Washout hits India's semis chances
India and Australia will have their Champions Trophy fortunes decided on Wednesday after a washout in the match between the two sides in Centurion on Monday, when Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey led a strong Australian batting effort. Australia reached 234 for 4 before the deluge that had appeared imminent for more than an hour finally arrived and set in.
It meant the only winner was Pakistan, who are now assured of a semi-final spot. The fate of Australia and India now rests with the final two group matches, both on Wednesday. For India to progress they must thrash West Indies and lift their net run-rate while also hoping Australia lose to Pakistan; any win or no-result for Australia in their remaining match and they are through.
Australia were the frontrunners when the match was abandoned. There was no centurion at Centurion but a string of half-centuries from Ponting, Hussey and Tim Paine, as well as a late flurry from Cameron White set them on a comfortable course. As the players toiled against the backdrop of lightning, White lifted the tempo with an unbeaten 35, including a monstrous six over midwicket off Amit Mishra.
However, it was Ponting and Hussey who controlled the middle of the innings as they kept the scoreboard ticking over with little drama. Hussey was typically unobtrusive in compiling 67 from 65 deliveries, driving through gaps and haring through for single after single. There had been a reverse sweep early in his innings but he'd taken few risks until he lofted a wide ball from Ishant Sharma, who bowled poorly, straight to Sachin Tendulkar at long off.
Ponting was more classical, if slower to score his 65 runs, until he was caught short by a magnificent direct hit from the deep from Gautam Gambhir. Until that moment, Ponting had looked set for a century as he settled into a rhythm with quick singles and the odd cracking cut or drive, as well as one brilliant, high lofted drive for six off a good-length Praveen Kumar delivery.
Ponting was the anchor, combining in an 88-run stand with Hussey and an 84-run partnership with Paine, while India's bowlers battled to make inroads into the top order. Paine was the aggressor early and took plenty of risks. He walked down the pitch to Ishant and turned him over midwicket for four, also pulling him for six as Ishant's first over cost 16 and his first three overs leaked 30.
The risk-reward strategy continued against Harbhajan Singh, whose first ball to Paine was paddle-swept for four from on the stumps and later in the same over Paine reverse-swept another boundary to bring up his half-century. However, Paine's luck expired on 56, when he top-edged another paddle-sweep off Mishra to midwicket.
Mishra and Ashish Nehra were the most impressive bowlers in an Indian effort that lacked bite. There was sharp turn for Mishra but not a great deal of assistance for the fast bowlers, although India could also have used a sharper fielding effort - Paine should've been run out on 6 and on 31 his edge off Mishra flew between MS Dhoni and Rahul Dravid at first slip.
After India lost the toss, Nehra gave them the perfect start when he consigned Shane Watson to his third consecutive one-day international duck. Nehra found some extra bounce that surprised Watson, whose top-edged pull lobbed to Harbhajan at midwicket.
There wasn't much more joy for India, although the washout was a reasonable outcome for them given Australia's solid batting. However, India need to find some spark to hammer a West Indies side that has fought well in this tournament, and they must also hope for a Pakistan win against Ponting's men. Australia's fate is in their own hands.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo