It is symonds again

Andrew Symonds' 88-ball unbeaten 107 was the defining effort of the series. The Aussie was the Man of the match for his quickfire century in Nagpur.-PTI

How the Aussies approach the middle overs with rotation of the strike, hard running and the occasional big hit, is a lesson for the other teams. S. Dinakar reports.

The champion teams have that extra something — the X factor — in critical situations.

It actually is a lot of things — creating situations, conquering conditions, playing the key moments well, minimising errors on the field, comprehending the art of closing out the games.

For instance, let’s take the sixth ODI of the Future Cup series in Nagpur where Australia grabbed a winning 4-1 lead with just a game remaining.

Australia was without influential opener Matthew Hayden, lost make-shift opener Michael Clarke early to a debatable caught behind decision, but Adam Gilchrist and skipper Ricky Ponting seized the initiative from the Indian bowlers in the Power Play overs.

Then, even after the Indian spinners Harbhajan Singh and Murali Kartik struck telling blows, Australia was able to sustain its momentum in the middle overs. This was a period of consolidation after the loss of four wickets before the 130-run mark, but Australia maintained a healthy scoring rate between overs 20 and 40.

How the Aussies approach the middle overs with rotation of the strike, hard running, and the occasional big hit, is a lesson for the other teams. This team can power ahead without seeming to take risks.

The work done in the middle overs meant the Aussies had wickets in hand for a blitz in the last 10 overs. It was here that Andrew Symonds changed gears. Symonds’ 88-ball unbeaten 107 was the defining effort of the series. He rebuilt with Brad Haddin and then put his foot on the accelerator with the busy James Hopes.

The pacing of the innings — Australia eventually reached 317 and won by 18 runs — could not have been better.

Then, after Indian openers Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly had laid a solid platform with a 140-run opening association, the Aussies struck at vital junctures to rock the host.

The variety in the Aussie attack proved India’s undoing. Left-arm Chinaman bowler Brad Hogg has tormented the Indians, considered fine players of spin, in the series. Clueless against Hogg, Yuvraj played across the line to perish early. The left-hander is someone with ability but there are several aspects of his batting he needs to improve upon. Yuvraj is tentative in his footwork against the moving ball early in his innings, and is also vulnerable to quality spin for he does not always read the spinners from the hand. With his strikes in the middle overs, Hogg has been a major player in the Aussie triumph.

Brett Lee — he also dropped a sitter off Robin Uthappa — had an off-day but the depth in the Aussie ranks meant the side had someone for the situation.

The gifted Mitchell Johnson’s sensational over — the 49th of the innings — when India required 28 with M. S. Dhoni and Robin Uthappa at the crease was a case in point.

At Vadodara, Johnson had hounded the Indians with his inward movement from over-the-wicket. Now, he went round-the-wicket and took the ball away from the right-hander with pin-point accuracy — neither providing width nor bowling a wide — to send down a double-wicket maiden. Both Dhoni and Uthappa were scalped by the wily left-armer who is bound for glory.

The Aussies caught well when it mattered. Brad Hodge’s effort at squarish long-off to dismiss a well-set Ganguly was a difficult catch made easy. This was another key moment of the contest.

Compare this with S. Sreesanth’s miss at fine-leg when Symonds, on two, miscued Harbhajan. India grassed an opportunity here. Dravid putting down Gilchrist (on 16 then) at gully off Sreesanth also hurt India.

The Indians could not curtail the flow of singles and twos in the middle overs. Then, more than 100 runs were rattled up by Australia in the last 10 overs. Once again, the yorker length balls were missing. Zaheer was off-colour. A mellowed Sreesanth generated speed, but lacked consistency.

The move to promote Irfan Pathan to the No. 3 slot fetched some runs, but denied a specialist batsman time and space to build an innings.

Having picked an out-of-form Dravid in the XI, the think-tank should have sent him at No. 3. Despite a tremendous Uthappa blitz in the end, India did not deserve to win.

THE SCORES

Sixth ODI, Vidarbha C.A. Ground, Nagpur, October 14. Australia won by 18 runs.

Australia: A. C. Gilchrist c Uthappa b Pathan 51; M. J. Clarke c Dhoni b Zaheer 0; R. T. Ponting c Dravid b Harbhajan Singh 49; B. J. Hodge c Dravid b Kartik 20; A. Symonds (not out) 107; B. J. Haddin c Tendulkar b Sreesanth 25; J. R. Hopes c Dravid b Zaheer 39; B. Lee (run out) 17; M. G. Johnson (run out) 1; Extras (lb 3, w 4, nb 1) 8; Total (for eight wkts. in 50 overs) 317.

Fall of wickets: 1-2, 2-98, 3-102, 4-129, 5-204, 6-294, 7-315, 8-317.

India bowling: Zaheer 10-0-62-2; Sreesanth 8-0-64-1; Pathan 9-0-60-1; Harbhajan Singh 8-0-56-1; Kartik 9-1-37-1; Yuvraj Singh 1-0-15-0; Tendulkar 5-0-20-0.

India: S. C. Ganguly c Hodge b Hogg 86; S. R. Tendulkar st. Gilchrist b Hopes 72; I. K. Pathan c Clarke b Hogg 29; R. Dravid c Hodge b Hogg 7; Yuvraj Singh lbw b Hogg 6; M. S. Dhoni c Ponting b Johnson 26; R. V. Uthappa c Hopes b Johnson 44; Harbhajan Singh (not out) 6; Zaheer Khan (not out) 3; Extras (b 4, lb 8, w 7, nb 1) 20; Total (for seven wkts. in 50 overs) 299.

Fall of wickets: 1-140, 2-189, 3-203, 4-213, 5-218, 6-290, 7-290.

Australia bowling: Lee 7-0-50-0; Johnson 9-1-39-2; Bracken 8-0-54-0; Hopes 4-0-30-1; Symonds 10-0-39-0; Hogg 10-0-49-4; Clarke 2-0-26-0.