Finality comes early to opening Carlton Series final
If finals are deigned to be more exciting, more tense and more competitive affairs than most of the games which precede them, then today's opening bout of the Carlton Series deciders between Australia and West Indies didn't necessarily fail the test. At least not initially. By the end, though, Australia's 134 run victory was looking far from the stuff of which a cricket enthusiast's dreams are made.
In short, this match rapidly tailed away into another comprehensive drubbing. Initiated by a respectable performance from the Australians with the bat that allowed them to reach 9/253, it was sealed with a bowling effort that ensured that only Brian Lara (35) and Marlon Samuels (24) were able to mount any sort of defiance amid a wreckage-ridden reply of 119. Which all leaves the tourists now requiring the rather improbable matter of two wins in succession over the course of the next four days if they are to claim this series.
But, while the result ultimately still managed to fall within the realms of the eminently predictable, there was a good deal to recommend this game through its early stages. For all of about sixty-five overs, in fact.
West Indies' captain Jimmy Adams had taken what looked like a gamble at the beginning of the afternoon when he invited the Australians to bat first. It has been just under thirteen months since a team batting second last won a one-day international at the Sydney Cricket Ground, and as many as seven of the last nine one-day internationals at the venue have been claimed by the team which batted first. Also potentially looming as a significant factor was the memory of Australia's compilation of the record score of 7/337 in the corresponding match last season.
It soon proved to be a heady decision, nonetheless. Sydney has been affected by poor weather for much of the last fortnight and the pitch responded accordingly. There was zip, there was bounce, there was pace, and a hint of sideways movement on offer too. Strokemaking was difficult enough in the conditions, but the tourists accentuated the fact with a disciplined, accurate display with the ball.
New ball bowlers Nixon McLean (1/47 from ten overs) and Cameron Cuffy (2/45 off ten) set the tone well and, for once this summer - against Australia at least - the fielders and the remainder of the attack chimed in. Mark Waugh (10) fell to an edge to slip in just the tenth over to ensure that the home team produced only its second sub-fifty opening stand of the series and there was nothing earth-shattering to follow in the way of the conception of sizeable partnerships. Australia's final total assumed healthy rather than imposing proportions.
Only Adam Gilchrist (44), Steve Waugh (38), Ricky Ponting (33) and - in the dying stages - Ian Harvey (47*) looked genuinely capable of producing an authoritative individual hand. As things transpired, it was a measure of the extent of pressure applied by the West Indians that, of those four, only the freewheeling Harvey was able to see things through to a satisfying conclusion.
In an explosive cameo from Lara, the West Indians continued to find a method of fighting the Australians' fire with some of their own. With their enigmatic left hander in scintillating touch and with their score at 2/58 in the fifteenth over, the assumption that the West Indians might have been able to conjure an exciting struggle did not look unreasonable. Lara even gave the impression that he was in the mood to make the Australians pay a high price for a stream of invective that appeared to be fired by Michael Bevan from mid on after the second delivery that he faced smashed into his helmet.
But it all unravelled rapidly from the moment that Lara sent a thick outside edge flying hard to Gilchrist's right as he drove at Damien Fleming (2/34 off seven overs). Gilchrist's spectacular diving, one-handed interception - an absolute stunner - ushered in a horror period for the tourists, from which they were simply unable to recover.
Yet another procession ensued. Adams (9) looked like a man with his mind elsewhere as he wafted at a Harvey (2/5 from six overs) delivery without moving his feet. Samuels (24) was needlessly run out as Bevan pounced athletically from square leg to effect a direct hit that ensured that the youngster's mix-up with Ricardo Powell (3) was fatal. Powell himself fell after wildly playing across the line at a straight ball from man of the match Harvey. All-rounder Laurie Williams (1) hooked ambitiously at McGrath; Mahendra Nagamootoo (8) tried to swing an Andrew Symonds (2/18 from five overs) off break out of the ground; and McLean (0) failed to clear mid off with another slog at Symonds. A patient Sylvester Joseph (18) was the last man to go, holing out when he lofted a Shane Warne (1/28 off 9.2) leg break high into the air to allow the Australian to compensate for a mistake he had made in trying to complete a similar caught and bowled in his previous over.
The West Indians had genuine cause to be annoyed about Umpire Simon Taufel's highly dubious lbw decision to which opener Daren Ganga (0) lost his wicket. Television replays clearly suggested that the offending Glenn McGrath (2/25 off ten overs) delivery had also traversed a thick inside edge en route to Ganga's front pad. Of the complete collapse of their middle and lower order, no such misfortune could be proclaimed.
The tourists had made it through to this phase of the series by combining a mixture of instinct and knowhow in three crucial encounters with Zimbabwe. But tonight's result continued to underline the inescapable truth that has haunted them all summer - that they fail to produce anywhere near acceptable results against Australia in pressure situations. They need to find a way of upsetting home team's applecart, its rhythm and its suffocating aura of superiority. They have precisely one match left in which to do it.