Had rain not intervened...

Harbhajan Singh is excited after nailing Mark Cosgrove during the Australian innings. The Indian spinner acquired a lot of turn and bounce.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

At the Kinrara Oval in its second game, against Australia, the rain contrived to save India, after having put it in a bit of a spot in the first place, writes S. RAM MAHESH.

The rain does seem to have made a habit of following Team India. From Colombo to its first DLF Cup match against the West Indies — a galling defeat on the Duckworth-Lewis method — to its practice session at the verdant Turf Club ("I thinks we've had our quota of rain for the next couple of years to be honest," said an exasperated Dravid), the men in blue seemingly need only to turn up for the clouds to burst.

At the Kinrara Oval in its second game, against Australia, the rain contrived to save India, after having put it in a bit of a spot in the first place. The match was rapidly acquiring the credentials needed for being a humdinger when the heavens opened for the first time during the Indian innings. Chasing 245 for victory in 50 overs, India had made its way to 16 for no loss in five overs: Sachin Tendulkar — pinged on the helmet by Glenn McGrath — had charged him with success; Rahul Dravid had allowed finely calibrated McGrath deliveries past under strict supervision.

Then, the covers were sandbagged in place for over two hours. When they came off, India's target was 170 in 29 overs! "At the start of the innings, 245 in 50 overs, I thought, was chaseable," said Dravid. "I'm still disappointed we didn't get those 50 overs. I'm not saying it would have been easy — it never is — but... Probably we didn't adjust to the demands (of changing the target). There were a lot of things to think about suddenly. We had to chase at seven with the new ball seaming around, we had to keep an eye out on Duckworth-Lewis, we knew the Power Play overs were reduced."

Things rapidly went out of control for Team India. Mitchell Johnson, who Dennis Lillee said was "a once in a generation bowler", took advantage of the angles he had access to as a left-armer and the conditions on offer to reduce the opposition to 35 for five in eight overs. There things stood as the heavens opened for the second time in India's innings.

"Aw, look you can't say either way," said Ponting, putting things in perspective, when asked if he thought the match was in the bag. "At the interval (between the innings) India would have probably fancied their chances. But, to come out suddenly (to a readjusted target) requires a different mind-set."

The fortuitous ending overshadowed some excellent work by India's bowlers in the first half of the match. "I think the way we came back through our spinners was excellent," said Dravid. "Harbhajan and Viru (Sehwag) controlled the middle overs. Munaf, R. P. Singh and Agarkar bowled pretty well as well. Their areas were good."

The only cause for concern was Irfan Pathan, who despite getting Ricky Ponting, went for 32 in his four overs. This, after the first game where he bled 22 in two. "We needed a good start, and I think Irfan has struggled a bit," Dravid reasoned on why Pathan wasn't given the new ball when swing was his forte.

"Ajit (Agarkar) and Munaf (Patel) have been our best bowlers, and I thought we'd use Irfan in the middle and see how it goes. Unfortunately, it didn't come off." Was he concerned at Pathan's dip? "Concern is probably a strong word," said Dravid. "When he's bowling well he's such an asset to us.

"He has a huge impact, especially with his ability with the bat, he lets us play five bowlers.

"We have to try and nurse him through this period — probably bowling him in different situations might give him a bit of confidence, which will trigger some good performances. We'd like him to bowl better."

Australia, cruising on 157 for three at one stage, lost its last seven wickets for 87 runs in an innings played out under dark clouds threatening to burst. Harbhajan Singh, who nearly made a mess of things when he dropped Watson — opening with Phil Jaques — in the seventh over, redeemed himself. The off-spinner was the prime instigator of a period of play between overs 25 and 40 that saw just 52 eked out runs. Sehwag was a willing and capable ally.

Harbhajan started off by rifling in his first few deliveries, conceding five in his first over. But, he settled, slowing it through the air, acquiring turn and bounce. Watson skipped down the track, failed to keep his flick down, and watched in dismay as Raina pulled off an excellent catch, diving forward. Thus ended a phase of plunder.

In this phase, Watson — first with Jacques, briefly with Ponting, and then with Clarke in his period of sparkle — menaced India with the possibility of a score in excess of 325.

"When we looked at this tournament as one for experimentation, Shane (Watson) opening was definitely one of the things that we looked at. We think he has got the technique to face the new ball, and as he showed he can play a few strokes as well when needed."

THE SCORES

Australia v India, Kinrara Academy Oval, Kuala Lumpur, September 16, 2006. No result.

Australia: P. A. Jaques c Sehwag b Patel 25; S. R. Watson c Raina b Harbhajan 79; R. T. Ponting c Tendulkar b Pathan 19; D. R. Martyn c Dhoni b R. P. Singh 4; M. J. Clarke c Raina b Patel 64; M. J. Cosgrove c Dravid b Harbhajan 4; B. J. Haddin (run out) 18; G. B. Hogg c Dhoni b Agarkar 12; M. G. Johnson c Dhoni b Agarkar 1; S. R. Clark c R. P. Singh b Patel 7; G. D. McGrath (not out) 1; Extras (b-1, lb-4, w-5) 10. Total (in 49.2 overs) 244.

Fall of wickets: 1-64, 2-92, 3-113, 4-157, 5-167, 6-200, 7-230, 8-232, 9-243.

India bowling: Agarkar 8.2-0-50-2; Patel 10-1-53-3; R. P. Singh 7-1-35-1; Pathan 4-0-32-1; Harbhajan 10-0-26-2; Sehwag 10-0-43-0.

India: R. Dravid c Martyn b Johnson 6; S. R. Tendulkar c Haddin b Johnson 12; I. K. Pathan b Johnson 0; V. Sehwag (run out) 8; Yuvraj Singh c Jaques b Johnson 0; S. K. Raina (not out) 1; Extras (w-7, nb-1) 8. Total (for five wkts., in eight overs) 35.

Fall of wickets: 1-20, 2-20, 3-34, 4-34, 5-35.

Australia bowling: McGrath 3-1-10-0; Johnson 4-0-11-4; Clark 1-0-14-0.