India crash to nine-wicket defeat
It was hardly the stuff of world champions. Four months after India were crowned the world's best Twenty20 side, they crashed to a humiliating nine-wicket defeat against Australia at the MCG. They were so rusty that they almost broke Kenya's record of 73, the lowest total in Twenty20 internationals, instead registering the second-worst score of 74 as they failed to adjust to the tempo.
They were dismissed in the 18th over and Australia needed less than 12 overs to post their first Twenty20 win against India, with just enough time for Adam Gilchrist to entertain the 84,041-strong crowd in his final match in the shortest format. India's captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni said his side wanted to use the game as practice for the CB Series, which starts on Sunday, but more net sessions might be in order for several players.
Irfan Pathan made 26 and was the only player to reach double-figures for India. When he was the last man out, edging to Gilchrist up to the stumps to give Nathan Bracken his third wicket, the result was all but assured. Gilchrist and the stand-in captain Michael Clarke (37 not out) made sure of the win, while Brad Hodge chipped in with 10 at the end.
Clarke registered the first six of the game - India had managed only three fours, the least number of boundaries in this format - when he lifted Sreesanth comfortably over long-on, and Gilchrist followed with a vicious hook for six off the same bowler. Gilchrist received a standing ovation when he left the field, caught by Gautam Gambhir at long-on for 25.
Gambhir's catch was about the only thing that went right for India all night. Harbhajan Singh might be cautious about talking on the field after the Sydney Test but he took things to the extreme by not conversing with his fellow fielder Pathan. Either of the two could have caught a skied chance from Clarke but neither man called loud enough and they collided, spilling the catch between them.
Of course, timing a chase is simple when only 3.75 runs are required per over, while India had trouble with their tempo in setting the target. They were like a learner driver struggling to master the accelerator, one minute jamming it down and risking an ugly crash, the next minute over-compensating by slamming the brake.
Dhoni tried to steady his men after they fell to 5 for 32, but after labouring for 27 deliveries for his 9 he needed to stay until the end. Instead, Dhoni gave David Hussey his first moment in the international spotlight, albeit as a bowler. Hussey was firing in offspinning darts when he gave Dhoni some more air; the ball was there to hit but Dhoni did not time it and skied a catch to Brett Lee at deep midwicket.
That left India at 6 for 49 and, though it did not seem possible, it was all downhill from there. Adam Voges was the toast of the MCG after removing Harbhajan and Sreesanth in consecutive balls, the first to an athletic catch by Clarke at mid off and the second snared by Hodge at point. Ishant Sharma survived the hat-trick ball - Clarke, the stand-in captain, placed all his fielders in catching positions around the bat - but that was as good as things got for India.
They threatened to turn Twenty20 into Ten10 when they lost a wicket in each of the first four overs after Dhoni chose to bat. Changing from Tests to the shortest format cannot be easy but several of the offenders were not part of the five-day outfit. Three balls without scoring was unbearable for Virender Sehwag, who jammed Lee to backward point in the first over and attempted a cheeky single, only to be run out by a Clarke direct hit.
Gambhir followed in the next over, squeezing a simple catch to James Hopes at mid off from Bracken and Robin Uthappa was out in a similar fashion in the fourth over, giving Hussey his first international catch, also at mid off. In between Bracken's strikes a fired-up Lee shattered Dinesh Karthik's stumps with a full toss after pushing him back to sway out of the way of a 148kph bouncer.
Australia know the value of starting a series well - they lost the 2005 Ashes after opening their tour with a casual 100-run Twenty20 hiding - and they will enter Sunday's CB Series game against India with a winning mindset. Prior to the match Dhoni's men did not seem too concerned with the outcome, but the severity of the loss has given them plenty to think about as they prepare for a month of 50-over battles.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo