In front of a packed house at the Nehru Stadium in Kochi, India went on to be crushed by Australia by a huge margin of 84 runs. The homeside couldn’t stay in the hunt at all from the 26th over onwards as it lost half of its side back to the pavilion. The Aussies had muscled their way to 306 for 6 under difficult batting conditions. The Indian bowling looked extremely ordinary on a wicket that was allowing the ball to grip the surface. India might have lost the match badly, but the crowd will be happy to have seen a full day of cricket.
For the Kochi match to get underway just 30 minutes past the original scheduled time of 9:00 AM was a miracle of sorts. The outfield was completely wet and soft yesterday because of a heavy downpour but the groundstaff worked against time to get it back in a shape. They even used methods like employing fire on a coal bed to quicken up the process something that might have been seen for the first time on a cricket field by most people. Not a single over was lost amazingly! MS Dhoni called ‘Tails’ at the toss which allowed him to put the Aussies to bat first. And his two fast bowlers – Zaheer and Sreesanth complemented with the early wickets of Gilchrist (caught at first slip off Zaheer) and Hodge (driving a Sreesanth outswinger to the keeper). Gilchrist was still the Skipper with Ponting still sitting out. The Indians made two changes with Robin Uthappa replacing the injured Sourav Ganguly and Harbhajan Singh coming on for RP Singh.
It was a similar script like the Bangalore match with Australia losing two early wickets and recovering. Hayden and Clarke were entrusted with the job which they did efficiently. But this time around, Michael Clarke couldn’t quite repeat the heroics of scoring a big one as he got brilliantly outsmarted by the combination of Pathan and Dhoni. Pathan first slipped the ball down the legs and Clarke fell all over in his flick shot as Dhoni did the rest in taking the bails off as if he was executing a predefined plan. Michael Clarke contributed 27 in 38 balls in a partnership of 58 before getting out in the 16th over. Harbhajan Singh at this stage along with Pathan worked really well in tandem to stifle the run rate leaving Hayden and Symonds to bide their time. Every now and then, Symonds took some calculated risks which paid off as his partnership with Hayden moved forward to provide the launching pad. Ramesh Powar was extremely disappointing and Tendulkar who has got a couple of fifers at this ground didn’t look any good at all. It was a bowling change that did the trick for Dhoni as Pathan got a reverse swinging yorker that uprooted the leg stump of Hayden but not before he had got 75 (in 80 balls with 5 fours and 3 sixes).
India got back into the game getting Australia to 160 for 4 in the 32nd but Symonds and Haddin just carried on the good job done by Haydos. Both right handers made the bowling look mediocre and the boundaries were coming at a fast clip to entertain the chances of getting to 300. Symonds eventually was caught and bowled by Sreesanth through a back of the hand slower delivery. The bowler playing for the first time in front of his home crowd looked absolutely stupid in his celebration and little did he realize that Symonds wouldn’t have cared at all having got 87 in just 83. Symonds got 9 fours and two sixes with some of the boundaries even coming through delicate touches down to thirdman. It was a pity that Symonds missed a hundred which he truly deserved but his only motive was to smash the bowlers around. Sreesanth to be honest turned out to be a villain for the Indians unfortunately as he kept on losing his cool. In one particular moment, he got Haddin hit on his thigh with a slower one for which he had given a long stare and when he was returning back to his mark appealed to the Umpire Suresh Shastri for an lbw in the most unbelievable manner. This time around Sreesanth might get a heavy punishment from the Match Referee as he already has a history in these matters! Australia through Brad Haddin reached an intimidating 306 for 6. Haddin stayed unbeaten on 87 from 69 with 8 fours and three sixes.
The Indian bowling seriously let the team down. Zaheer had a good first spell but again failed to return back well during the death. Sreesanth had gone nuts in going after the batsmen rather than concentrating on where he was bowling. He did take three wickets but the runs he had given away were 67 in his 9 overs that also included five wides down the legside in the final over! Irfan Pathan was perhaps the best bowler, although he should have bowled a lot better. He took 2 for 47 in his 10 but also had his Captain who was standing up to the stumps in all sorts of trouble in collecting his pacy deliveries at over 135kmh. The biggest disappointment for the whole of India was the performance of the two spinners – Harbhajan and Powar, who went wicketless while giving away a combined 87 in 15 overs. Powar couldn’t even bowl more than 5 overs!
It was a tough task on the batsmen to chase 307 on a wicket that was getting slower and lower. Gambhir fell very early to a peach of a delivery from Johnson that drove between his bat pad gap. But India seem to have been putting up a terrific job through no.3 Robin Uthappa who might have inspired Sachin Tendulkar to play an attacking game. Uthappa first took on Lee, smashing him square of the wicket twice for a boundary and then played an unusual pull straight down the ground for a six. If Uthappa can take on the world’s fastest bowler, then Tendulkar with the reputation of being hyped as the Best Batsman in the world had to show that he was the Boss in the middle. First he hooked Lee into the crowd for a six to a bouncer that was called as a ‘no ball’ to bring on the exciting ‘Free Hit’. But Tendulkar failed to even put bat onto ball in that free delivery! In the 9th over, Stuart Clark was introduced into the bowling attack and the fast bowler turned himself into a Slow medium pacer much in the mould of Chris Cairns. Holding the ball cross seam, he got Tendulkar to drive him early and into the hands of the short point fielder Symonds. Tendulkar departed after looking so good for his 16 (from 25 balls with a four and a six). A lot depended on India’s new star – Yuvraj and he stamped his authority with a difficult pick up shot off a low full toss from James Hopes for a six in what was a ‘Free Hit’. But Hopes and the Kochi wicket got the better of Yuvraj as the left hander played a push little too early to be taken at covers. Yuvraj’s 10 from 10 could only take India to 79 for 3. In the 15th over, Robin Uthappa walked across his stumps only to miss a Stuart Clark inswinger to be lbw leaving India in tatters at 87 for 4. It was a good innings but from Uthappa but not long enough, a 30-ball 41 that had 4 fours and two lovely sixes.
India now had just Dravid and Skipper Dhoni to win the match and both batsmen took their time in setting themselves up for the task. Things started to look good until Dravid’s meaty slog was caught at deep mid wicket by Mitchell Johnson, who was hardly a centimeter or two in front of the ropes! Dravid had got 31 in 48 with 3 fours and a six. India got to 136 for 5 and it was just too much on one batsman – MS Dhoni. Brad Hogg was the bowler to take the wicket of Dravid. Hogg combined with Michael Clarke who collected the former’s throw to back flick it to run out Irfan Pathan and the rest of the Indian tail enders came and went back after that. Dhoni helplessly watched the wickets fall at the other end and in the 48th over was the last man to be dismissed. Dhoni got 58 in 88 with 2 fours and 2 sixes which was a good innings as he didn’t run away from an inevitable defeat. India were bowled out for 222 in 47.3 overs. Bradley Hogg enjoyed himself taking 3 for 40 in 9.3 overs but the bowler making the difference was probably Stuart Clark with his 2 for 14 in 6 overs. In fact all the bowlers with the exception of Lee were amongst the wickets. The Man of the Match was a close call but it was Haddin with his finishing act who had got it ahead of Symonds and Hayden. The third ODI is a day match at Hyderabad on the 5th.