Being humble has its rewards

Brian Lara and Chris Gayle provided good entertainment.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

Imagine that. In a tournament featuring the best side in the world, Australia, and a side that till recently was the hottest going around, India, the unfancied Lara-led West Indies made it to the title clash first, writes S. RAM MAHESH.

When Chris Gayle found Australian captain Michael Hussey — standing in for Ricky Ponting, who'd been rested — with a pull off Watson, old ghosts wheezed and rattled in the closet. In the first game of the DLF Cup, Gayle hit Watson to point: the dismissal had started the slide that saw nine wickets fall for 29 runs and West Indies squander a gift-wrapped chance of victory.

The colly-wobbles set in after Gayle's departure in the fourth game, but the work done by Brian Lara proved sufficient. His protege Dwayne Bravo finished things off amidst drama, and West Indies was in the final.

Imagine that. In a tournament featuring the best side in the world, Australia, and a side that till recently was the hottest going around, India, the un-fancied Lara-led West Indies made it to the title clash first. The irony wasn't lost on Lara, who played an innings of unmatched glitter. "This team is going to stay on for a camp here till the Champions Trophy, so it's good that we'll be playing on Sunday (in the final) rather than starting the camp on Thursday," he said. "We're not highly ranked, but we are working very hard, and we're very humble about it. This win is very important for us."

A target of 273 on a track that was decidedly duplicitous in pace was expected to be tricky. Difficult even. But, Australia — with seven changes from its previous game — had to contend with the multi-textured luminosity of Brian Lara, who at 37 continues to confound biology. From the first thrilling slash past point — his bat a blur of accelerating wood — the left-hander looked in the mood. The slash was followed by the most sublime of off-drives. He twitched his wrists at deliveries on off, when not unloading into soul-stirring cover drives.

"I just tried to play the ball on its merits," said Lara of his 80-ball 87. "A good ball is a good ball; a bad ball is a bad ball. You've got to respect that. I didn't find the need to invent any strokes."

Chris Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan had rustled together 32 — Shivnarine Chanderpaul had earlier unluckily been given out caught off his pad — before Lara's genius made its virtuoso appearance. Gayle, after a crunching pull for six, nearly beheaded Stuart Clark twice with blows of scary power. He passed 50 in 56 balls. Clark was taken for 44 in his first three overs.

Dan Cullen, Australia's off-spin prodigy, was brought on, and Lara itched to show him who was in charge. He floated down the track, and dabbed one behind point for four. Then he backed away, walked back into line, and loosened his wrists to persuade another past 'keeper Haddin. Lara continued after Gayle's departure — the pair had added 151 — till he was caught off the back of his bat.

The bowler that suffered the most was Clark, whose seven overs went for 87. The tall 30-year-old, who Australian selectors felt was cast in Glenn McGrath's mould, had trouble landing it. When he did manage to put one in the right region, his front foot was invariably over the line. Lara said the assault on Clark wasn't pre-meditated. "We were a bit behind when starting off, but Chris (Gayle) accelerated. He pretty much plays it as he sees it. Someone had to go, this time the unfortunate bowler was Stuart Clark."

The West Indies skipper's construction pushed to the periphery Hussey's first ODI hundred. "When I came in we were in a bit of trouble," said the left-hander. "I tried resurrecting things and found good allies in Hayden and Braddie (Haddin). I wanted to invest some time initially, and then kick on." Hussey reached his hundred in 86 balls, his second fifty coming in just 34 balls.

Of all Australia's batsmen, Hussey was the lone man — Haddin's teeing off notwithstanding — who looked in rhythm. His clean, efficient technique helped him on a difficult track before he finished in a blaze of incredible shots. Michael Bevan with the ability to hit boundaries some Australians called him, and he certainly proved it against West Indies.

Hussey also seemed to relish captaincy. "I really enjoyed trying out new ideas, working out ways of getting wickets. I had some senior players I could bounce ideas off. I really enjoyed the way Brian (Lara) constructed his innings today, and enjoyed playing mind games with him, trying to make him play a few different strokes, but he batted brilliantly." Was it good to have Ricky Ponting's advice when the rested captain carried drinks? "Yeah, I really needed that, it helped bouncing ideas off him. He's very calm, doesn't get too worried about things."

THE SCORES

Australia v West Indies, Kinrara Academy Oval, Kuala Lumpur, September 18. West Indies won by three wickets.

Australia: M. L. Hayden c Taylor b Bravo 49; S. M. Katich (run out) 22; S. R. Watson c Lara b Taylor 0; A. Symonds c Smith b Bradshaw 8; M. J. Clarke c Gayle b Bradshaw 1; M. E. K. Hussey (not out) 109; B. J. Haddin c Taylor b Bravo 70; B. Lee (not out) 1; Extras (b-1, lb-5, w-6) 12; Total (for six wkts. in 50 overs) 272.

Fall of wickets: 1-41, 2-42, 3-57, 4-64, 5-104, 6-269.

West Indies bowling: Taylor 10-0-53-1; Bradshaw 10-0-35-2; Gayle 7-0-46-0; Smith 7-0-38-0; Samuels 7-0-42-0; Bravo 9-1-52-2.

West Indies: C. H. Gayle c Hussey b Watson 79; S. Chanderpaul c Haddin b Lee 0; R. R. Sarwan c Haddin b Bracken 25; B. C. Lara c Hussey b Lee 87; D. J. Bravo (not out) 37; W. W. Hinds c Haddin b Lee 1; M. N. Samuels (run out) 0; D. R. Smith b Symonds 4; C. S. Baugh (not out) 7; Extras (lb-6, w-16, nb-11) 33; Total (for seven wkts. in 47.2 overs) 273.

Fall of wickets: 1-12, 2-44, 3-195, 4-242, 5-249, 6-249, 7-255.

Australia bowling: Lee 10-0-46-3; Bracken 9-0-31-1; Clark 7-0-87-0; Watson 10-0-42-1; Symonds 5.2-0-27-1; Cullen 6-1-34-0.