The Australian Impasse

In one day cricket over the last 3 years, Australia has inflicted deep scars on this Indian team. The scars were pried open again in Kuala Lumpur on September 22nd, and new gashes were added as India crumbled and folded while chasing a paltry 213 in the last league match of the DLF Cup. The fresh recipients of the scars were Suresh Raina and Mahendra Singh Dhoni. They will remember this match for a long time. At the presentation ceremony after the match, India’s captain Rahul Dravid had a haunted look in his eyes, as he struggled to articulate the words to explain the defeat.

The Indian bowlers did a fantastic job restricting the Australian batsmen. Harbhajan Singh was outstanding and made superbat Mike Hussey look like a mere mortal. RP Singh and Munaf Patel continued to impress while Ajit Agarkar seems to be relishing his role as the senior partner in the seam attack. The Australian score would have been far worse, if Brad Haddin had been given run out, but he received the benefit of the non-existent doubt from the third umpire who thought Harbhajan didn’t have control of the ball as he broke the stumps. Haddin proceeded to hit 4 beautiful sixes of Dinesh Mongia who until then had bowled a tidy spell and even claimed the wicket of Andrew Symonds. India finished well and would have been mighty pleased with their efforts at the innings break.

The Indian chase began in earnest with Tendulkar square driving Brett Lee for a boundary in the first over, but it all fell to pieces soon after. Tendulkar was wrongly given out, and then courageously recalled by an umpire who realized his mistake. But, Sachin didn’t look the same after that and spooned a simple catch to point. Lee further exposed Sehwag’s weakness to the full incoming delivery by sneaking one through, but the most important blow was Stuart Clark nailing Dravid leg before with a perfect delivery. On a wicket with some assistance for the bowlers, Dravid was the only Indian batsman who inspired confidence and could have guided the team home without too much fuss.

Suresh Raina showed some pluck and good skill in hitting Brett Lee over the top, but he again failed to pick a quality spinner in Brad Hogg who deceived him with a beautiful wrong ‘un. Dhoni who was playing in a controlled fashion till then was nicely setup by the Aussies into lashing out at a Lee bouncer which he flayed straight to Martyn on the point boundary. Hogg pretty much sealed the game with a quick top spinner to get rid of a palpably nervous Agarkar. The tail collapsed quickly after, with Dinesh Mongia watching from the other end. It is hard to be critical of the highest scorer of the game, but in spite of all his one day experience in the County game, Mongia chose the safer option of remaining not out in an Indian defeat by offering up the tail enders as fodder to Lee, rather than get out striving for an improbable win. Granted it was his comeback into the Indian team, but it was disheartening to see his lack of purpose at the business end of the game.

Dravid will have to take a leaf out of Ganguly’s book to combat these Aussies. He will have to lead by example against India’s nemesis to overcome this impasse. Luckily for him his next opportunity will be coming up soon in the Champions trophy game on October 29th in Mohali. Will that be enough time to recover from this mind numbing defeat? Maybe not, but the only way to get the monkey off their back is for India to beat the Aussies.