| Sachin Tendulkar turns one to the leg during his knock of 89 in Bangalore on Friday. (PTI)
Bangalore: With the latest India versus Australia ODI not many hours away, Ricky Ponting insisted “nothing can be predicted.” One must respect the captain’s views, but something is actually becoming predictable: Team India’s walloping at Australia’s muscular hands.
Realistically, for India, Wednesday’s match was over even before Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag took guard under floodlights. Yet, if the hosts remained in the hunt somewhat, till the 40th over, the thanks should all be directed Sachin’s way.
But for Sachin’s stupendous 89 (91 balls, 12x4, 1x6), his best essay since that epic 98 against Pakistan in the World Cup, India wouldn’t have got off to a competitive start. Believe it or not, they were 181 for three after 30 overs — on a par with the world champions runs-wise.
The ask of almost seven an over, though, was Everest-like despite a belter at the Chinnaswamy. It’s no surprise, then, that Australia emerged better by 61 runs, with the Indian challenge stopping at 286 for eight. The toss, by the way, was again won by Ponting.
The hosts did get a ‘bonus’ point, but that’s irrelevant as New Zealand have to be beaten in Hyderabad on Saturday. Otherwise, the November 18 TVS Cup final will feature Australia and New Zealand.
While Sachin took the Australians head on, Sehwag was far from his best and, really, should have capitalised on the two let-offs in one Michael Kasprowicz over.
Still, he was around till 103 (18th over) and that launch allowed V. V. S. Laxman — sent at No.3 and not No.4 — to keep the momentum going.
Laxman’s departure brought captain Sourav Ganguly to the crease. Sachin left not much later, but the captain showed absolutely no signs of having been off cricket for a month. He authored a quickfire 37 off 31 deliveries, but his dismissal (217 for four) checked India’s ‘march’.
That defeat couldn’t be avoided was confirmed when Rahul Dravid, who gave not one but two lives to Ponting (on 20 and 25), didn’t make amends and exited to a superb return-catch by Kasprowicz.
“To make the final, we will have to lift our game,” acknowledged Sourav, adding he didn’t wish to speak much about his team’s bowling. “The score says everything... What do I have to comment',” he reacted rather bitingly.
Pleased with one more podium finish, Ponting accepted there were “moments” when his team was under pressure — specially when Sachin was firing on all cylinders — but pointed out that 348 was a tough target.
The Australians’ total, the highest in India, was built around gem-like hundreds from Ponting and MoM Adam Gilchrist.
To talk of the world champions’ batting, butcher-in-chief Ponting made the most of the Dravid let-offs, posting his second fifty off a mere 30 balls. In fact, from 46 at the start of the 40th over, the captain did a Michael Schumacher to remain unbeaten on 108 (102 deliveries, 1x4, 7x6), his 15th hundred.
It’s debatable whether Dravid would have erred had he been ’keeping from the opening fixture itself.
In just about every way, Ponting’s innings was a throwback to his World Cup-winning 140 not out at the Wanderers: If that incredible knock had eight sixes, the one here had only one less. Anil Kumble, Murali Kartik and Zaheer Khan were each smashed twice, with Yuvraj Singh lucky to be clobbered once.
While Ponting began the tournament indifferently, he has peaked at the perfect time. The other day, he scored 52 during a crisis in Guwahati; he did far better at the Chinnaswamy.
Incidentally, it was Ponting’s 101 in Vizag, on the 2000-2001 tour, which propelled Australia to the previous highest (in India) of 338 for four. Perhaps, it was destined that he would again do the star turn when Australia rewrote the record.
Of course, the bottomline could have been vastly different had Ponting either been caught glancing Sehwag or stumped off Kartik. However, exclude those lapses and you cannot but admire an extraordinary effort: Timing, power, variety... Ponting wasn’t found wanting.
While Ponting and Damien Martyn (unbeaten on 61, 50 balls, 8x4) added 149 off just 98 deliveries, the foundation was effectively laid by the phenomenal opening firm of Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden.
The openers, who blasted 105 in the first 15 overs — including 15 from Ashish Nehra’s maiden over (the innings’ first) at the international level in almost eight months — were together till Hayden ran himself out. The needful was done by Sourav, who pounced on the yes-no-yes-no confusion.
By then, though, 119 were on board. Far from being upset by the mishap, Gilchrist took to even more outrageous shots. The bowlers did lend a hand by offering enough width and this profligacy had Sourav at his wits end... The more the changes effected, the quicker the Australians scored.
The only move which clicked was getting Kumble back, for his second spell, in the 34th over: On the fourth ball, Gilchrist swept the leggie (playing his first match after his father’s death) and, in the deep, Zaheer didn’t make a mistake.
Pace-setter Gilchrist, who registered his ninth hundred, totalled 111 (104 deliveries, 14x4, 1x6). Yet another fantastic strike-rate is what clinched the MoM award.
It’s Gilchrist’s assault which ensured the Indians would have terribly sorry figures. Nehra went for 80 in his complement of overs, while Zaheer was tonked for 67. Poor Kartik, he escaped a thrashing in the first nine overs, but went for 14 in the last. So, he too crossed a half century.
It’s to be seen how Sourav and coach John Wright ‘analyse’ the bowling but, frankly, there can’t be any excuse for a dozen wides. That amounted to two bonus overs, with Kumble and part-timer Yuvraj each being generous five times.
While the Indians went ahead with the more common 7-4 combination, thereby retaining Mohammed Kaif, the Australians made quite a few changes in the XI which played in Guwahati. However, Kasprowicz kept his place as the thinktank decided to rest Nathan Bracken.
Meanwhile, Jawagal Srinath received three mementos during the break — the presentations, though, ought to have been before the game. For, one of the mementos was presented by Sourav, who should ideally have been in the dressing room redrawing strategy. To make it ‘worse’, the rest of the team was made to come out and wish a formal good-bye to the veteran.
Such gestures must be encouraged, yes, but the Board should get the timing right. Srinath , it may be recalled, quit on Tuesday.