Men in Blue flounder

BRETT LEE, WHO WAS BACKED TO THE HILT BY HIS CAPTAIN, DISPLACED FIVE INDIAN BATSMEN.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

It came down to last man Munaf. Mongia surprisingly exposed him to Lee, who promptly took his fifth wicket... S. RAM MAHESH reviews the DO-OR-DIE MATCH that India lost.

India did a lot right in the final league game against Australia — a game the side had to win to make the final. Asked to bowl, Munaf Patel put on a fine display of controlled seam bowling, R. P. Singh started impeccably, Harbhajan Singh coated his deliveries with mesmerising proportions of side and over spin. The fielding, for most parts, was of a high standard. Suresh Raina's impersonation at point of a leaping trout to give India the first breakthrough was breathtaking. Tendulkar beat Martyn with an accurate bounce throw, R. P. Singh did Hayden in after a misunderstanding between the batsmen.

There was one moment of blemish; and it was a blemish of considerable proportions. Australia had been reduced to 99 for five, when Michael Hussey decided to run a non-existent two. Trying to make the non-striker's crease, Haddin failed as Harbhajan broke the stumps after collecting R. P. Singh's throw from the deep. Except, between the moment of collection and the moment of disturbing woodwork, the ball had left Harbhajan's hand.

The error was as egregious as it was elementary. Haddin, on one then, went on to make 46, and shared in a key 77-run partnership for the seventh wicket with Brad Hogg. The partnership helped Australia eke out 213 where 160 once looked a tough ask. But, 214 surely wasn't beyond a one-day batting lineup that featured Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag, and M. S. Dhoni. It, unfortunately for the men in blue, was.

Lee bumped off Sachin Tendulkar with a 90.5 mph thunderbolt after a bizarre calling-back incident. Hussey, at point, held on to the carve, and the Australians celebrated Tendulkar's dismissal a second time. The first instance occurred during the second over when umpire Mark Benson ruled him out, caught behind off McGrath, despite ball taking shoulder instead of bat. Benson then reversed his decision — much to Ponting's ire — after appearing to receive a mobile missive from the third umpire.

A DRAMATIC HAPPENING: The Tendulkar recall.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

Lee blasted through Sehwag's airy cover drive with an off-cutter. Stuart `none for 87' Clark trapped Rahul Dravid in front to complete a successful search for redemption which began with a Mohammad Kaif caught and bowled. Fifty for four, and India had to scale a steep incline.

"I think we lost it with the bat, there is no doubt about it," said Dravid, who is going through a lean patch in the one-day version by his high standards. "213 is gettable on that wicket and we should've got there. We didn't string enough partnerships together.

We didn't have people to, other than Dinesh (Mongia), none of the batsmen who got starts carried on. Probably we needed another 15 from batsmen at the top of the order, that was a disappointing thing in the batting performance."

Having featured in his last ODI on his 28th birthday in April 2005, Dinesh Mongia constructed an undefeated 90-ball 63 with five fours on a surprising return — inspired moment of selection or pure fluke? — and stitched together important middle and lower order partnerships. The left-hander, who made 800 First Class runs for Leicestershire at 53.33 last season to fight back into contention, even defied Lee.

First with Suresh Raina and then with M. S. Dhoni, Mongia seemingly put India on course. But Raina failed to read a Hogg googly. "That was a very, very good piece of bowling that," said a grateful Ricky Ponting later. Dhoni found Martyn on the sweeper cover boundary off a short ball. After the match Dravid was asked about the stroke, the insinuation being it was ill-advised, where in fact it was a ball to be hit.

"If you look through the batting order and leave aside Dinesh Mongia a lot of guys with a lot of experience than Dhoni could have played a lot better," said Dravid. "It's a hard one to stomach, these are the kind of losses that hurt. There are some positives but there are other areas of the game we need to get better at. I'm not going to blame individuals.

"Everyone in the team will have to look at himself and see if they played according to the demands of the situations. Dhoni is a natural strokemaker and will probably get out like that."

It came down to last man Munaf. Mongia surprisingly exposed him to Lee, who promptly took his fifth wicket. "I'm just getting back into it," said the blond speed ace. "It came out well tonight. Every spell I came up and bowled I felt confident, we had fantastic fields. It's a lovely compliment (Ponting calling him the world's best one-day bowler). You've obviously got to put that back on Ricky's captaincy as well.

"He's put that confidence in me, he's been the type of guy that when I wasn't bowling well, he sat me down and put a couple of different ideas in my head. Thinking back to Brisbane, he had a really good chat with me. We look at Ricky as one for guidance. Hopefully I can repay some of it back." Soul-searching is on order for India in one-day cricket, the team having won only two of its last eight completed matches. "It's important for all of us to be counted, consistently," said Dravid. "It includes me, I haven't had a very good tournament and I should be the first one to put my hand up and say I should've done a lot better.

I had a good chance to do that today, if I had batted the full 50 overs the result would have been different. It starts right at the top, with me. I would like to improve and get better, something I will be working on."

THE SCOREBOARD India v Australia, Kinrara Academy Oval, Kuala Lumpur, September 22, 2006. Australia won by 18 runs.

Australia: M. L. Hayden (run out) 54; S. M. Katich c Raina b Agarkar 9; R. T. Ponting c Agarkar b Patel 4; D. R. Martyn (run out) 19; A. Symonds lbw b Mongia 2; M. E. K. Hussey c Dravid b Harbhajan Singh 13; B. J. Haddin c Dhoni b R. P. Singh 46; G. B. Hogg (run out) 38; B. Lee c Sehwag b R. P. Singh 7; S. R. Clark b Agarkar 2; G. D. McGrath (not out) 0; Extras (lb-6, w-9, nb-4) 19; Total (in 48.1 overs) 213.

Fall of wickets: 1-36, 2-49, 3-87, 4-97, 5-97, 6-117, 7-194, 8-208, 9-213.

India bowling: Agarkar 8-0-44-2; Patel 9-1-32-1; R. P. Singh 9.1-1-43-2; Harbhajan Singh 10-2-24-1; Mongia 9-0-43-1; Sehwag 3-0-21-0.

India: V. Sehwag b Lee 10; S. R. Tendulkar c Hussey b Lee 4; M. Kaif c & b Clark 21; R. Dravid lbw b Clark 7; D. Mongia (not out) 63; S. K. Raina b Hogg 26; M. S. Dhoni c Martyn b Lee 23; A. B. Agarkar lbw b Hogg 9; Harbhajan Singh c Haddin b Symonds 0; R. P. Singh c Hussey b Lee 4; M. M. Patel c Symonds b Lee 1; Extras (lb-7, w-16, nb-4) 27; Total (in 43.5 overs) 195.

Fall of wickets: 1-7, 2-20, 3-47, 4-50, 5-96, 6-158, 7-185, 8-186, 9-193.

Australia bowling: Lee 8.5-0-38-5; McGrath 8-1-25-0; Clark 8-0-36-2; Symonds 9-0-41-1; Hogg 10-0-48-2.