Washout dims India's hopes

Dhonis men need to beat West Indies to keep slender hopes of a semis berth


Australia's captain Ricky Ponting plays a shot during their Champions Trophy cricket match against India in Centurion, South Africa, on Monday. AP

On a track where, right from the off, the ball stopped on pitching and there was reasonable assistance for India’s two spinners, Australia had done outstandingly to reach 234 for four in 42.3 overs at the interruption.

 Continued heavy downpour resulted in the first abandonment of the Champions Trophy without a further ball being bowled, play officially called off at 7.35 pm. Pakistan (4 points) thus became the first team to reach the semifinal from Group A. Indian fans must now rely on Pakistan to do them a favour by beating Australia (3 points), and India (1 point) must defeat the West Indies convincingly, both on Wednesday, for Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men to sneak into the last four on nett run rate.

 Dhoni’s continued poor luck with the toss spilled over to a must-win game, and another ordinary bowling effort with Ishant Sharma and Harbhajan Singh being repeat offenders pushed the team to the brink when respite arrived.

Notwithstanding the bolstering of the bowling attack with leg-spinner Amit Mishra being drafted in for the under-performing Yusuf Pathan, India failed to impose consistent pressure apart from an eight-over passage at the start when Ashish Nehra and Praveen Kumar, replacing Rudra Pratap Singh, were on the money.

Unsurprisingly, it was the introduction of Ishant that loosened the grip. The gangling Delhi paceman, missing Zaheer Khan’s inspirational presence, has lost both pace and bite of late; his already diminishing confidence took a further beating when the ebullient Tim Paine and skipper Ricky Ponting smashed 16 off his first over to trigger a discernible change in momentum.

Unlike on Saturday when he bowled too short and was cut to ribbons by Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Yousuf, Ishant was culpable of bowling too full, allowing Paine, Ponting and Mike Hussey to do their bidding.

 That Harbhajan had another poor day in office merely exacerbated India’s woes. Despite getting the ball to fizz on pitching, Harbhajan failed to complement his junior spin partner adequately. Where Mishra, unafraid to use the googly, asked numerous probing questions, Harbhajan eased the pressure by bowling on both sides, making it impossible for Dhoni to set fields with any certainly.

That, of course, shouldn’t take any credit away from the Paine-Ponting-Hussey trio. After Shane Watson fell for a second blob in as many innings, the Australian skipper’s vast experience calmed the 24-year-old Paine’s nerves. The second-wicket pair bided its time when Nehra and Praveen were in their first spells, then upped the ante effortlessly.

 Ponting stamped his authority instantaneously over his tormentor in the past by smashing Ishant for a four in his opening over, thereby encouraging the right-handed Paine to express his attacking instincts as well. After warming up with a four and six off Ishant, Paine played the paddle as well as the reverse sweep to Harbhajan, though it was one sweep too many that ushered him out as Mishra elicited a top-edge to mid-wicket after an entertaining stand of 84 (86b).  Hussey came into this game under a shadow, a recent run-drought drawing calls for his ouster. Without ado, the left-hander got going, working the gaps beautifully and running excellently with his captain, whose odd moments of discomfort against Mishra were offset by characteristic steely determination.

It needed a freak direct hit from Gautam Gambhir, sweeping on the cover fence, to get rid of Ponting, scampering back for a second run, but by then Australia were well on the ascendancy as 88 (97b) came for the third wicket. Cameron White was pushed up to tonk the ball around as dark clouds gathered, accompanied by thunder and lightning. With an eye on the weather, Australia took the batting power play after 35 overs and amassed 44 in that period, but it was the weather that had the final say.

Score board

AUSTRALIA
Watson c Harbhajan b Nehra    0
(7b)
Paine c Harbhajan b Mishra    56
(58b, 7x4, 1x6)
Ponting (run out)    65
(88b, 4x4, 1x6)
Hussey c Tendulkar b Ishant    67
(65b, 5x4)
White (not out)    35
(30b, 2x4, 1x6)
Ferguson (not out)    2
(8b)
Extras (B-1, LB-1, W-7)    9
Total (for 4 wkts, 42.3 overs)234
Fall of wickets: 1-3 (Watson), 2-87 (Paine), 3-175 (Ponting), 4-227 (Hussey).
Bowling: Nehra 8-1-38-1, Praveen 8-0-34-0 (w-3), Ishant 7.3-0-53-1 (w-1), Mishra 9-0-45-1 (w-1), Harbhajan 9-0-54-0 (w-2), Raina 1-0-8-0.
 Runs during: Power Play 1: 1-10 overs: 49/1; Power Play 2: 11-15 overs: 31/1; Power Play 3 (batting): 36-40 overs: 44/0.

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