Team India wakes up at last

After a disastrous Test series, Indian players put up a fight at Adelaide, humbling the Aussies and then playing out a sensational tie against the Lankans. Over to S. Dinakar.

The cricket caravan moves to Adelaide, a charming city of churches, gardens and friendly people. The capital of South Australia is not the biggest of cities but was home to the game's foremost legend.

The Sir Donald Bradman Drive invites you as you make your way into the city from the airport. The city itself is a well-planned one and tram lines criss-cross the roads.

The Indian cricket team has two crucial matches here — against Australia and Sri Lanka — in the Commonwealth Bank ODI series. The stakes are high.

Adelaide has traditionally been a venue where India has performed better Down Under but the team had been brushed aside by Australia in the Test series here. Some people of the Indian origin are still angry about that defeat. I come across one of them, a man from Mumbai who has settled down here, and he says, “You should starve these cricketers of money. Only then they will play hard. They make millions of dollars in the Twenty20 leagues and lack the motivation to fight it out for the country.”

Strong words indeed. The Indians, though, eye the double-header at the Adelaide Oval, a quaint ground dotted with lovely white canopies that shelter stands. The setting is soothing but temperatures rise in the Indian camp. The rotation policy, adopted by the team-management, is a bitter pill to swallow for many though.

Sachin Tendulkar is rested from the game against Australia and there are several unhappy faces around. Tendulkar has made a fluent near-half century in the game against Sri Lanka at Perth and questions are asked about the maestro being left out. Would not the resting of Tendulkar rob him of his momentum?

Meanwhile, I catch up with former Australian fast bowler Geoff Lawson. A fiery paceman in the 80s, Lawson subsequently pursued a career in coaching and went on to guide the Pakistan team.

He is impressed with the current crop of the Australian pacemen. “Pattinson and Cummins are young, between 19 and 22. Both have excellent possibilities as fast bowlers. Pattinson did bowl with speed and hostility in the first two Tests against India,” he says.

Lawson is pleased with the progress made by left-arm paceman Mitchell Starc. “He is a tall man, has long levers and swings it late.”

Lawson has his take on Ben Hilfenhaus, immensely successful against India in the Test series, too. “Hilfenhaus needs the right conditions. Otherwise, it could be a bit of a struggle for him.”

He calls Peter Siddle “a tough country boy who can be aggressive and testing.” Reflecting on Australia drubbing India in the Test series he says, “It was a bit of both. The Australian pacemen bowled very well and the Indian batting is in decline. In the four Tests, the match went to the final day only in Adelaide.”

He went on, “The Aussies kept up the pressure all the time. India did not stand up to the stress. The Indian batting line-up is ageing. And Michael's (Clarke) leadership was very clever, very strategic.”

The former Australian paceman believes India's Umesh Yadav has possibilities. “He is a strong lad. And has good pace and he moves it away off the seam and in the air. It's sad that Varun Aaron, another promising Indian paceman, suffered an injury before the tour.”

Lawson says the Indians should persist with lanky paceman Ishant Sharma. “He did not have a great Test series here but he is still there.”

On the field of play at the Adelaide Oval, the Indians manage to overcome Australia in a humdinger. Gautam Gambhir sets up the win with a fine 92 and then skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni lives at the death. A brutal six over long-on in the game's final over by Clint McKay underlines his ability. Then, the Indians are involved in a sensational tie with the Sri Lankans. Gambhir, once again, holds the innings together, and then Dhoni dons the cloak of a finisher. He manages a tie this time, though, by scooping Lasith Malina's delivery — the final ball of the match — over covers and then running three.

“You have to keep your mind blank during the final stages and just react to the ball,” says Dhoni.

Well, that's his method to insulate himself from all the pressure around him as the stress builds up in the climactic stages.