A NO CONTEST

The victorious Australian team.-Pics.S. SUBRAMANIUM

The Lara decision RAISED SERIOUS QUESTIONS about the standards of umpiring in this tournament and the sportsmanship of the Australians, writes S. RAM MAHESH.

Unfortunately, a lot of those that turned up for the DLF Cup final missed its most dramatic moment. Food was being consumed, beer guzzled, restrooms visited, small talk made as Brett Lee speared one through the gangling Chris Gayle's defences: a full inswinger to the left-hander at 88.8mph that jammed foot into turf. Only as Gayle hobbled off did it dawn on the crowd to try and catch the replay on the big screen at the Kinrara Oval.

"It is always nice to start off the innings that way, isn't it?" asked Lee with some relish. "The plan was to get that ball to swing back in but I never thought in my wildest dreams that he would be out the first ball."

With Gayle gone, West Indies' best chance of chasing down Australia's 240 lay in skipper Brian Lara's hands. At 37, the left-hander had been batting over the two weeks with the insouciance of a younger man. His art — a collection of constantly shifting, sinuous lines — was finding glorious expression, and he began with a cover drive of considerable allure.

But, Lara was adjudged caught behind when he clearly hadn't nicked it, and the final effectively ceased to remain a contest. "Of course I was disappointed to get out, but these things happen," he said. "When the umpire gives me out, I'm not going to go back."

The Lara decision raised serious questions about the standards of umpiring in this tournament and the sportsmanship of the Australians. While both umpire Mark Benson and Ricky Ponting's men may be given the benefit of the doubt in this case — Lara's pad was brushed by his bat as the ball passed it — the fact that this followed the shocking appeal against Sachin Tendulkar in the last league game seemed to confirm a worrying trend: Australia, in times of desperation, is not averse to pushing the envelope of acceptable behaviour.

The competency of umpiring was the other issue. There were many occasions through the two weeks when bona-fide no-balls for overstepping weren't spotted while those called were actually legal deliveries.

After Lara's departure, Ramnaresh Sarwan hung on grimly, blitzing a drive through cover and pulling on occasion; Dwayne Smith glowered defiantly, slog-sweeping Symonds out of the park and following it up with the stroke of the match: a cracking pull. These, however, mere irritants in the relentless Australian surge towards a win set up in the first half of the game.

Fine half-centuries from Damien Martyn and Andrew Symonds on a glue-pot wicket built the platform for Michael Hussey and Brad Haddin to finish in style. Martyn at his best is a batsman full of the most suave strokes. The right-hander hadn't been in the best of touch this tournament, and he set about finding it.

"I though he played very well," said Ponting about Martyn. "It wasn't an easy wicket to bat on as I can tell you. Damien went in and hit everything off the middle today. It was important that the role he played today was to go in and spend a little time and build a partnership. It will do his confidence a lot of good as well."

BRETT LEE... Man of the Match and Man of the Series.-

Symonds too had struggled to lay bat on ball, but Ponting made it clear before the final that the dread-locked giant wouldn't be dropped. "He is a pretty complete player, isn't he?" asked the Australian skipper rhetorically.

"He is one of the best fielders in the world as well. So you can put it on the top of his batting or bowling. His role over the last couple of years has not changed much. There is no reason why he can't move up and down the order. He has been one of those players who can adapt to the game."

It was a disappointing end to the tournament for West Indies. "I thought in the first half of the game in the field, the guys worked really hard," said Lara. "Unfortunately, we didn't get things going in the second half, we lost too many wickets early on, and put a lot of pressure on ourselves. You know, we have crumbled in the past in this tournament, and it happened again this time from the beginning. So, I wouldn't say surrender, it was just unfortunate we didn't get our act together."

Lara chose to look ahead. "We've got to put this behind us and move on. We are defending champions of the ICC Champions Trophy and we have to go into that full of bottle, full of zest, and able to do ourselves proud. We are defending champions, we have to get far in the tournament. We have a little qualifying situation. Hopefully we'll get through, and the guys will have some cricket under their belt. I still have confidence in the guys, and it's just a question of working on the physical, mental, and technical aspects of our game."

THE SCORES

DLF Cup, Final, Australia v West Indies, Kinrara Academy Oval, Kuala Lumpur, September 24, 2006.

Result: Australia won by 127 runs.

Australia: S. Watson c Gayle b Bradshaw 18; S. Katich c (sub) b Gayle 25; R. Ponting lbw b Taylor 6; D. Martyn c Morton b Bradshaw 52; A. Symonds c Morton b Sarwan 52; M. Clarke c Gayle b Sarwan 23; M. Hussey (not out) 30; B. Haddin (not out) 17; Extras (lb-7, w-9, nb-1) 17. Total (for six wkts. in 50 overs) 240.

Fall of wickets: 1-24, 2-37, 3-80, 4-153, 5-173, 6-200.

West Indies bowling: Bradshaw 10-2-30-2; Smith 8-1-35-0; Taylor 10-1-36-1; Bravo 9-1-65-0; Gayle 9-0-46-1; Sarwan 4-0-21-2.

West Indies: C. Gayle lbw b Lee 0; S. Chanderpaul c Katich b Bracken 12; R. Morton lbw b Bracken 0; R. Sarwan (run out) 36; B. Lara c Haddin b Bracken 5; D. Bravo c Ponting b Watson 8; W. Hinds b Watson 0; D. Smith c Ponting b Lee 30; C. Baugh c Haddin b Lee 3; I. Bradshaw c Haddin b Lee 0; J. Taylor (not out) 0; Extras (b-2, lb-7, w-3, nb-7) 19. Total (in 34.2 overs) 113.

Fall of wickets: 1-0, 2-16, 3-20, 4-32, 5-55, 6-56, 7-106, 8-112, 9-112.

Australia bowling: Lee 8.2-1-24-4; McGrath 6-2-6-0; Bracken 7-0-16-3; Watson 6-0-30-2; Symonds 3-0-15-0; Clarke 4-0-13-0.