Flattering to deceive

Verdict by Dileep Premachandran at Kuala Lumpur

September 12, 2006

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Cede an inch, they take a mile: Chanderpaul's attempt to be a touch too cute against a Mitchell Johnson delivery that rose sharply opened the flood gates © Getty Images

At the end of this topsy-turvy game, you didn't know whether to acclaim Australia for their resilience or bemoan a West Indian collapse that made a house of cards look sturdy. It went from dazzling to deplorable rather quickly once Shivnarine Chanderpaul was out, with the last nine wickets being gifted for a mere 29 runs.

When Chanderpaul and Chris Gayle were going at it like overenthusiastic kids on a paintball expedition, Australia seemed down and out. West Indies' forgettable record of no live wins against their opponents in 17 games dating back to 1999 - the three victories in the Caribbean in 2003 all came after Australia had wrapped up the series 4-0 - looked like it might be rewritten, and the mind was transported back to the 1980s, when the men from the Caribbean beat the Australians for fun.

Unlike those predecessors though, these Australians are no soft touch. Chanderpaul's attempt to be a touch too cute against a Mitchell Johnson delivery that rose sharply opened the gates, and the Australians poured through as vigorously as the Goths who sacked a Roman empire in decline.

It's testament to just how dominant West Indies used to be in their halcyon years that they still lead Australia 55-50 in the head-to-head count. But the last decade, despite the odd burst of sunshine like the 4-1 rout of India, has been characterised by staggering ineptitude. A return of 99 wins against 111 losses represents a sharp decline for a side that had only lost 62 one-day internationals up until the time that a certain Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards retired.

The talent, as they showed against India and for three-fourths of the game here, is certainly not in short supply, but there seems to be an inability to keep the brains in the fridge once the mercury rises in the heat of battle. The likes of Dwayne Bravo, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Carlton Baugh played shots that could best be described as reckless with the asking rate well below five an over, and Brian Lara was moved to comment later that such a collapse was just not on.

For Australia, Glenn McGrath's return, and the manner in which Johnson bounced back after copping a hammering, were especially encouraging. At one stage, the decision to rest five regulars - Brett Lee, Michael Hussey, Andrew Symonds, Damien Martyn and Brad Hogg - for their opening game of the season appeared foolhardy, but the manner in which the likes of Shane Watson and Mark Cosgrove contributed suggests that the second string may be ready for bigger challenges.

Both Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke batted beautifully on a pitch where batting was never as easy as Chanderpaul made it seem, and there was also an accomplished cameo from Mark Cosgrove, who struck two or three peachy drives to remind people just why his admirers call him Baby Boof. Watson disappointed with the bat, but mixed it up well with the ball, swinging it both ways and refusing to be predictable with his length. For a first outing in several months, it was pretty impressive, albeit after the early West Indian storm abated.

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo

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Dileep Premachandran Associate editor Dileep Premachandran gave up the joys of studying thermodynamics and strength of materials with a view to following in the footsteps of his literary heroes. Instead, he wound up at the Free Press Journal in Mumbai, writing on sport and politics before Gentleman gave him a column called Replay. A move to MyIndia.com followed, where he teamed up with Sambit Bal, and he arrived at ESPNCricinfo after having also worked for Cricket Talk and total-cricket.com. Sunil Gavaskar and Greg Chappell were his early cricketing heroes, though attempts to emulate their silken touch had hideous results. He considers himself obscenely fortunate to have watched live the two greatest comebacks in sporting history - India against invincible Australia at the Eden Gardens in 2001, and Liverpool's inc-RED-ible resurrection in the 2005 Champions' League final. He lives in Bangalore with his wife, who remains astonishingly tolerant of his sporting obsessions.
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