Impressive Australia overwhelm India
The combination of India and Champions Trophy has been a nightmare for Australia twice in the past, but Ricky Ponting and co. finally ended that jinx, thrashing India by six wickets to emphatically move into the semi-finals of the tournament. A target of 250 should have tested them even on a good batting strip, but their openers got them off to a frenetic start, while Ricky Ponting and Damien Martyn ensured there would be no hiccups, both getting to fluent half-centuries as Australia ended the contest with 26 deliveries to spare. India, meanwhile, followed Sri Lanka and Pakistan in exiting the tournament, making it the first time since the 1975 World Cup that no team from the subcontinent has made it to the semi-finals of a major one-day championship.
Australia didn't have a lot going for them at the start - they lost the toss, had to field first on a pitch which was quite different from the one on which Pakistan were demolished by South Africa's pace attack, and then had to battle through an early onslaught from Virender Sehwag, another batsman who rediscovered his touch. Sehwag's 65 and a superbly controlled 52 from Rahul Dravid put India on course for a challenging total, but Australia then took over, pulling it back towards the end with regular wickets. India finished about 20 runs short of the score they would have expected after the start, and then Australia never allowed India a sniff in the field, shutting them out of the contest with some destructive strokeplay in the first 15 overs.
Teams have struggled to bat under lights at Mohali, but the Australians waded into the listless Irfan Pathan and Munaf Patel from the start. Taking full advantage of the half-volleys and short balls that were on offer, Adam Gilchrist - who had earlier become the first wicketkeeper to get to 400 ODI victims - and Watson blasted 61 in less than nine overs, lashing boundaries on both sides of the wicket. Watson survived a perilously close lbw shout against Munaf when on 2, but then soon rectified his tendency to shuffle across his stumps, cutting and pulling the bowlers to distraction.
Gilchrist's dismissal was very temporary respite, as Ponting took over effortlessly, shrugging off a poor run which has fetched him just 104 in his last eight innings. With the ball coming on to the bat, Ponting executed the drives to perfection. He got to his fifty with a trademark drive wide of mid-on, and when he fell to a spirited Sreesanth, Martyn took over. Circumspect and nervy at the start, he soon grew in confidence and struck some typically glorious fours off pace and spin to hasten the end.
Faced with a relentless onslaught, there was little Dravid could do. He delayed his third powerplay and resorted to spin to try and stem the flow, but the damage had already been done, with the first 15 overs leaking 108. Dinesh Mongia, back in the side for his first game of the tournament, bowled a fine spell, taking one wicket and threatening more, but with the asking rate only marginally over four when he came on to bowl, it was already a lost cause.
While the Australians did excellently with the bat, they also put in a fine performance in the field, restricting India to 249 when it seemed, at one stage, that they might get up to around 270. Sehwag was destructive at the start, crashing square-drives and cuts with his usual flamboyance to make up for a strangely off-colour Sachin Tendulkar. Lee was taken to the cleaners in his opening spell - his three overs cost 27 - and despite a miserly spell by Glenn McGrath India still rode to 70 without loss after 15. Mongia didn't get too many, but helped Sehwag add 43 more, and by the time Dravid joined him, India were cruising along, with Sehwag resorting to clever dabs, nudges and steers - along with the occasional reckless hit-and-miss - to frustrate the bowlers.
The Australians never lost the plot, though - the scoring rate hovered at a little more than four per over - and when Mitchell Johnson nailed Sehwag yet again with an indipper, there was an opportunity to mount a fightback. Dravid played a superbly fluent knock and added 60 more with Mohammad Kaif, and going into the last ten overs, India were a healthy 182 for 3, with both batsmen well set.
From there, though, the Australians took over and the Indians lost the plot. Dravid and Kaif were dismissed within two overs of each other, ensuring that Australia had two new batsmen to bowl at in the last eight overs. Suresh Raina, with precious few runs and little confidence behind him, struggled to get Lee off the square, and though Mahendra Singh Dhoni did his best to push up the score before falling to a shocking lbw decision off the last ball, only 67 came off the last ten overs. The ease with which Australia batted later in the evening, though, they would probably have chased a much stiffer target without much bother.
Australia will take on New Zealand in the first semi-final on November 1, and after this emphatic display, it will take a brave man to bet against them.
Sachin Tendulkar c Gilchrist b McGrath 10 (46 for 1)
Nicked one perfectly pitched in the corridor
Dinesh Mongia c Hussey b Watson 18 (89 for 2)
Slightly short and angling away, guided to slip
Virender Sehwag lbw 65 (126 for 3)
Superb delivery which pitched on middle and straightened
Rahul Dravid c Clarke b Lee 52 (186 for 4)
Chipped to short midwicket
Mohammad Kaif b Lee 30 (197 for 5)
Inside-edged a drive on to his stump
Suresh Raina c Watson b Bracken 13 (224 for 6)
Full toss slogged to long-on
Irfan Pathan c Martyn b McGrath 10 (239 for 7)
Cross-batted hoick to deep midwicket
Mahendra Singh Dhoni lbw b Bracken 28 (249 for 8)
Shocking decision by umpire Bowden as Dhoni got a huge inside-edge
Adam Gilchrist c Raina b Sreesanth 23 (61 for 1)
Slashed hard but straight to point
Watson lbw b Mongia 50 (111 for 2)
Hit on the back pad, but ball would have spun past off
Ricky Ponting c Tendulkar b Sreesanth 58 (185 for 3)
Superb catch diving low to his left at slip
Andrew Symonds b Pathan 20 (230 for 4)
Made room to carve through the off side and missed
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo