The sight of a sellout crowd early on Sunday put to rest momentarily the question over the future of 50-over cricket. What followed and climaxed into an incredible finish left the promise that, with games like these, ODIs will not only survive but also put its biggest rival, namely T20, to a stern test.
India’s obituary in this first of the seven-part mega serial was written and almost sent for print when two feisty players, who had done little with the ball, decided to script one of the biggest upsets in the history of ODIs on Indian soil. They fell short when the unthinkable was within touching distance, but more importantly for India, their effort kept an uncomfortable question from rearing its head in public.
Harbhajan Singh and Praveen Kumar needed 92 off 61 when the seventh wicket fell. The two not just picked themselves up from the floor but launched a series of counterpunches, which threatened to knock the stuffing out of the world champions.
The astonishing fight-back made sure that, at least for a day, a few things will be erased from public memory, which the Indian team would do well to remember.
In the absence of at least a couple of frontliners and despite the fairytale counterattack, they showed inadequate depth in the most important department apart from the reluctance to shift to Plan B — taking chances when the time was ripe.
Earlier, Tim Paine showed bits of flair, Ricky Ponting played with a skipper’s responsibility with Michael Hussey providing late and classy acceleration. The unorthodox and at times unconvincing Cameron White, however, formed the unlikely backbone of the innings against an attack scoring low on discipline and variety.
White was a weak link in Australia’s lower middle-order when they came for four Tests last year and despite seeing him walking in at No. 4, M.S. Dhoni didn’t attack him. A proven suspect against true spin and a batsman whose technique against proper seam bowling is not above doubt, White settled down against the steady but safe ploy chosen by Ishant Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja before putting his T20 skills to good use.
There is no guarantee, however, that bringing back Harbhajan when White came in would have worked because India’s principal spinner had a bad day. His line was inconsistent, he couldn’t make the right-hander drive against the spin and dropped it short whenever he pitched it around off stump.
The inclusion of Praveen ahead of Munaf Patel was baffling too because the former is ineffective when the ball doesn’t swing and conditions hardly warranted that. He moved the odd one early on after which the Australians made mincemeat of his medium-pace.
The target wasn’t impossible given the flat track and fast outfield but India were never really in the chase after losing the openers. It looked all over in the 40th over before the game of queer turns took a bizarre one. The miracle didn’t happen, but what did should help India sort out their problems behind closed doors instead of the whole country discussing them.
Australia-Watson lbw b Nehra 5, Paine c Dhoni b Ishant 50, Ponting lbw b Jadeja 74, White c Raina b Nehra 51, M Hussey c Kohli b Ishant 73, Voges c Gambhir b Harbhajan 3, Hopes run out 14, Johnson not out 14, Lee b Ishant 0
Extras: (b-0, lb-2, nb-2, w-4) 8
Total: (for 8 wkts in 50 overs) 292
FoW: 1-5, 2-102, 3-151, 4-227, 5-233, 6-256, 7-291, 8-292
Bowling: Praveen Kumar 10-0-77-0, Ashish Nehra 10-0-58-2, Ishant
Sharma 10-0-50-3, Harbhajan Singh 10-0-57-1, Jadeja 9-0-39-1, Raina 1-0-9-0
India- Sehwag c Paine b Lee 13, Tendulkar c Ponting b Watson 14, Gambhir lbw b Johnson 68, Kohli c Watson b Voges 30, Dhoni c Lee b Watson 34, Raina c&b Johnson 9, Jadeja lbw b Hauritz 5, Harbhajan b Siddle 49, Praveen not out 40, Nehra not out 2
Extras: (lb-10, w-14) 24
Total (for 8 wkts, 50 overs) 288
FoW: 1-25, 2-45, 3-103, 4-167, 5-183, 6-186, 7-201, 8-285
Bowling: Lee 6-0-28-1, Siddle 9-0-55-1, Watson 10-0-70-2, Johnson 10-0-59-2, Hopes 2-0-10-0, Voges 4-0-22-1, Hauritz 9-1-34-1.