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September 16, 2006
India may have had some reason to feel hard done by the elements against West Indies, but they had cause to thank the rain gods for the shower that saved them acute embarrassment here. This was a contest headlined as Sachin Tendulkar against Glenn McGrath, but in the space of a few minutes after the first rain delay, it was a new face of Australian pace that grabbed the limelight, with Mitchell Johnson carving up India's top order as though it were a stuffed Christmas turkey.
Rahul Dravid popped one up to cover and Irfan Pathan played inside one that pegged back off stump. But having nailed Brian Lara in the previous game, there was no doubt which wicket meant most to him. Sachin Tendulkar didn't move his feet and a delivery slanting away at 87.3mph did the rest. The best, though, was saved for last, as an absolute peach that darted away from Yuvraj Singh's bat at 87.8 mph and caught the edge on its way to Phil Jaques at slip.
If you thought the future of Australian pace after Glenn McGrath resembled the arid outback, think again. Dennis Lillee, who knows a fair bit more about the art of fast bowling than you, me or AN Other, called Johnson a "once in a generation" bowler, and even in helpful conditions, it wasn't too hard to see why. Both West Indies and India will heave a big sigh of relief now that he, along with Mark Cosgrove and Phil Jaques, is going home.
India, though, will once again rue the vagaries of the Duckworth-Lewis method that asked them to score at 5.86 an over on resumption, despite them having restricted a powerful Australian batting line-up to a run-rate of 4.88. After the events of Thursday, when the bowling let them down badly, it was the turn of the batsmen to disappoint today.
The warning signs had been there even before Johnson struck, with McGrath producing a sensational second over. The first ball struck Tendulkar flush on the helmet, not rising as much as he perhaps expected, and the next one squared him up completely, whizzing past the outside edge as it deviated off the seam. The last delivery, a perfectly pitched off-cutter, nearly cut Dravid in half. Across the oceans, any Englishmen watching would have felt more than a frisson of nervousness.
Nervousness had played its part in Australia's innings too, with Michael Clarke looking excessively fidgety on his way to a sedate 64. After Shane Watson had provided a bludgeoning start, the innings lost all momentum in the face of some superb offspin bowling. Virender Sehwag was tidy and accurate, but it was Harbhajan Singh that caught the eye, harrying the batsmen with turn and bounce on his way to stunning figures of 2 for 26.
Munaf Patel too bowled far better than his figures suggested. Consistently nippy and capable of extracting steep bounce from the pitch, Munaf also swung the ball early, and his control in the late overs was a welcome sign given Pathan's travails of late. But for Ponting's wicket, and that too a gift from a man in prime form, Pathan seldom threatened a breakthrough, and the manner in which Watson stepped out and tonked him down to the sightscreens epitomised his problems.
For India, who have yet to play a full match this season, perhaps it's time for a rain dance in reverse. Another deluge and their hopes of making the final will be well and truly washed away. On the positive side, at least they won't have Johnson to contend with.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of CricinfoFeeds: Dileep Premachandran
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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