India v Australia, DLF Cup, 6th match September 22, 2006

India's cobwebs of the mind

Down for the count at one stage the Australians once again demonstrated why they occupy the summit © Getty Images

Like the bad guy in those atrocious horror flicks, who keeps coming back no matter how often you shoot or knife him, this Australian team just refuses to go away. At 117 for 6, they were down for the count, but the two Brads, Hogg and Haddin, resurrected the innings, giving the bowlers something to defend. And how they did that. With Brett Lee doing so much damage at the beginning and at the end, it didn't matter that the miserly Glenn McGrath went wicketless. And when the batsmen struggled to pick Hogg, who followed a superb 38 with some guileful left-arm spin, the graffiti was well and truly on the wall for an Indian side that has started the season so sluggishly.

Even as poor batting performances go, this was a headless chicken one. Rahul Dravid talked later of how everyone in the top order was culpable, but just as terrible were some of the strokes played later on, when India had managed to restore a semblance of sanity after the early reverses. Suresh Raina, who needs to start converting cameos into innings of substance, was set up beautifully, with Hogg slipping in the googly after two balls had turned away from the bat, and just 56 were needed from 82 balls when Mahendra Singh Dhoni played that shot. Whether the bouncer the ball before, which was called wide, had riled him is a matter of speculation, but given the finely-poised match situation, it was a horrendous stroke. To say that it's his natural style is a cop-out, and an insult to a player who has shown several times, like at Pune last year against Sri Lanka, that he can finesse and nurdle just as well as he can bludgeon.

When Australia folded for 213, the mix-and-match selection policy that had kept out Michael Clarke and Shane Watson was looking decided foolish. But no praise can be too high for the team management that refused to panic and kept faith in Stuart Clark after the carnage of the last game. The fact that he had kept the match ball from Monday night spoke volumes about his perspective, and today, he gave ample evidence of the strength of his resolve. In a match that illustrated the fleeting nature of sporting success and failure, his rebound act was perhaps the most noteworthy.

Two class comeback acts: For both Mongia and Clark this match provided ample redemption © Getty Images

On another day, Dinesh Mongia's name would have been up in neon lights. Having bowled a fine spell earlier in the day, dismissing the dangerous Andrew Symonds for good measure, he had to suffer the heartache of being the nearly man as night fell at the Kinrara. For a man chosen on the strength of his four-day performances for Leicestershire - his C & G Trophy average was a dismal 8.50, in stark contrast to a first-class figure of 53.33 - he dispelled many doubts today, both with his composure and the repertoire of shots that he unveiled. Only at the end, when a shepherding job was needed, did he appear to lose his nerve, and Lee capitalised by blasting out Rudra Pratap Singh and Munaf Patel.

All India can take from this tournament is the knowledge that they now have a bowling attack that can hurt with both pace and spin alike. Ajit Agarkar, RP Singh and Munaf were all menacing at times today, while Harbhajan Singh's spell in the middle was just exceptional. Such is the capricious nature of cricket though that the one thing he'll remember most from the match is the dismissal that never was. Had he not fluffed the run out of Haddin, with the scoreboard showing 99 for 5, Australia may well have struggled to reach 180. In the end, those extra runs made all the difference, especially with India's top order still wreathed in close-season cobwebs.

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo