AZHAR HAUNTS TRIO IN HUMILIATION HAT-TRICK 

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By FROM LOKENDRA PRATAP SAHI in Sydney
  • Published 14.01.00
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Sydney, Jan. 14 :     It's quite an embarrassment being an Indian around here. If being thrashed 0-3 in the Test series wasn't humiliating enough, Sachin Tendulkar's team has now lost the first three Carlton and United Series matches. Five wins on-the-trot (the league phase has eight games for each side) and India could still make the finals. That's possible, yes, but few will wager on that. Today's match eventually turned out to be somewhat close, but during the Indian innings, a section of fans at the packed SCG had chanted: "Go back, go back" and "hai-hai." Their roots aren't difficult to guess. Fans in Sydney, specially, have been cheated twice in a fortnight: The third Test, which ended within three days, and this evening's defeat. Moreover, just about everybody has that question of the millennium on his/her lips: Why wasn't Mohammed Azharuddin, the most experienced and successful one-day batsman, picked? Captain Sachin Tendulkar and coach Kapil Dev have some answering to do. The selectors headed by Chandu Borde, too. Equally, Board president A.C. Muthiah and secretary Jaywant Lele must explain how they decided Ajay Jadeja wouldn't be fit. To return to today's game, the Indian innings lasted a mere 36.3 overs with sundries, totalling 32, emerging top-scorer! Worse, the essay ended well before the scheduled break. Only three batsmen reached double-figures as Sachin's move to bat first on a lively wicket, with conditions slightly overcast, worked wholly to Australia's advantage. Sadly, a wicket with reasonable life - bounce and allowing movement after pitching - sees the Indians drop dead. It's happened in the past as well, and, the tradition is set to continue. That the white Kookaburra is doing quite a bit, particularly early on, is adding to India's misery. Here at least. As for the Australians, they turned on the heat - positioning as many as nine men in the 'circle' for umpteen overs. Local lad Brett Lee, for instance, hurled grenades with a slips-gully cordon rarely seen after the early Jeff Thomson days, in the mid-Seventies. Clearly, Steve Waugh rubbed it in - employing a field hardly engaged by the most aggressive of Test captains. He'd done something similar in the second one-dayer versus Zimbabwe, in Harare, earlier this season. Australia did have hiccups: First came a 24-minute rain-forced break and, then, Jawagal Srinath's do-or-die burst. However, the ask for getting 101 could never be terribly stiff. Initially, Adam Gilchrist did the needful and later, after Srinath's stunning effort, MoM Andrew Symonds ensured the hiccups didn't become a major headache. Of course a couple of half-chances weren't converted, but even if they would have been, it's debatable whether the bottomline would have been different. That rain was forecast for the evening probably tempted Sachin. And while few could have envisaged the ball seaming wildly, the Indians got their XI wrong - baffling, really, was Debashish Mohanty's exclusion. It would be an understatement to say Mohanty was missed once Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad's spells (ten overs at one go) ended. Conditions, then, were tailormade for Mohanty to cause havoc. Some people need to be reminded he can get the ball to talk both ways. To his credit, Sachin acknowledged the Indians misread the wicket, indirectly admitting Mohanty and not Nikhil Chopra should have played. Kapil, too, accepted the wicket was misread totally. Symonds, saluted as "sensational" by his captain, got the Man of the Match award for an all-round show, but most of the damage was caused by the brilliant Glenn McGrath, who is familiar with each blade of grass at the SCG. Indeed, McGrath not only stands tall among today's quicks, he'll figure at the very top in the all-time fast bowlers' Hall of Fame. McGrath evicted both openers, Sachin and Sourav Ganguly, within five overs and Australia straightaway had India by the jugular. Sachin was done in by the movement, though he himself handsomely contributed to the dismissal; Sourav was beaten by the bounce. Few openers relish the McGrath-juicy wicket combination, and it couldn't have been any different for the Indians. The captain's decision to open, for the first time this tournament, was taken only late this morning. It didn't work. Instead, Sachin's early exit added to the pressures of an already fragile middleorder. McGrath had another wicket before his sensational first spell (7-3-5-3) ended, that of V.V.S. Laxman. His last innings at the SCG produced all off 167 runs, and was an absolute gem. Today, McGrath gave Laxman a rude reminder that cricket is probably the biggest of all levellers. Samir Dighe's wicket, towards the end of the innings, gave McGrath a haul of four. Symonds, too, picked up as many and will take to Sunday's match against Pakistan, at the MCG, on a split hattrick. Wickets one and two as also three and four came in successive deliveries. The Indians have a long break before their next game, in Hobart exactly a week from now. They remain in Sydney till Monday.