Over in a jiffy

The Aussie bowlers did the simple things right. They denied the Indian batsmen width and bowled the full length that Twenty20 cricket demands. S. Dinakar reports.

The Pup was in control. From the moment he dived at point and whipped up a direct hit at the non-striker’s end it was Michael Clarke’s night under the lights at the MCG.

The Twenty20 heroes were gone in 20 minutes... well almost. Bundled out for 74 in 17.3 overs after Mahendra Singh Dhoni wrongly opted to bat, the Indians saw the Aussies knocking off the runs in just 11.2 overs. Australia sizzled, the Indians fizzled out.

“We want to be the best Twenty20 side in the world,” declared Clarke after the rout. “Today’s win is the first step in that direction,” he added. Roared on by an audience of just over 84,000, it was a perfect night for the Aussies on a grand stage. A section of the gathering, however, blotted the host’s copybook by booing Harbhajan Singh.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni blamed his batsmen. His young batting line-up was caught out on a seaming track. As the pressure built, they resorted to desperate measures. Perhaps, Dhoni could have come up the order considering this was a Twenty20 game. He had greater experience and he was the skipper.

As the contest unfolded, it became clear that the freshly arrived ODI batsmen required more time in the middle. Had India fielded, they could have, at least, had a feel of the conditions.

Clarke said the Aussies had watched videotapes of how the Indian batsmen approached Twenty20 cricket. “The planning was spot on and the execution perfect,” said Clarke.

The Aussie bowlers did the simple things right. They denied batsmen width and bowled the full length that Twenty20 cricket demands. Brett Lee, fast and clever, probed the batsmen. Nathan Bracken’s left-arm angle, movement and lift complemented Lee. Ashley Noffke was lively and is clearly someone with potential. James Hopes’ medium pace was tidy and there were easy wickets for left-arm Chinaman bowler Adam Voges in the end.

The bowlers were helped by some ordinary stroke selection by the Indian batsmen. They were attempting to slog which meant there was little footwork on view. “The batsmen forgot their roles. I can understand strokemakers getting out to big shots but there were some who should have done better,” said Dhoni. The skipper himself should have done better than attempting an ill-advised pull-sweep off part-time debutant off-spinner David Hussey. This was a non-percentage shot on a huge arena.

In the event, only Irfan Pathan (26 off 30 balls) put up some fight. This doesn’t speak much for the specialists. The Indian innings lacked partnerships and thrust. It was going nowhere till it folded up abruptly. And a maestro watched the collapse from the pavilion.

Since Tendulkar and the Big Four had not been a part of India’s Twenty20 plans earlier there was little point in the great batsman figuring in a one-off match. Without Tendulkar, this Indian line-up was always going to be stretched.

If the Aussie bowling was tight, the fielding created further pressure. Clarke set the ball rolling for the host by sending back the dangerous Sehwag and the Indians never recovered. Bracken prised out India’s impact batsman in Twenty20, Gautam Gambhir, when the left-hander, without feet movement, attempted to loft a delivery outside off-stump. Soon, it became a procession of batsmen.

The popular Gilchrist was smart behind the stumps and then launched into the Indian bowlers, who had little to defend. Clarke, opening the innings, dismantled the bowling with typical panache.

Gilchrist is in the last leg of an astonishing career and every match that he plays till he hangs up his international boots will be a celebration of his spirit.

It is evident that Clarke is being groomed to take over from Ricky Ponting as and when the time comes. The Punter was nursing a back injury and Clarke did not disappoint. He appears to relish the responsibility and is a quick-thinking cricketer. This was a night when he had a slice of luck as well. Irfan Pathan and Harbhajan Singh misjudged the flight of the ball while chasing a skier at deep mid-wicket. The offering was eventually grassed.

This was also a night when Harbhajan, with the willow, and Symonds crossed paths but there were no words exchanged. A potential flash-point had come and gone.

Dhoni might have considered the game a practice outing ahead of the CB ODI tri-series but the Aussies would think otherwise. They had registered their first win over India in three Twenty20 outings.

As Ponting revealed the previous afternoon, the Aussies are treating this brand of cricket with greater seriousness. For the Indians, the warning signs are clear.

THE SCORE

Twenty20 Match, MCG, February 1. Australia won by nine wickets.

India: G. Gambhir c Hopes b Bracken 9; V. Sehwag (run out) 0; D. Karthik b Lee 8; R. Uthappa c D. Hussey b Bracken 1; R. Sharma b Hopes 8; M. Dhoni c Lee b D. Hussey 9; I. Pathan c Gilchrist b Bracken 26; P. Kumar c Voges b Noffke 6; Harbhajan c Clarke b Voges 1; S. Sreesanth c Hodge b Voges 0; I. Sharma (not out) 3; Extras (w-3) 3. Total: 74.

Fall of wickets: 1-5, 2-12, 3-20, 4-20, 5-32, 6-49, 7-60, 8-63, 9-63.

Australia bowling: Lee 3-0-13-1; Bracken 2.3-1-11-3; Noffke 4-0-23-1; Hopes 3-0-10-1; D. Hussey 3-0-12-1; Voges 2-0-5-2.

Australia: A. Gilchrist c Gambhir b Kumar 25; M. Clarke (not out) 37; B. Hodge (not out) 10; Extras (b-1, lb-1, w-1) 3. Total (for one wkt., in 11.2 overs) 75.

Fall of wicket: 57.

India bowling: Pathan 3-0-18-0; Sreesanth 3-0-25-0; Kumar 2-0-15-1; I. Sharma 1.2-0-8-0; Harbhajan 2-0-7-0.