India's drought refuses to break
Over recent months, Australia's southernmost capital city has barely experienced a drop of rain; indeed, the past three years have brought some areas around Hobart their lowest amount of rainfall on record. So it was probably fitting, then, that India's extraordinary drought in international matches in Australia this season should come to its zenith here today, with a 32 run loss to Pakistan leaving its players all but condemned to the prospect of catching an early flight home in a little over a week.
Essentially, this seventh match of the Carlton and United Series (at the Bellerive Oval) was another emphatic personal triumph for Pakistani allrounder Abdur Razzaq (70* and 5/48). For it was he who not only had a large part to play in setting an imposing total for the Indians to chase, but also captured five crucial wickets with the ball to throw his rivals completely off the scent of already unlikely success.
Notwithstanding the fact that India's two outstanding top order players, Sachin Tendulkar (93) and Sourav Ganguly (43), were able to mount a brave opening partnership of 99 to afford their team an outside chance of overhauling their opponents' 7/262, neither they nor their teammates could overcome the rapidly maturing 20-year-old. When he induced Ganguly to leading edge a ball to Shahid Afridi at cover in the 19th over, he precipitated what became an irreversible slide. Another ten balls later into his sublime exhibition of predominantly outswing bowling, he induced a struggling VVS Laxman (7) to nervously edge an attempted cover drive through to wicketkeeper Moin Khan. That suddenly rendered India 2/111, and undid much of the excellent work that Tendulkar's classical strokeplay all around the wicket and Ganguly's serial driving through the off side had effected.
Razzaq also dismissed Anil Kumble (14) and Javagal Srinath (2) later in the innings when they committed the similar sin of playing down the wrong line to him. That the Lahore-based allrounder in between bowled the jewel in the crown, Tendulkar, for the second time in successive meetings with a superb delivery spoke volumes in itself about the quality of his performance. Moreover, it was interesting to note that, by the time that India was eventually dismissed for 230, he had even nearly enjoyed the almost inconceivable distinction of recording his highest score and his best bowling figures in the one day in this form of the game.
Earlier in the day, Razzaq had also been at the forefront of a fine all round batting effort from his team after they had lost the toss. On a morning on which the temperature did not rise nearly as high as the quality of the play of Razzaq, Ijaz Ahmed (67), Yousuf Youhana (45) and Saeed Anwar (43), the Pakistanis were indeed pretty much always in command throughout the early going. Shahid Afridi (12), again recalled to the line-up as his team continued its so far fruitless search for a productive opening partner for Anwar, was dismissed in just the sixth over, but there were few tremors after that. Even two wickets from successive deliveries to Venkatesh Prasad in the 37th over did not significantly alter the balance.
After Saeed had set the early tone with some sublime strokes through the off side, Ijaz was the man mainly responsible for setting the platform for his team's imposing total. He was at his brutal best today in a performance in which the Pakistan top order as a whole belied their collectively dismal start to the series. Characteristically, he was strong through the off side; several shots slammed over and through the covers as he vented his rage upon anything even vaguely errant in width.
And then, toward the end, came another innings of raw power and timing from Razzaq. A player who, with the bat at least, is completely reinventing himself from the one who played so many fine sheet anchor innings whilst amassing 170 runs from 392 balls during the 1999 World Cup, his innings was sublime in both execution and effect. As he carted shots all over the ground from most members of the attack, he raced to his half century from a mere 36 deliveries and afforded the Indians no mercy as they rotated their attack in a vain attempt to contain him.
For the Indians themselves, it was a tough day and a shattered Sachin Tendulkar's demeanour after the loss was revealing. Doubtless they discovered less menace in the pitch than they had been expecting after winning the toss, and their bowlers and fieldsmen appeared to labour under the misconception that matters would be easier than they became.
Nevertheless, leg spinner Kumble (1/25 off ten overs) bowled possibly his best spell of the entire tour and Prasad (2/41 off his ten) likewise toiled manfully. Wicketkeeper Sameer Dighe also effected two brilliant dismissals while standing up to the stumps for a time to the medium pace of Ganguly.
Ultimately, it would have been better for the Indians had the unusually threatening clouds hovering over Hobart at the start of the day transformed themselves into rain-bearing ones. But the likelihood of that was about as remote as their chances now appear of doing anything to disrupt their two opponents' path to the finals of this triangular tournament.