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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Australia win battle of bowlers: CB ODI #7

Australia 9/203 [50 0vers] (M Clarke 79, I Pathan 4/41) defeated India 153 [41.2 overs]
(M Johnson 3/42) by 50 runs at the Adelaide Oval: CB Series #7.

Today's uncharacteristically (especially for Adelaide) low scoring match was one for those who appreciate good bowling. Neither the heat (the temperature reached 37 degrees) nor the pitch could explain why two notionally strong batting sides produced only 356 runs between them for the loss of 19 wickets.

When Australia won the toss, batted but lost 5/73 to some good, but hardly unplayable, quick bowling from Ishant Sharma (again), Irfan Pathan and series debutant Munaf Patel the match looked all over.

Fortunately Michael Clarke played another gritty innings, which was without blemish until, running out of partners (one of whom, Brad Hogg he had
himself run out ) he was caught at deep midwicket. His 79/108b included six 4s, but perhaps more significant were the 40 singles.

Clarke started circumspectly, middling the ball but often hitting it straight to a fielder. A misfield
by Pathan, a rare blemish by the Indians, brought him a boundary which would have boosted his confidence. As he came to terms with the bowling and his team's parlous position he became more prolific, keeping the score ticking over, albeit at a rate normally associated with test than ODI cricket.

He was the only top order Australian who stayed at the crease for long. Adam Gilchrist started briskly but soon played on to Sharma [1/25]; Ricky Ponting didn't settle in and was caught at backward point [2/41]; Matthew Hayden's 13/34 b included a huge 6 before he edged Pathan to keeper M S Dhoni [3/43]; Andrew Symonds, very much out of sorts lately, steered one straight to gully [4/50], while Mike Hussey was still settling in when he gave Dhoni another catch off Pathan [5/73].

This catalogue of underachievement shows how important Clarke's innings was in both providing a glimmer of hope while wickets were falling at the other end and then a platform for a modest revival. Thanks to support from the lower order Australia just batted out the 50 overs and just passed 200.

I didn't think that this would trouble India. In the short term it looked as if I was right, as they seemed to weather the early loss of Sachin Tendulkar (after he'd previously snicked Nathan Bracken between Gilchrist and Hayden at slip).

Yet I was wrong. Irfan Pathan, demoted from test opener to ODI no 3 (still too high IMO for a front line bowler on a hot day),
struck a couple of sweet boundaries but was then removed by the estimable and easy to underrate (though not by me) James Hopes [2/55]. The wheels then fell off as Gautam Gambhir, who'd played flashily but looked as settled as he was ever going to be, fell to Mitchell Johnson for 34/42b [3/59]. Rohit Sharma (who had fielded very well) followed two balls later, caught behind off Hopes, who had now taken 2/5 [4/59].

The wisdom of India's decision to play five bowlers now looked more questionable. Yuvraj Singh, who had been selected ahead of Virender Sehwag (said to be suffering from a slight injury: to his body, not his pride) at last found form of sorts. He struck
Hogg for the team's only 6 of the innings, passed 50 runs in all forms of cricket on this tour (in his 11th innings, I heard Harsha Bogle on ABC Radio say!) and helped M S Dhoni restore some equilibrium to the contest. Just as Hogg looked like being hit out of the attack Yuvraj tried one biff too many and was well caught by Stuart Clark at long on [5/115].

After that India weren't in the hunt as the Australians, sensing victory, as they are apt to do in such situations, rode a wave of self-belief underpinned by their tight bowling and tight fielding. Dhoni, who called on a runner, was run out by Hayden [6/134]. The inexperienced Robin Uthappa was unable to muster the tail, the last three of whom batted like number elevens, and Johnson, Bracken and Hogg swept them aside.

Gilchrist's diving catch, a reminder of what a good keeper he has been is, to remove Munaf Patel ended the innings in the second ball of the 42nd over.

Any 50 run victory in an ODI is convincing enough, but in a low scoring match like this one such a margin represents a trouncing. Australia took a bonus point and are now secure on top of the table, despite the present deficiencies in their batting.

On Tuesday India and Sri Lanka meet here in Adelaide to fight for the other place in the finals. I still think that India will prevail but its selectors will need to think long and hard about the composition and balance of their team. Sehwag must, if 90%+ fit, be included; it'll be interesting to see whether Dhoni is fit enough to play and, if not, who will captain the side. Tendulkar? In the early part of the Australian innings he seemed to be offering a lot of advice to Dhoni from his position at slip. Much of this seemed to be taken. Don't forget that it was their batting, not their bowling and fielding, which let India down so badly.

A fascinating match, untypical of Adelaide Oval's reputation for high scores, though I've not quite forgotten that only last season the ground saw an
even lower scoring ODI where the trounced recovered to take the series.

Scorecard. see especially the bowling figures.

Cricinfo Bulletin.

Quick singles

# The photos above (which I took from the Bradman Stand) show examples of the attacking fields which were employed by both sides for much of the game. For the most part the bowlers bowled to their fields.

# The Adelaide Oval scoreboard, despite receiving fulsome praise from Peter Walsh on ABC radio, was once again far from infallibler. Not only did Munaf Patel's nameboard have to be hastily repainted, there were delays in identifying correctly the bowler and batsman on strike and the scores were, as the ABC radio scorer quite properly pointed out, often wrong. Sreesanth's dismissal was for some time wrongly recorded as "CWK" (caught wicket keeper) when it was obvious to anyone watching the play that he had been "S" (stumped).

# The replay screen was more accurate than the scoreboard but once again I was irritated by its failure to show the outcomes of decisions adjudicated by the third umpire. This is shortchanging the paying and watching spectators.

# About 21,000 people attended the match. My rough estimate, based on numbers standing near the scoreboard and seated in the various stands, was higher, but I won't dispute the total. The game was billed as a sellout; if so, either the marketing people were gilding the lily or many ticket holders preferred the comfort of their couches to the rigours of the sun blasted ground.

# Many of those who did attend found the combination of heat and low scoring not conducive to close attention, so the first Mexican wave started very early in the piece. Even many in the members' areas joined in. The security staff appeared to be more tolerant than they had been during England's tour last year which was sensible.

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