India v Australia, TVS Cup, Bangalore November 12, 2003

Quixotic effort



Ricky Ponting: snuffed out the Indian challenge with a repeat of his World Cup performance © Getty Images

India's batsmen tilted bravely at windmills in the best traditions of Don Quixote, but ultimately, they were undone by a magnificent spell of bowling from one of Australia's forgotten men, and the ineptitude of their own bowlers earlier in the day.

Before being given a chance at Guwahati three days ago, Kasprowicz had last donned green-and-gold colours in February 1999, before the two World Cup triumphs that have given the current team such an aura of invincibility. His figures don't suggest that he was hard done by either - after all, 23 wickets at an economy rate of 5.11 in 17 games is hardly reminiscent of Glenn McGrath.

But Kasprowicz is one of those quintessential Australian pros, the sort of player who will squeeze out the last drop of sweat, and then come back for more. On the tour of India in 1998, he was indefatigable in extreme conditions, winning Australia a Test match in Bangalore with a superb second-innings spell of 5 for 28.

This evening, on a pitch where every other quick bowler was brutalised, he was peerless, stifling the batsmen's rhythm with those old-fashioned virtues, line and length. Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra, now strong favourites to be first in the line of fire at the `Gabba, went for 147 in their 20 overs, and didn't even look like snagging a wicket. Kasprowicz bowled his 10 overs for 37, and the wicket of Rahul Dravid - thanks to an unbelievably good return catch - emphasising that one-day matches aren't just won at the top of the batting order.

Australia had other heroes too, most notably Adam Gilchrist, who was in such resplendent touch that he managed to utterly seduce a crowd that had arrived with the Indian tricolour on flags, clothes, cheeks and wherever else you could find a spare inch of skin. His coruscating brilliance set the mood, and by the time Ricky Ponting and Damien Martyn had applied the finishing touches, the tune was all Waltzing Matilda.

Ponting scratched around in the first half of his innings - Dravid muffed a stumping when he was just 25 - and then started smacking sixes with a nonchalance that suggested a net session. And once he's in the mood, as India had discovered during the World Cup final, a bowler's best option is to put out the fire, pack up the tent and disappear over the horizon.

Spare a thought too for Martyn, who bats as gracefully as anyone has in the annals of the game. Too often, he comes in and does a great job, only to be outshone by a brighter light. That said, a couple of the cover-drives he played in the late afternoon sunshine will linger long in the memory - perfect amalgams of power, placement and timing.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "Strong men greet war, tempest, hard times. They wish, as Pindar said, to tread the floors of hell, with necessities as hard as iron." Sachin Tendulkar, whose strength of will and character has never been in doubt, came out with that attitude, but couldn't quite last the distance.

Not that India deserved a chance at redemption after such a shambolic showing in the field. But for Murali Kartik, who bowled an excellent spell until Ponting took to him in the final over, the other bowlers would do well to pretend that this was just a nightmare. Up in the commentator's box, Javagal Srinath must have been convinced that he had made the right choice. If India keep bowling like this though, far more trauma awaits down under.

Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India.