India v Australia, TVS Cup, Game 2, Gwalior October 26, 2003

Same old story

Nathan Bracken: the pick of the Australian bowlers
(c) AFP

Australia's last one-day outing on the subcontinent ended in similarly embarrassing circumstances, with a comprehensive defeat at the hands of Sri Lanka in the ICC Champions Trophy semi-final. Thirteen months on, the world's best team revealed - to everyone else's relief - that the flaws that plague their game in these climes are very much intact.

They're still without a clue when it comes to playing slow bowlers on sluggish surfaces, and even a part-time offspinner like Virender Sehwag was made to look like Jim Laker thanks to the ineptitude of every batsman barring Adam Gilchrist.

To concede 283 in conditions that didn't help their attack might be considered unfortunate. But to surrender so meekly after a 132-run opening partnership smacked of carelessness and lack of preparation. Two strokes summed up the Australian effort - Ricky Ponting's nothing waft against Anil Kumble, and Ian Harvey's meat-cleaver swing across the line to Sachin Tendulkar, both shots played with little regard for the circumstances, or the conditions.

The bowlers had been just as profligate after Nathan Bracken and Brad Williams had started promisingly. Too often, the ball was speared down the leg side, and Tendulkar and VVS Laxman - so ruthless on anything pitched even on middle stump - revelled in the free hits. Two of the worst culprits were Andy Bichel and Harvey, the men expected to provide leadership to an inexperienced attack.

Bracken bowled beautifully at times, erring only at the death when a fixation with yorkers resulted in one full toss too many. The same couldn't be said of Williams, who was smacked all over the park when he wasn't trying to intimidate Yuvraj Singh with a conspicuous lack of success.

India owed their formidable total largely to Yuvraj and Ajit Agarkar, who came in and played blistering knocks just when the bandwagon was threatening to screech to a halt. Tendulkar and Laxman might have made centuries, but the manner in which they failed to up the tempo brought to light one of Indian cricket's most worrying frailties - the obsession with individual landmarks.

Tendulkar took 69 deliveries for his second 50, against bowlers who were hardly threatening, and between them, he and Laxman played out 128 dot balls. Were it not for the late injection of urgency from Yuvraj - who teed off with élan whenever the ball was in the slot - and Agarkar - his batting masked another appalling bowling performance - India would have finished 25 runs short.

Gilchrist's rollicking innings briefly suggested that even 283 might not be enough, but once Harbhajan Singh and Kumble came on, the old Achilles Heel started to show. Hayden should have been stumped by a mile, but was reprieved by Parthiv Patel's iron-gloved fumble behind the stumps. And when Gilchrist was given a life by Zaheer Khan in the deep, India might have feared the worst.

Gilchrist's decision to go for glory against Zaheer, just a small blip on the scoreboard, had a seismic effect on the result. Three more wickets fell for 9 runs, and the momentum had well and truly been lost. Sehwag's inspired spell late on was another reason to smile for Rahul Dravid, who rung the changes, and captained with a flair and imagination that made us temporarily forget a certain Sourav Ganguly. For Australia, it was another sobering reminder that they remain fast-track champions, and slow-wicket chumps.

Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.