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September 16, 2006
Another match, and another intervention from the rain, but this time both India and Australia were left frustrated with no result possible. The Indians had come back magnificently in the field to set themselves a gettable target of 245, but once showers and the Duckworth-Lewis method came into play, it was Australia that held all the high cards, with Mitchell Johnson's inspired opening burst having the Indians reeling at 35 for 5.
"We probably were better placed at the final interruption, but at the halfway stage, I think the Indians would have fancied their chances," said Ricky Ponting, giving a fair appraisal of the situation. "It's a shame that the weather intervened. We will never know what could have happened, will we? When you come out suddenly needing 154 off 25, the approach and the mindset is different. They tried a couple of big shots which didn't come off."
Rahul Dravid, whose team have yet to finish a game this season, was visibly agitated by the state of affairs. "It was not easy to keep the rhythm and the momentum going," said Dravid when asked about the revised target of 170 from 29 overs. "It was a good comeback with the ball, and we thought 250 was gettable if we played the full 50 overs. But that didn't happen. When you come back and need 6.5 to 7 runs an over, it's not easy. But you can't do anything about it.
"At the end of the day, you can look back at 35 for five and say we got away with two points, but I'm disappointed that we didn't get the full 50 overs without an interruption. It wouldn't have been easy chasing 245. We would have had to bat well, but at least we would have got a much better game."
Both captains were full of praise for Johnson, who now takes a flight home as the Australians trim an 18-man squad to 15. "I've been impressed with him for quite a while," said Ponting. "I thought he was someone with the right attributes, and we saw today what he is capable of doing. The conditions were in favour of the bowlers, there was a bit of swing and seam, but you still have to put the ball in the right areas.
"He got us a couple of vital breakthroughs in the first game and tonight, he was brilliant. He's got the pace, he's a left-armer and he can swing it. That's why we are all excited about him. The idea is to give him a few games under his belt. As far as I can see, he is improving every game, and an outing like tonight will do him a world of good."
Ponting was also clearly chuffed about the fact that Johnson knocked over Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh, four days after having trapped Brian Lara leg before. "Those two are as good as they get," said Ponting, when asked about the dismissals of Lara and Tendulkar. "He went around the park a fair bit early on in the first game but then came back strongly; today, he did everything we asked of him and more. He will take a lot of confidence away from a performance like this."
Dravid was just as complimentary, though he suggested that the conditions had played into Johnson's hands. "He bowled well and put the ball in the right areas. The conditions were in his favour, he got to use the new ball twice and there were two starts for the batters.
"He showed how to exploit the conditions. The new ball is very important on tracks like this. The ball also does a fair bit in the evening, especially if it rains. Because of the rain, the wicket is under the covers a lot and a lot of the moisture tends to come out. It will be interesting to see how the track plays if the sun comes out, the moisture dries up and you get the full 50 overs in the evening."
He was also far more satisfied with his own bowlers. After being tonked all over by West Indies in 20 overs before the rain came down, they came back admirably against Australia, reining in the scoring after Shane Watson had provided a blazing start. But while he was more than content with the spells from Harbhajan Singh and Virender Sehwag - the two gave away just 69 in 20 overs - Irfan Pathan's inability to strike any sort of rhythm continued to be a worry.
"You can swing the ball, but you need to put it in the right areas," said Dravid, when asked why Pathan hadn't been given the new ball. "We thought it was important to get off to a good start with the ball, especially against the Australians, and Munaf [Patel] and Ajit [Agarkar] have been bowling well. It was paying off too before they took their chances and got away. We would like Irfan to bowl better, and we thought bowling at a different order might trigger something, but unfortunately, it didn't come off today."
Australian's decision to open with Watson certainly did. "It was very important for us that Shane played like he did," said Ponting. "It was exactly what we were hoping for. He's got good technique against the new ball, but he showed today that he can play good and aggressive strokes as well. He's another one of the young guys that we are pinning our hopes on. If he keeps stacking up performances like this, it will be difficult to bring him down the order. We have got a bit of experimenting to do, we have got [Phil] Jaques and [Matthew] Hayden and [Simon] Katich as well. It's important to have the right balance, and Shane at the top of the order gives us that balance."
But while the young guns might have stolen the plaudits, the performance of an old master was just as eye-catching. Ponting positively beamed when asked about Glenn McGrath's opening salvo, and Dravid could barely contain his admiration. "He was fantastic," said Dravid, with great candour. "It was a great lesson for a lot of our young seamers. To see him bowl after six months and pitch the ball exactly where he wanted to was awesome. It's not always fun batting against him, but it's nice to watch a great craftsman at work."
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of CricinfoFeeds: Dileep Premachandran
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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