India lost a tight game to Australia thanks to two bad starts. India started badly while bowling and recovered in the middle overs! While batting, again, India made a hash of the start. Although the Indian batting recovered from that wobble, the magnitude of the bad start meant that India lost by 18 runs. The fact that India got that close is a credit to the Indian middle-order batsmen!
As M. S. Dhoni said at the post-match interviews, India can take a lot of positives from this game.
When India were bowling, an Australia total of 380 seemed likely at one stage. Australia got off to a sensational start with Ponting and Hayden murdering the bowling attack. In particular, Sreesanth bowled like a millionaire! He bowled so inconsistently that one almost whipped the prayer mat out to seek Ajit Agarkar’s re-appearance in the Indian line up! India pegged Australia down to a less daunting 317. In particular, Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh and Yuvraj Singh bowled brilliantly. This meant that India’s 4-bowler strategy appeared to have worked… just! I am not sure if this is a strategy that can be persisted with.
Despite the good bowling in the middle overs, in order to win, India would have had to overhaul the highest 2nd innings total at the SCG prior to last night.
Another bad start — this time in the batting — meant that, at 51-4, a score of 200 looked like a huge mountain to climb. Yet, India recovered, thanks to Gautam Gambhir, M. S. Dhoni, Robin Uthappa, Irfan Pathan and Harbhajan Singh to get to a total of 299!
There are positives and these include the middle-overs bowling and the middle-overs batting. There is little doubt that M. S. Dhoni is a calming influence on this team. He rallies his young cadets to keep fighting till the end. In players like Rohit Sharma, Gautam Gambhir, Robin Uthappa and Irfan Pathan, he has a core set of players that will respond positively too.
Gautam Gambhir is batting really well these days. He was in fine form and batted with a calm head on his responsible shoulders. In the absence of firepower at the top and with the dodgy form/knee of Yuvraj Singh, on this ODI tour, Gambhir has been the foundation on which the rest of the team has been built. If he had lasted until the ball-change in the 34th over, the match result may well have been different; a fact that he acknowledged himself in the post-match sound-bytes!
The performance of Robin Uthappa was also a revelation. Prior to this game he hadn’t really had a major opportunity to showcase his undoubted skills. Apart from a weakness that he has early on in his innings — of shuffling too far forward and across — Uthappa looks like a sensational and dependable batsman. He has a calm head on his shoulders and, like Gambhir, appears to love a tight situation! In that sense, he has a Michael Bevan like quality to his batting. Along with the indefatigable M. S. Dhoni, Uthappa looks set to play a long innings in Indian cricket.
The match was played at the SCG, the very cauldron that saw the infamous MonkeyGate explode in the faces of the Australia and India teams! The same venue saw the alleged instigator of that blow-up cause another one last night — this time with Ishant Sharma. After being bowled by a beauty from the young Indian tearaway, Symonds appeared to say something to the Indian bowler who responded by giving Symonds a few directions to the dressing room. It is somewhat unlikely that Ishant Sharma will escape a fine and a reprimand.
Most Match Referees will, these days, slap a fine on send-offs to the dressing-room unless of course, it is carried out by “fine Australian cricketers” — when such actions will be seen as “natural aggression, which should not be removed from the game” or some such platitude. Be that as it may, giving the batsman a send-off is a no-no and young Sharma should be prepared to cop it on the chin!
In another interesting twist in last nights’ game, the match referee, reacting to a claim made on Channel-9 by Ian Healey, seized M. S. Dhoni’s gloves after the veteran Australian gloveman claimed that Dhoni’s gloves were illegal!
The Indian team should ask some searching questions of its opening bowlers and opening batsmen. I would not be surprised if we see either Sachin Tendulkar or Virender Sehwag drop down the order in the all-important game on Tuesday against Sri Lanka. Similarly, I would not be surprised if Sree Santh is asked to sit out that game. The team may also want to accommodate Praveen Kumar in the mix.