Men in blue get the blues

For the 500-odd fans of Indian origin and 150-odd who flew in from India it was a forgettable experience at the SuperSport Park.

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

Jason Gillespie appeals successfully for a lbw decision against Sachin Tendulkar. Gillespie, who took three wickets conceding just 13 runs, was declared the `Man of the Match.'-— Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN

THE Australian approach to such a key match was amazingly relaxed. The `nets' before the match had been declared optional and very few members of the team reported at the SuperSport Park.

In contrast, the Indian team was in full strength. The team management did grumble about the loss of time in commuting from the hotel to the ground. "We're not happy with the accommodation provided for such a big event. We've been losing precious time in travelling to and from the hotel which ought to have been closer to the venues," said manager Jyoti Bajpai on the eve of the match.

On the cricket front too, the Indians had been facing problems. The batting was in a mess and the bowlers silently prayed for more runs to defend. It was not easy to keep oneself motivated and the mood was, to describe it best, shaky. The lack of confidence was never so pronounced.

The captain's form was appalling and the vice-captain too was rusty. For Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid, it was obviously very significant that they got a few runs. It was not advisable to expect Sachin Tendulkar to bail the team out of trouble for the Australians had chalked out a plan for the master.

"We've had plans in the past but they haven't worked most of the time. We've a few plans this time too," warned Australia skipper Ricky Ponting as his side prepared itself for the crucial match. The Australians showed no signs of nerve at the absence of Shane Warne, out because of doping scandal.

How had India prepared? There was no concrete tactics for the match and the team just entered the contest more on hope than conviction. Can a team be expected to excel when short of self-belief as India was against Australia? The team management put up a brave front but within the players knew it was going to be tough.

The Australians had a long memory no doubt and were keen to sort a few points out with the Indians, especially Harbhajan Singh, the off-spinner who had made their lives miserable on their tour to India. The manner in which the Aussies attacked Harbhajan clearly showed the strategy adopted by Ponting and the top-order to rattle the off-spinner. That he was rattled was clear from the line he bowled and the ease with which the batsmen clobbered him.

The Indian off-spinner had no clue as he tried to contain Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist. In fact, the Indian team, after being shot out for its lowest ever World Cup total, showed no signs of a fightback at any stage. It was this spineless approach that stood out so sorely. The drooping shoulders gave an idea of how ill-prepared the Indian team was to tackle the Aussie challenge.

The team entered the field with a defeatist attitude. The Australians were quick to sense the lack of effort from the Indians and lost no time in plundering runs to race away to a most authoritative victory. There was not one moment when the Indians looked capable of matching the Aussie might.

Well, the Indians could not have offered any excuses. They did not either. It was a humiliating show and one, which evoked sharp criticism from all quarters. The show of anger by fans back home was probably an over-reaction because Australia was clearly the better side. There was simply no comparison between the teams and India looked hopelessly ill-equipped against the best team in the world.

The least the Indians could have done was to put up a fight for the sake of the morale of the side. "Disappointed but not down," was Ganguly's reaction. True, but at no stage did India look a team capable of pushing stronger opponents in its group. Few would have expected a disjointed Indian combination to test the awesome force that Australia is but there was no justification for the shabby manner in which the team caved in.

For the 500-odd fans of Indian origin and 150-odd who flew in from India it was a forgettable experience at the SuperSport Park. Much was expected from the star-studded batting line-up on a favourable surface but the Indians could not face the bounce and pace generated by the Aussies.

It was a sight to watch the Aussies demolish the opponents in a planned manner. The fast bowlers were directed to keep the ball coming at the rib cage and once the Indians discovered there was bounce in the pitch they quickly changed their tactics. It was hard to understand the haste shown by the likes of Ganguly and Virender Sehwag in trying to dominate when they ought to have been selective in playing their strokes. Their dismissals were a shocking display of indiscipline and the team never recovered from the early blows. Even Tendulkar could not raise his game to the level expected and the rest simply did not count once Rahul Dravid too perished to a poor shot.

The Indian bowling was never going to test the opposition when the target was just 126. "The batsmen let the team down," admitted Ganguly. The Indian skipper also singled out the fine spell from Jason Gillespie as the reason for the heavy defeat.

Gillespie, injury prone and much under-rated, left his mark on the match with a fascinating performance. He was crafty and gained pace off the pitch and his variety, especially the change of pace that foxed Tendulkar, was the turning point of the match. The Indians had been troubled by Gillespie in the past too but on this occasion he did not ease the pressure at any point. The consistency with which he attacked the batsmen was the highlight of his performance, which deservedly earned him the `Man of the Match' award. The margin of defeat — Australia won by nine wickets — put things in the right perspective. The difference between the teams was big and a lesson for those who believe the Indians to be in the top bracket. This match proved that the Indians had a long way to go when faced with a quality team on a quality surface.

The scores:

India: S. Ganguly c Gilchrist b Lee 9; S. Tendulkar lbw b Gillespie 36; V. Sehwag c Gilchrist b Lee 4; R. Dravid b Gillespie 1; Y. Singh lbw b McGrath 0; M. Kaif c Symonds b Gillespie 1; D. Mongia c Symonds b Lee 13; A. Kumble (not out) 16; H. Singh lbw b Hogg 28; Z. Khan lbw b Lehmann 1; J. Srinath (run out) 0. Extras (lb-5, w-10, nb-1) 16. Total (in 41.4 overs) 125.

Fall of wickets: 1-22, 2-41, 3-44, 4-45, 5-50, 6-78, 7-80, 8-120, 9-125.

Australia bowling: McGrath 8-3-23-1, Lee 9-1-36-3, Gillespie 10-2-13-3, Symonds 6-0-25-0, Hogg 4.4-0-16-1, Lehmann 4-0-7-1.

Australia: A. Gilchrist st. Dravid b Kumble 48; M. Hayden (not out) 45; R. Ponting (not out) 24. Extras (lb-3, w-8) 11. Total (for one wkt in 22.2 overs) 128.

Fall of wicket: 100.

India bowling: Srinath 4-0-26-0, Zaheer 4-0-26-0, Harbhajan 7.2-0-49-0, Kumble 7-0-24-1.