Apart from the toss, nothing went right for us... Of the batsmen, Sachin (Tendulkar) alone dominated... He seemed to bat on a different wicket from the one where the rest of us struggled... I think 240 would’ve been an excellent total,” Dhoni maintained.
The reality is that the Indians didn’t even manage 150 — getting bowled out for 148 (lowest versus Australia at home) in under 40 overs, with most of the damage inflicted by left-arm quick Mitchell Johnson, who turns 26 next month.
Adjudged Man of the Match, Johnson registered his maiden fiver (five for 26) and again exposed the Indians’ weakness against left-arm speedsters.
With amazing reflexes-powered six catches and a sterling unbeaten 79, vice-captain Adam Gilchrist was also a contender for the MoM award, but it’s not often that an overseas quick returns that many in rather demanding conditions.
Mitchell is yet to earn a Test cap and Ponting acknowledged “if he continues to bowl like this, it’s going to be difficult to keep him out...”
Sourav Ganguly got run out for a duck on the fourth ball — Sachin, making his 400th appearance, has to take much of the flak for responding and then retreating — and Team India never recovered.
Among specialist batsmen, nobody except Sachin got into double figures (47). Zaheer Khan contributed 28 and Irfan Pathan 26, while No.11 Rudra Pratap Singh remained not out on 12.
With a best of two 40-plus partnerships, the match was actually over before the Australians began their chase. Dhoni opened with Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer — not a first, but certainly a welcome departure from standard strategy — yet a quick breakthrough didn’t materialise.
By the time Matthew Hayden (troubled by a sore left hip) got out, 54 was on the board. The remaining 95 runs were gathered with no discomfort, with Gilchrist helping himself to three sixes off one Murali Kartik over.
Ponting had, in the lead-up to the ODI, promised a finals-like performance. His team didn’t disappoint.
“I’m not sure if we outsmarted India... We got a run out in the first over and that set us up for a very, very comprehensive win... In the morning, the wicket looked great, but we had India under pressure from almost the first ball... We had to pick up our skills after the last match (Chandigarh)... We did,” Ponting pointed out.
He added: “I feel too much has been made of on-field exchanges... Nothing has been spoken after the first two ODIs and the matches have been played in the right spirit. I hope that will continue...”
As for Dhoni, he said: “It’s easy to recognise a problem, but not so easy to find solutions...” Candid stuff, but time is running out.
The Team India captain accepted that quite a few had been playing non-stop from mid-June, but was quick to add: “There’s no choice when you’re doing so for your country and you’ve got to be tough...”
Poor Dhoni is one of those who hasn’t had a break.
Footnote: The Australians, Andrew Symonds in particular, have been offended by the conduct of a section of the crowd. Apparently, Symonds was made the target of “monkey-like noises” when positioned in the deep. The visitors haven’t made a formal complaint, but they expect the International Cricket Council and the staging body, the Baroda Cricket Association, to act on what they term as “racist behaviour.”