Lee stars in abandoned game
Australia dominated India for the majority of the tri-series opener in Brisbane but the monsoonal weather intervened and ensured that both teams left the Gabba with two points apiece. India's athletic but inexperienced side had its merits and demerits: the running between the wickets was the sharpest it's been for a while but the raw middle order crumbled against an all-pace attack led by Brett Lee, who once again emphasised that he was at the peak of his powers with his seventh five-wicket haul.
The rain stayed away until the 36th over of the Indian innings but a delay of nearly 90 minutes reduced the game to 45 overs per side. After the resumption, India recovered from 128 for 6 and scored 66 off the last nine overs. By the time Adam Gilchrist and James Hopes began the run-chase, another rain delay during the innings break had cut Australia's target to 192 off 43 overs. They got off to a rapid start, knocking 33 in four overs before the rains came down again. Australia's final target was 141 off 26 overs but only 3.2 overs were possible after the resumption. During that period, Australia were rocked by Sreesanth and Ishant Sharma, losing two wickets for 17 before more showers forced play to be called off.
There was heavy overnight rain followed by more showers this morning but the Gabba's excellent drainage ensured that play started on time. Mahendra Singh Dhoni, like the captains in 16 out of the last 18 matches in Brisbane, chose to bat despite the overcast conditions and the greenish pitch.
That decision, however, backfired and India's only substantial partnership was the 65-run stand for the third wicket between Gautam Gambhir and Rohit Sharma, which was followed by a collapse during which four wickets fell for 11 runs. Lee caused severe damage - he dismissed Sachin Tendulkar in his first spell, returned to account for Sharma and Manoj Tiwary, and picked up Dhoni in the final over to keep India below 200. His effort of 9-2-27-5 ensured that India had little ammunition to accelerate after a lengthy rain-interruption in the 36th over.
The pitch offered bounce to Lee while Nathan Bracken swung the ball into the right-handers. It was one such inswinger from Bracken which cramped Virender Sehwag for room, forcing him to play on, and gave Australia their first breakthrough in the fourth over. Sehwag stay was brief but he and Tendulkar had signalled India's intent by running sharp singles.
Lee won the battle against Tendulkar yet again, although this time he was lucky. Tendulkar nudged off the back foot towards square leg but moved too deep into the crease and hit his stumps with the heel of his boot. It was the first time he had been dismissed hit-wicket in his 408-match career.
At 2 for 26, with the experienced openers gone, Australia had exposed India's middle order, which was weakened by Yuvraj Singh's absence. Gambhir and Sharma, however, eased the pressure by stealing singles. Sharma took eight balls to get off the mark but his confidence grew with each powerfully struck square drive. Australia's slip catching let them down once again: Gambhir, on 24, was let off twice in three balls by Michael Hussey and Ricky Ponting, and he cashed in by being severe on Ashley Noffke, cutting the debutant repeatedly over point.
Noffke offered the batsmen too much width and was replaced after leaking 27 runs off four overs. Ponting turned once again to his ace bowler and Lee repaid that faith with a couple of crucial wickets.
Johnson, who vented his frustration after the dropped catches, started the slide by trapping Gambhir lbw for 39 before Lee's double-strike ripped through the middle order. Sharma edged a wide ball from Lee to Gilchrist and Tiwary, who was set up by a series of bouncers, had no answer to a yorker that sped through his defences.
The flurry of wickets allowed Ponting to give Noffke a second spell and the move gave him his maiden ODI wicket. Noffke surprised Robin Uthappa with a short ball and the edge was comfortably taken by Michael Clarke at point. India had slipped from 2 for 92 to 6 for 102. The collapse forced Dhoni and Irfan Pathan to consolidate watchfully and they had added 45 runs off 12.5 overs before Pathan was run out. Harbhajan Singh once again got stuck into Australia with a flurry of boundaries to add 42 runs at 8.12 runs per over with Dhoni that propped India up to 194.
The Australian run-chase got off to a booming start with Hopes crashing four boundaries - one straight and three to square leg - off Pathan. Sreesanth and Pathan bowled on the shorter side early on and a flurry of boundaries threatened to put India out of the match.
However, the shower after the fourth over - moments after Gilchrist had walked after gloving Sreesanth to Dhoni - livened up the pitch. Ishant got the ball to jag back sharply into the right-handers and bowled Hopes through the gate with one such delivery in the first over after the resumption. Sreesanth hit an impeccable length in the next over found Ponting's edge with an outswinger.
The Indian bowlers were exploiting the conditions but Australia needed only 95 off 112 balls with seven wickets in hand. The inclement weather had set up the match for an interesting finish but another shower brought it to a premature end.
George Binoy is a staff writer at Cricinfo