Panning out as per the Aussie plan

THEY came in hordes, only to watch their heroes capitulate after promising much.

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

THEY came in hordes, only to watch their heroes capitulate after promising much. The Indian debacle at the Eden Gardens should not hurt really because it came against the best team in the world. The loss, however, exposed certain myths about India's overall strength.

Sachin Tendulkar falls and Andy Bichel is over the moon. — Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

For the spectators, the final was obviously disappointing. More than a hundred thousand fans, cheering only one team, were treated to some engaging cricket before Australia wore the crown in style, beating India quite comprehensively — by 37 runs to be precise.

A stunned stadium watched the Indian collapse from what looked a position of strength at one stage. Skipper Rahul Dravid termed it a "criminal offence,'' because he felt the target was "gettable.'' So what stopped the team of so many stars, who came up with such a miserable show on a pitch, which suited them — slow with the ball too turning encouragingly.

There was no vision in India's preparations for the match. The focus was on the availability of the captain, Sourav Ganguly, who had suffered a groin injury.

There was little sense in aggravating the injury, ahead of the tour to Australia. But he went through a fitness test and failed. We were told that he was keen to play, but then, ultimately, the team went in without him and Dravid did a good job, leading the squad with distinction, the defeat notwithstanding.

"It was not a good day for us. Many chances were not taken,'' complained Dravid. True, V. V. S. Laxman, a safe fielder normally, grassed three catches, but then the blame lay in the collective failure of the team and not just on those dropped catches. Laxman would be the first to own up the defeat if he alone is to be hauled up, but then the famed India batting line-up did little of note when faced with a target of 236.

The setting was perfect. A packed stadium, ideal weather and the teams raring to go. The venue had witnessed some classic encounters in the past even though India was not always the winning side, but the home team had to get its composition right. It certainly messed it up even before a ball had been bowled.

V. V. S. Laxman hears the sound of timber behind him, the bowler being Brad Williams. — Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

To keep Anil Kumble out was a folly and the team realised it from the three overs that Avishkar Salvi bowled.

The Mumbai seamer was completely out of place and looked ordinary as he was carted all over. It was an acutely embarrassing moment for the National selectors as Salvi was given the stick by the Australians. It was to be a terrible day for Salvi who hurt his shoulder and was out of the tour to Australia, paving the way for L. Balaji to gain his rightful berth.

Kumble would have been an asset on this pitch, but then the Indian team management failed to read the surface correctly. The leg-spinner also seems to have fallen out of favour with the team management.

If there was a gain from the match, if one could term it so, it was the brilliant display by Murali Kartik. The Railways left-arm spinner, acknowledged the best in the country, used the stage to showcase his determination. His spell raised hopes of an Indian win even if it was too early in the match, but then his work was not backed up by the batsmen.

Kartik commanded respect from the batsmen and conceded just one boundary. He was responsible for motivating fellow-spinner Harbhajan Singh and the duo put the shackles on the Australians. In hindsight, Kartik's dismissal of Ricky Ponting kept India in the game. The selectors may have certainly been embarrassed as Kartik got a thundering ovation from the crowd and his mates for his splendid bowling against a quality team.

Rahul Dravid has played on and Adam Gilchrist leaps in joy. — Pic. S. PATRONOBISH-

The Australians understandably were on cloud nine. "We played some superb cricket all through,'' said Ponting.

No doubt about that and in the final the Aussies carried their game to great heights. Ponting had warned the Indians on the eve of the match and promised to put up a show that would silence the spectators. He stuck to his words and led admirably to complete a convincing triumph which reminded one of Australia's domination in the last World Cup.

The match may not have fallen in the category of the classics, but it had enough to keep the crowd enthralled for long spells. There was merit in Dravid saying his team ought to have won because India had the batting potential. But this was only on paper.

Virender Sehwag's failure was hardly surprising because he looked lost against the excellent seam movement generated by Brad Williams and Nathan Bracken. Laxman promised but did not deliver. Sachin Tendulkar did fight and for some time it appeared that India would pull it off as Dravid too applied himself to the job. But then the dismissal of Tendulkar, missing the line while driving, and Dravid, playing on, put the brakes on the Indian hopes.

A rare early success for India as Adam Gilchrist is dismissed by Ajit Agarkar. — Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

The long Indian tail meant that the Aussies had a chance, if only they could maintain the pressure. The wily captain that Ponting is, he did not allow India to breathe easy at any stage and he found the man of the hour in Ian Harvey, who struck four blows in the space of 11 balls to finish the contest.

The result may have disappointed the home fans, but the fact remained that this was the most fitting end to the tri-series. Australia had looked the champion team all through and it was proved in grand style at the Eden Gardens where it had won the World Cup in 1987.

The winning huddle by the Australians in the middle at the end of the match was a great sight. The best team had won.

The scores

Australia: A. C. Gilchrist b Agarkar 7; M. L. Hayden c Laxman b Khan 19; R. T. Ponting c Laxman b Kartik 36; D. R. Martyn c Yuvraj Singh b Sehwag 61; A. Symonds c Badani b Harbhajan Singh 10; M. G. Bevan (not out) 40; M. J. Clarke (not out) 44; Extras (b-4, lb-7, w-7) 18; Total (for five wickets, 50 overs) 235.

Fall of wickets: 1-16, 2-32, 3-112, 4-129, 5-170.

India bowling: Agarkar 8-2-50-1; Khan 6-0-29-1; Salvi 3-0-23-0; Kartik 10-1-30-1; Harbhajan Singh 10-1-34-1; Sehwag 8-0-35-1; Badani 5-0-23-0.

India: S. R. Tendulkar b Bichel 45; V. Sehwag c & b Bracken 5; V. V. S. Laxman b Williams 22; R. Dravid b Clarke 49; Yuvraj Singh c Hayden b Symonds 4; H. K. Badani c Symonds b Clarke 30; A. B. Agarkar (not out) 26; M. Kartik b Harvey 1; Z. Khan b Harvey 0; Harbhajan Singh c Symonds b Harvey 2; A. M. Salvi b Harvey 0; Extras (b-4, lb-5, w-5) 14; Total (all out, 41.5 overs) 198.

Fall of wickets: 1-8, 2-36, 3-99, 4-110, 5-159, 6-168, 7-186, 8-186, 9-198.

Australia bowling: Bracken 8-1-15-1; Williams 7-1-30-1; Bichel 8-0-51-1; Harvey 4.5-0-21-4; Symonds 7-0-36-1; Clarke 7-1-36-2.