December 7, 1999

Indians crash to big defeat

A fun, festival-style match this is supposed to be, but it is doubtful that India's cricketers will be leaving Canberra in anything even vaguely resembling a jovial mood after suffering a crushing defeat at the hands of the Prime Minister's XI at the Manuka Oval today. Having permitted their opponents to amass the mammoth tally of 334 for five off their 50 overs, the visitors' top order folded disastrously to ensure that they were dismissed for 170 in response, and that they accordingly lost this battle by the shattering margin of 164 runs.

Against a side which was composed of eleven of the most talented young players from Australian domestic ranks, the Indians were comprehensively out-batted, out-bowled and out-fielded today. Their only triumph for the day came at the toss (upon which they sent their rivals in to bat), and even that soon proved a pyrrhic success.

Representing Australia's national political leader, Prime Minister John Howard, the 'home' team went on the attack from the outset and delighted an enthusiastic crowd with some fine aggressive batting. They treated their audience to ten runs from the first over of the day (bowled by Ajit Agarkar) and never really looked back. Capitalising on batsman-friendly conditions, it was the in-form pair of David Fitzgerald (115) and Andrew Symonds (101) who took most of the honours from the morning session. Offering something of a contrast in styles, they indeed found few difficulties on a warm day in the national capital against an attack which struggled in the absence of the rested Venkatesh Prasad, Javagal Srinath and Anil Kumble.

Fitzgerald again exhibited how rapidly he is maturing as a cricketer, raising yet another century in what is proving a golden summer for him. The South Australian opener did tire noticeably through the latter stages of his innings, but still found time to continue some powerful shotmaking; his repeated use of his feet to the Indian spinners to drive them straight down the ground perhaps the most impressive feature of his hand. He should have been caught behind on 93, makeshift wicketkeeper Rahul Dravid grassing a regulation outside edge off Sachin Tendukar's off spin bowling, but otherwise he was rarely bothered by the attack.

Symonds, meanwhile, hit with all of the awesome power for which he is renowned. Although it must be noted that he survived several early scares (including a beseeching caught behind appeal to umpire Peter Parker off Kumaran's bowling on 13, and a run out chance to Vijay Bharadwaj at mid off on 20), he played what was generally an excellent innings. His contemptuous ability to scythe the ball over the off side field and to hoist full deliveries over mid wicket was again in evidence in a hand which revived many memories of his recent century for Queensland against the same opposition in Brisbane.

But as well as the young Australians batted, India did not necessarily look out of the game at halfway. Such was the quality of the pitch, so fast was the outfield, and so strong was their batting lineup on paper, that it was in fact hard to predict just how quickly and impressively they would be able to score. But neither that assessment nor the Indian batting itself proved anywhere near the mark when the afternoon session began. Openers Sadagoppan Ramesh (1) and VVS Laxman (3) departed inside the first three overs to put the early writing on the wall.

And, at the other end of the innings, the last five wickets fell for 48. In between, Saurav Ganguly (46) and Vijay Bharadwaj (45) conceived a stylish association of 78 runs for the sixth wicket but there was never any real momentum in the innings at all. A succession of Indian batsmen were unable to come to terms with a combination of accurate pace bowling and excellent fielding, and they proved wholly incapable, for today at least, of showing the sort of steadfast determination which they will undoubtedly be called upon to display throughout the forthcoming Test series. The match was indeed as good as over when Sachin Tendulkar (1) thin edged a delivery through to wicketkeeper Brad Haddin to condemn his team to a score of eight for three in the seventh over. Even the partisan crowd found little about which to voice any appreciation throughout what was, in terms of competitiveness at least, a generally dismally predictable finish to the game.

Test aspirant Brett Lee was the star of the afternoon, capturing 4/25 off ten hostile overs. Concentrating predominantly on pitching the ball up and aiming at the stumps, he showed all of his usual speed and fire, and troubled the batsmen repeatedly. Nevertheless, he was allowed to dictate terms too easily and, whilst he did perform very well, he did not bowl quite as impressively as those figures suggested. Each of the wickets that he took was indeed as much a tribute to a lack of concentration from the four batsmen concerned as to his own efforts, all of them showing a complete inability to play down the right line against Lee's blistering pace. Notwithstanding the fact that he went wicketless, Paul Wilson (0/25 off his ten) also bowled impressively.

It would be wrong, of course, to read too much into this result - particularly in view of the fact that it came in a one-day game. It does seem appropriate to conclude, though, that the Indians' confidence will take a substantial blow after this effort and that the effect of their win over New South Wales earlier in the week will be compromised. Moreover, the bottom line is that they will need to find a way of playing significantly better than they did today if they are to have any hope at all of matching Australia in the First Test beginning in Adelaide in just three days' time.