Australia pull it off after early scare
A sensational opening partnership was followed by an even more sensational collapse as West Indies replayed one of the familiar tunes that has plagued them in recent times to surrender the opening game of the DLF Cup. A largely inexperienced Australia fought back remarkably, but this match was not about one team winning it. It was about another giving it away after having the opponents bedraggled.
There are a few things a team can do when they need 108 runs in 26.4 overs with nine wickets in hand, when the opposition bowlers have been demoralised, and when the opening batsmen have rattled along at seven-and-a-half an over. But West Indies didn't choose the conventional route. Once their openers went, the rest chose to self-destruct.
Nine wickets fell for the addition of just 29. A little over ten years back - in the high-tension World Cup semi-final in Mohali, West Indies had folded in similar fashion and have made it a habit in recent times. Brian Lara went, in what has become a fairly common mode of dismissal for him, shuffling across the stump to be pinned lbw and what Dwayne Bravo and Ramnaresh Sarwan were doing - trying to improvise when the asking-rate wasn't even five - is anybody's guess. It was one royal mess.
Let's not forget Australia. First they made 279 on a pitch that was two-paced to start with, thanks to two cracking fifties from Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke. Then they kept their heads up even when Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Chris Gayle went bananas, and raised the bar in the field and refused to believe the match had slipped from their grasp.
Glenn McGrath took a while to find his groove - it was the first time in nearly seven years that he'd bowled more than four wides in a match - but came back later with control. Mitchell Johnson, hammered for 39 in his first four overs, fought back spiritedly to claim two vital wickets; Shane Watson kept pegging away, brushed aside catching lapses, and ended with four wickets.
The West Indies innings now seems like another match altogether. Not many West Indians can claim to outscore Gayle and it was a sight watching Chanderpaul go after the bowling in inspired fashion. The Australians have seen this side of him earlier - three years back, in the carnival atmosphere of the Bourda Oval at Georgetown, he unleashed the third fastest Test hundred - and there was little this new Australian line-up could do to contain him today.
The first boundary came only in the sixth over but the flood that followed was truly sensational. Nathan Bracken was carted for five fours in the space of nine deliveries - the midwicket fence receiving a peppering - before he was completely taken apart in the 10th over - when two wristy pick-ups produced a couple of sixes right from the Saeed Anwar textbook. Just as all the attention was focused on Chanderpaul, like some dormant volcano, Gayle awoke. At one point he had 17 off 26 balls and soon reached fifty off 43 thanks to a boundary-filled spell that was as emphatic as they come. He gave himself room, gave the bowlers a clear sight of the stumps, and violently deposited the ball into the stands. But his dismissal, slicing a shortish ball to point, signalled the beginning of the end.
As for Australia, it was imperative that they got off to a rapid start. Shrugging off a rustiness that is likely to accompany a five-month break and adjusting to the vagaries of a virgin pitch, they cruised along to a healthy total. While both the left-handed openers - Phil Jaques and Simon Katich - struggled against the spongy bounce, or lack of it, Ponting adjusted almost immediately. His upbeat half-century, made at more than a run-a-ball, set the tone before Clarke bounced onto the stage and picked up the baton. Clarke was soon spreading the field - why would anyone bowl consistently on his pads? - and then settled into a rhythm of singles and twos. Being quick on your feet helps and Clarke, getting to the pitch of the ball, gave himself the best chance. Towards the latter stages he began backing away to the legside and whacking towards cover and, if not for a Dwayne Bravo slower ball that beat him, a hundred was there for the taking.
There were good support acts as well with Katich sticking on adhesively and Mark Cosgrove providing a wonderful imitation of what Darren Lehmann used to bring to the table. Cosgrove is one of those batsmen who has the rare quality of irritating the opposition with his stroke production: shuffle, read length, flick; shuffle, read length, nudge. Suddenly he would burst forth and unleash a powerful stroke. Later he came on, ran in like a truck hurtling down a slope, and dismissed Wavell Hinds to open the floodgates. When he was batting Lara might have been tempted to tear his hair out; at the end of the game he might have actually turned bald.
Phil Jaques b Edwards 2 (9 for 1)
Lunged away from his body, ball jagged back in and uprooted off
Ricky Ponting lbw b Bradshaw 54l (107 for 2)
Beaten by one that kept low
Simon Katich c Bravo b Smith 36 (122 for 3)
Holed out to mid-on
Mark Cosgrove c Lara b Smith 34 (191 for 4)
Lifted it straight to mid-on
Shane Watson c Sarwan b Smith 2 (205 for 5)
Swatted it straight to short midwicket
Michael Clarke b Bravo 81 (258 for 6)
Advanced down the track and missed a slower ball
Brad Haddin b Haddin 24 (258 for 7)
Went for an ambitious pull and lost his off stump
Nathan Bracken b Taylor 1 (260 for 8)
Beaten for pace by a well-directed yorker
Chris Gayle c Jaques b Watson 60 (136 for 1)
Steers it straight to point
Shivnarine Chanderpaul c Haddin b Johnson 92 (172 for 2)
Surprised by the bounce, top-edge flies to the keeper
Brian Lara lbw b Johnson 1 (176 for 3)
Shuffled across the stumps and rapped on the pads
Dwayne Bravo c Jaques b McGrath 1 (185 for 4)
Tried to turn it to leg but leading edge balloons to cover; sharp lunging catch
Wavell Hinds c Haddin b Cosgrove 2 (196 for 5)
Prodded at one that pitched on off and moved away
Ramnaresh Sarwan c Ponting b Watson 22 (197 for 6)
Mis-timed a pull to midwicket; smart diving catch at short midwicket
Carlton Baugh c Haddin b Bracken 0 (198 for 7)
Wildly slashed at wide ball
Ian Bradshaw lbw b Watson 0 (199 for 8)
Rapped on the pads by a yorker on middle stump
Jerome Taylor b Watson 0 (199 for 9)
Cleaned up by a dart-straight yorker
Dwayne Smith c Haddin b Bracken 2 (201 all out)
Nudged one outside off to the keeper
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo