| Brett Lee is hugged by Andrew Symonds after Australia beat India by 18 runs in Kuala Lumpur on Friday. (Reuters)
Kuala Lumpur: Ashen-faced, Rahul Dravid admitted Friday’s 18-run defeat at the hands of Australia was “hard to stomach” and such losses “hurt.” He accepted he’d himself been below par throughout the tournament and that his batsmen had much work to do between now and the Champions Trophy.
Full marks to the Team India captain for being honest. However, how many can one give to the celebrated batting line-up' None. Other teams would surely have made it a point to go after Stuart Clark, who’d been hammered in the last match by the West Indies, but he walked away with two wickets in one over!
Trust our batsmen to restore somebody’s confidence in that manner. Trust them to lose a match which ought to have been won with a degree of comfort.
Of course, the Indian bowlers had been terrific in the first session of the DLF Cup ‘semi-final’ and the fielding top class. Yet, the world champions’ modest total of 213 couldn’t be overhauled. “We lost it with the bat... We didn’t string enough partnerships and another top order batsman (besides comeback man Dinesh Mongia, that is) also had to get a fifty,” Dravid remarked.
Playing his first ODI in over 17 months, Mongia remained unbeaten on 63 (90 balls, 4x4) — the highest of the match, nine more than Matthew Hayden’s effort. As the first four Indians collectively contributed 42, there’s no point talking about the hundreds they’ve hit or the thousands of runs collected over the years.
Bottomline is that Virender Sehwag (made to open out of the blue), Sachin Tendulkar, Mohammed Kaif and Dravid flopped like nobody’s business. Sachin couldn’t even take advantage of having been called back by umpire Mark Benson after being given out caught off the back.
It’s unclear whether an unofficial prompt on his walkie-talkie got Benson to act or he had doubts of his own. Whatever, he made the right decision, going about it the correct way, and breached no law. Perhaps, Sachin’s bewilderment influenced him. Towards the end, umpire Asad Rauf gave a poor decision, sending back Harbhajan Singh, but it’s debatable whether it had the most impact.
By then, after all, the Australians were like panthers on the prowl. The kill was inevitable.
The top order apart, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who wishes to be remembered as a team man, reacted childishly and threw his wicket at a defining moment. On the previous delivery, he’d been embarrassed by Man of the Match Brett Lee (five for 38).
Dravid, though, refused to castigate Dhoni. “I wouldn’t like to blame individuals... We all make mistakes... If you look at our line-up, there are a lot of guys who should have done better... Dhoni is a naturally attacking player... It’s time for all of us to stand up and be counted... Today, we let go an opportunity... It wasn’t an ideal way to lose and there will be introspection.”
Mongia, deservedly, came in for much praise. “The way he batted, bowled and fielded was very creditable... That’s one of the positives from the tournament, other being the way we bowled and fielded throughout,” Dravid said, clutching at a hope-giving straw.
The latest defeat was the ninth in the last ten completed ODIs against Australia. Dravid, however, disagreed with a suggestion that his team was overawed by Ponting’s men (particularly Lee and Glenn McGrath). “We weren’t overawed, but it’s a fact we haven’t been doing well... That needs to be addressed...Our record outside India has to improve.”
He clarified Yuvraj Singh wasn’t played as he was “a bit under the weather.” The other change saw Sreesanth (who must be stunned at the strange turn of events in recent weeks) dropped after just one match. Their places went to Mongia and Kaif.
The Australians pulled it off without Michael Clarke and Shane Watson. Despite three run-outs, too. “It was a good, hard tussle... And we usually win such matches... The way we finished it off, in the 44th over, was great... We didn’t play well, but still won,” Ponting, who won the toss, observed.
His captaincy, by the way, was of an extraordinary order. He probably gambled somewhat with the bowlers’ rotation in the middle overs, but nobody let him down. Plus, he was himself so charged up that it wasn't difficult for his players to raise their game.
We keep saluting Ponting the batsman, but he's an outstanding captain as well.
It’s going to be a tough call, given the number of performers (including the lowly-rated Brad Hogg), but the best Australian XI will be on the park for Sunday’s final versus the West Indies.
Lee, incidentally, received the highest compliment from his captain: “I don’t know about the rankings, but for a couple of years, he has been the world’s best one-day bowler.”
Asked whether that big statement added or relieved the pressure, Lee replied grinning: “It’s such a lovely compliment... I’ve got to thank Ricky for taking me aside and speaking to me in Brisbane, some seasons ago, when I wasn’t getting it right... He put ideas in my mind and gave the confidence I was lacking...”
Later, chatting with The Telegraph, Lee dedicated his latest MoM award to wife Elizabeth. “This one is for her... I can’t think of anybody else...” The other day he’d declared he wasn’t obsessed with the speed gun, but that didn’t stop him from unleashing thunderbolts at over 90 mph.
Footnote: Upset with India’s batting, the iconic Kapil Dev had a suggestion: “Awards shouldn’t go to the highest run-getters or the ones with the best average... They’ve got to be given to batsmen who help their team win... What’s the point of having X as an average when you can’t deliver at crunch time'” That’s something to munch on.