Lost opportunity

Man of the match Shane Watson (three for 29) gathered his wits and grabbed the wickets to end India’s fight.-PICS: S. SUBRAMANIUM Man of the match Shane Watson (three for 29) gathered his wits and grabbed the wickets to end India’s fight.

Australia defeated India by 24 runs in the fourth ODI of the Hero Honda Cup series at the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium. Though the target wasn’t a stiff one, the Indian batsmen failed to rise up to the challenge, writes K.C. Vijaya Kumar.

It was a day when the best-laid plans cracked. India was expected to win and leapfrog to the top spot in One-Day International cricket. Sachin Tendulkar’s walk past the 17,000 run summit seemed to be a foregone conclusion. Mitchell Johnson had every right to expect some respect on his 28th birthday. And Indian skipper M.S. Dhoni was expected to get past 1000 runs in a calendar year.

In the end, none of the above happened. Australia, meanwhile, defeated India by 24 runs in the fourth ODI of the Hero Honda Cup at the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium, to draw level at 2-2. Australia scored 250 in 49.2 overs and India replied with 226 in 46.4 overs with local hero Harbhajan Singh (31) lending some futile entertainment.

The signs leading up to the match on November 2 were not favourable to Dhoni’s men as Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir nursed injuries and remained doubtful starters. However, when the game began fortunes briefly revived as Sehwag was available for selection and Dhoni won his first toss of the series and opted to field. “This time of the year, you are bound to get dew at night and between overs 15 to 40, it is our spinners who bowl a large chunk of overs so I thought it would be better for us to bowl first,” said Dhoni.

Ricky Ponting was delighted. “We would have batted first had we won the toss. Considering what happened in Nagpur (when Dhoni smashed 124) after I opted to field, I guess I will opt to bat first all my life,” quipped Ponting. However, the captain could not stay long in the dressing room as opener Shaun Marsh failed to counter Ashish Nehra’s delivery that swung into his pads. Ponting (52, 59b, 5x4, 1x6) walked out and pulled Nehra with panache as he along with Shane Watson (49), who was slowly enjoying his return to form, shared a 64-run second-wicket partnership.

Ponting tucked into Ishant Sharma with lofted drives while Watson punched a few down the ground before fatally edging Harbhajan’s first delivery. Later Ponting, banking on Indian fielders’ alleged lethargy, was in for a shock as Ravindra Jadeja’s throw was on target. Cameron White (62, 71b, 3x4, 1x6) and an in-form Michael Hussey (40) then scripted a 73-run fourth-wicket partnership that failed to gain momentum as the innings entered its final phase.

White played a few inside-out drives over extra cover while Hussey pulled a few before succumbing to Yuvraj. And once White became one of the six run-out victims of the match, Australia lost its gallop in the final stretch, scoring just 49 from the last 10 overs. “It was a bit strange, there were a couple of good scores but none of us could go on and make a century,” said Ponting. The Indian bowlers led by Nehra (three for 37) largely bowled well though Ishant leaked runs.

Late order heroics from Harbhajan Singh didn’t help the cause.-

Ponting’s apprehensions over a below-par total on a pitch that remained true and afforded good bounce seemed misplaced when the Indian chase unravelled under lights. Sehwag (30, 19b, 7x4) scattered birthday lad Johnson’s deliveries all over the park while Tendulkar remained watchful. Sehwag, however, fell to left-arm seamer Doug Bollinger (three for 38), who remained nippy and bowled an attacking line. “Doug proved his wicket-taking ability again,” Ponting said.

Though Sehwag made his exit, attention was riveted on Tendulkar’s (40, 68b, 6x4) march towards 17,000 runs. The little man, with his tucks past mid-wicket and drives through cover, kept the audience glued to the game. However, when off-spinner Nathan Hauritz struck Tendulkar’s pads with a delivery straying down the leg-side and umpire Asoka De Silva raised the finger in approval to a feverish appeal, the Australians were in with a sniff.

Dhoni (26) and Yuvraj Singh (12) failed to repeat their rescue-and-revive act while venting their ire on insensitive fans, who kept shuffling near the sightscreen. As the big four in the Indian batting line-up failed to take wing, the young trio of Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina and Jadeja struggled to cope with pressure and run-rates.

Raina was done in when Hauritz got one to turn sharply past the open blade and knock his off-stump. “We knew that their young batsmen will be under pressure,” said Ponting. Dhoni counselled patience. “They are young and will learn from their mistakes,” he said.

The contest however raged on as Harbhajan (31) and Praveen Kumar (16) with the devil-may-care attitude of tail-enders, swung their bats around before Man of the Match Watson (three for 29) gathered his wits and grabbed the wickets. “250 was gettable. It was a failure of our batting unit. We needed partnerships but we kept losing wickets. Our bowlers did a good job in restricting them to 250 and we could have got those runs if we had batted the full 50 overs,” mumbled Dhoni on a day when the Indian team could have wrested a 3-1 lead and gifted despair to an injury-plagued Australian team.

In the end, Ponting summed up: “I am proud of the way our team fought back. It was `now or never’ and we did well.”

THE SCORES

Australia: S. Watson c Dhoni b Harbhajan 49, S. Marsh lbw b Nehra 5, R. Ponting (run out) 52, C. White (run out) 62, M. Hussey c Ishant b Yuvraj 40, M. Henriques st Dhoni b Harbhajan 6, M. Johnson b Nehra 8, G. Manou (run out) 7, N. Hauritz (not out) 8, P. Siddle c Jadeja b Nehra 1, D. Bollinger (run out) 0. Extras (lb-1, w-9, nb-1): 11. Total (in 49.2 overs): 250.

Fall of wickets: 1-24, 2-88, 3-123, 4-196, 5-217, 6-226, 7-236, 8-241, 9-247.

India bowling: Praveen 9.2-0-41-0, Nehra 8-0-37-3, Ishant 5-0-42-0, Jadeja 7-0-27-0, Harbhajan 10-0-48-2, Yuvraj 10-0-54-1.

India: V. Sehwag c Watson b Bollinger 30, S. Tendulkar lbw b Hauritz 40, V. Kohli c Manou b Bollinger 10, Yuvraj Singh (run out) 12, M.S. Dhoni c Manou b Bollinger 26, S. Raina b Hauritz 17, R. Jadeja (run out) 7, Harbhajan Singh c & b Watson 31, Praveen Kumar c Manou b Watson 16, A. Nehra c Hauritz b Watson 7, Ishant Sharma (not out) 3. Extras (b-1, lb-5, w-20, nb-1): 27. Total (in 46.4 overs): 226.

Fall of wickets: 1-40, 2-78, 3-94, 4-113, 5-145, 6-156, 7-177, 8-204, 9-217.

Australia bowling: Johnson 9-0-74-0, Siddle 5-2-15-0, Bollinger 9-2-38-3, Henriques 7-0-33-0, Hauritz 9-1-31-2, Watson 7.4-1-29-3.