It is more than sledging

Brad Haddin’s unbeaten 87 won him the Man of the Match award.-V. GANESAN

At Kochi, the line between aggression and antics was crossed, writes S. Dinakar.

Australia won by a mile — 84 runs — but the second Future Cup ODI in Kochi brought the on-field behaviour into scrutiny. Cricket emerged a loser before a full house after the ground staff had worked a minor miracle to get the arena ready following spells of heavy rain.

Both the sides were to be blamed for the fiasco, although local boy S. Sreesanth was the worst culprit. Words were exchanged and some of them might have bordered on sledging. The line between aggression and antics was crossed.

The Aussies play winning cricket, but their game also has a dark side. The Indian team, it is learnt, was needled about its Twenty20 achievement, which is still considered a very limited form of the game.

‘Good for Twenty20, but not good enough for Fifty50’ was the refrain. The Indians responded with anger.

However, this might have been an occasion when the Australians might not have started the unsavoury sequence of events. Sreesanth’s ill-tempered ways had a trigger effect. He got into a verbal duel with Brad Haddin, and as non-striker Andrew Symonds walked down the track to have a word with his partner, Sreesanth picked up the stray ball, broke the stumps and appealed for a run-out verdict.

The umpire declared it as a dead ball but Sreesanth continued to appeal vociferously. Indian skipper Dhoni displayed reached swiftly and judiciously, running up to Sreesanth and telling him ‘this is not the way to get wickets.’

All was not over yet. Sreesanth continued to behave badly. When he eventually got Symonds to miscue an attempted pull and held on to a skier, his celebration, was exaggerated and provocative. His face reflected rage, not delight.

This was not the first occasion that Sreesanth had found himself in a disciplinary mess. On the tours of England (Tests) and South Africa (Twenty20) he was spoken to by the match referees and docked match fees.

The Aussies were not far behind when the Indians batted. There was a lot of chatting, some of the words leaving the Indians fuming.

Harbhajan Singh,who had an altercation with Symonds earlier in the day, refused to leave the crease after being stumped. He was needled by the Aussies and umpire Steve Bucknor acted quickly to separate Harbhajan from the Aussie pack and coax him to return to the pavilion.

Sadly, this is an era ruled by television where downright bad behaviour often passes off for a great attitude and aggression.

In the night, both captains were called for a hearing by Chris Broad and were told in explicit terms to manage their teams properly. The Match Referee reportedly informed the captains that subsequent temperamental flare-ups in the series could result in a ban or a hefty fine.

The challenge before the match-referees and the umpires is to interpret the laws consistently. That does not appear to be the case now. In Kochi, the offending cricketers of a volatile match got away scot-free.

It was also a day when the Aussies played clinically efficient cricket. The Indians made early breakthroughs but Matthew Hayden and Symonds played with caution and aggression to construct innings of substance.

Brad Haddin’s footwork, timing and the ability to coax the ball through unmanned areas saw him end up with a stunning, unbeaten 87.

The Aussies had recovered well to reach 306 for six.

The Indian spinners were not allowed to settle down. Among the Indian bowlers, only Irfan Pathan operated with a measure of control. He has corrected the glitch in his action, is hitting the pitch hard and there is greater ‘work’ on the ball.

Then the variety of the Aussie attack came to the fore. Brett Lee proved expensive, but left-armer Mitchell Johnson, a skiddy bowler who can swing and cut from a whippy action, showed he could angle the ball away or bring it in from over-the-wicket at a brisk pace. He also changed his pace intelligently.

The tall Stuart Clark’s high-arm action and bounce, coupled with a nagging length and virtually no width left the batsmen cramped for room. James Hopes bowled steady medium pace and orchestrated a set-piece dismissal when Yuvraj Singh was caught at short cover.

The spinners, left-arm Chinaman bowler Brad Hogg and occasional left-armer Michael Clarke, bowled better than their Indian counterparts. Hogg spun the ball, mixed his length. The Aussie fielding supported the bowling, created the pressure.

Despite a defiant half-century from skipper Dhoni, India was never in the hunt. Johnson’s point perfect catch on the line to dismiss a free-stroking Rahul Dravid reflected Australia’s commitment to excellence in every aspect of the game.... except perhaps behaviour.

THE SCORES

Second ODI, Kochi, October 2, 2007. Australia won by 84 runs.

Australia: A. Gilchrist c Tendulkar b Zaheer 0; M. Hayden b Pathan 75; B. Hodge c Dhoni b Sreesanth 3; M. Clarke st. Dhoni b Pathan 27; A. Symonds c & b Sreesanth 87; B. Haddin (not out) 87; J. Hopes c Dravid b Sreesanth 4; B. Lee (not out) 2; Extras (b-4, lb-2, w-15) 21; Total (for six wkts., in 50 overs) 306.

Fall of wickets: 1-3, 2-8, 3-66, 4-160, 5-268, 6-297.

India bowling: Zaheer 10-1-55-1; Sreesanth 9-0-67-3; Pathan 10-0-47-2; Harbhajan 10-0-57-0; Powar 5-0-30-0; Tendulkar 3-0-22-0; Yuvraj 3-0-22-0.

India: G. Gambhir b Johnson 7; S. Tendulkar c Symonds b Clark 16; R. Uthappa lbw b Clark 41; Yuvraj Singh c Hayden b Hopes 10; R. Dravid c Johnson b Hogg 31; M. Dhoni c Hodge b Hogg 58; I. Pathan (run out) 1; Harbhajan Singh st. Gilchrist b Clarke 4; R. Powar b Clarke 17; Zaheer Khan c Hodge b Hogg 3; S. Sreesanth (not out) 7; Extras (b-4, lb-6, w-10, nb-7) 27; Total (in 47.3 overs) 222.

Fall of wickets: 1-11, 2-58, 3-79, 4-87, 5-136, 6-139, 7-154, 8-179, 9-190.

Australia bowling: Lee 7-0-44-0; Johnson 9-1-46-1; Clark 6-0-14-2; Hopes 7-0-33-1; Clarke 9-1-35-2; Hogg 9.3-0-40-3.