February 24, 2008

An Endearing Indian Loss

The last ever Commonwealth Bank tri-series has been a little boring for me to watch as I haven’t yet seen a good combined batting effort from any team. Although, there have been brilliant partnerships of 150+ between Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Gautam Gambhir in the washed out game against Sri Lanka at Brisbane and between Kumara Sangakarra and Mahela Jayawardene for the losing cause against India at Adelaide, I personally feel that the batting in the series has otherwise been dull other than Adam Gilchrist’s fabulous century at Perth against the Lankans. I wouldn’t like to take the sheen away from these partnerships as the batting sides were in a precarious situation when these partnerships blossomed. In the first case, India was 86/4 when Dhoni joined centurion Gambhir to rescue India and lead them to a respectable 267/4, which, till today was also the tournament’s highest batting total. In the second case, Sri Lanka was on 6/2 when Sangakarra and Jayawardene came together to stop India from making further inroads. Sangakarra, in fact scored a brilliant 128 which is the highest individual score of the series.

In today’s game at Sydney, Australia won the toss and elected to bat first and the Aussie batsmen were in devastating mood. At the end of 10 overs, their score was 92/1! That is a whopping 9.2 runs an over! You can’t blame the bowlers as for the first time in the series we had a pitch suited to batting. Australia would have had an even higher run rate if Gilchrist had been around. Gilchrist fell in the third over to a brilliant catch by Dhoni off Sreesanth. This was probably the best catch of the series till now. However the catch was a little controversial as the gloves Dhoni used didn’t meet ICC specifications (like we are even bothered!) as it had a webbing which enabled him to hold on to the catch (seriously, why did he have to dive then?). Gilchrist scored 16 runs of just 7 balls. Ricky Ponting joined Matthew Hayden and then they continued the attack against the Indian bowlers. Hayden whacked a superb pull off Ishant Sharma for six and Ponting hit Irfan Pathan’s very first ball into the crowd! After the tenth over, they slowed down a bit, but by then the damage had already been done. Hayden departed for a well made 54 after he was brilliantly run out by Rohit Sharma who reacted well in time to throw the ball to Virender Sehwag who whipped the bails off at the non-strikers end. His second wicket partnership with Ponting was worth 110. Then there was 63 run partnership between Ponting and Michael Clarke who fell for 31 to Sehwag.

Andrew Symonds came in after Clarke and as Ravi Shastri said during commentary, “played with the freedom of a millionaire!” Ponting scored a wonderful 124 before falling to Sreesanth towards the end of the innings. Symonds fell to a tricky Ishant delivery after scoring a 49 ball 59. There was a tiff between the two, but I wouldn’t like to write about such petty issues. At the end of the stipulated 50 overs, Australia’s scoreboard read 317/7 which was a huge total considering the fact that the second highest score in the series and the only other 240+ total till then was India’s 267 against Sri Lanka at Brisbane.

India’s response began on a horrid note as we lost Sachin Tendulkar in the first over itself, Brett Lee getting the major breakthrough. Sehwag and Gambhir hung in for a while but Sehwag’s departure in the ninth over was disastrous as India lost 2 more quick wickets in the from of Rohit Sharma and Yuvraj Singh in a space of 3 overs. By the eleventh over, india was in a miserable situation having scored just 51 runs for the loss of 4 wickets. Dhoni joined Gambhir and together they stabilized the innings. Lee’s re-introduction worked immediately as he got Dhoni for 36 and the 98 run partnership between Dhoni and Gambhir came to an end.

With the run rate mounting to 10 an over Gambhir found the perfect ally in Robin Uthappa to accelerate the tempo of the innings. Brett Lee began feeling the heat as he bowled 3 consecutive front foot no-balls which meant 3 free hits for India. The first free hit was pounded for a massive straight six by Uthappa. This shot in my opinion, was the best shot of the match. Gambhir, on the other hand played strokes all over the wicket and scored a classy century, the fourth of his career and the second of this series. His best shot was easily, the paddle sweep off Brad Hogg which went for six. When Gambhir fell for 113, the score was 216/6 and Pathan continued the recue act along with Uthappa who was playing brilliantly.

By the time Pathan got out, the score was 257/7 in 45 overs. Harbhajan Singh, who was booed by the immature Aussie crowd as he walked into the field, combined well with Uthappa and scored 20 runs in just 11 balls before he fell to Lee who got Uthappa for 51, in the very next ball after the Harbhajan dismissal. Uthappa had played a fabulous innings off just 46 deliveries and had won many hearts for his gritty knock. India was bowled out for 299 in the first ball of the fiftieth over as Lee finished with a 5 wicket haul. Ricky Ponting was given the Man of the Match for his return to form in ODIs. India may have lost the match, but they did so with dignity with this wonderful performance in what was the closest match of the tournament.

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