Symonds delivers knockout punch
Andrew Symonds had complained in his newspaper column that Sreesanth and Harbhajan Singh were the trouble-makers during the ongoing series. He said they sparked clashes between their team and the Australians and "forget to shake hands at the end of the game" when things go against them. In terms of performance, though, Symonds himself has been arguably the most effective stirrer of all during this series. He must have had a sense of accomplishment after top-edging a sweep off Harbhajan to fine leg, where Sreesanth ran in and spilled the catch. Symonds was on 2; he scored a further 105.
Had the chance been held, Australia would have fallen to 109 for 4 in the 19th over with the out-of-form Brad Hodge at the crease. With the possible exception of a superb double-wicket maiden from Mitchell Johnson in the penultimate over of India's chase, the life Symonds got was the key moment of the match and it could not have had three more fitting protagonists.
It has been an eventful series for Symonds. Before the first game he declared his annoyance at India's lavish celebrations after winning the World Twenty20. A string of on-field verbal stoushes with Sreesanth followed - Symonds of course did not keep his opinions to himself - and he even had to take racial taunts from the crowd in Vadodara.
Most importantly, in between all the drama he has just kept making runs. Seven in the opening match was followed by 87, 89, 75 and 107 not out; he had never before scored more than two successive ODI half-centuries. His hundred was a classically controlled effort and batting to the end was an improvement on his previous innings, when he led the chase only to fall in the 47th over as Australia misjudged their tempo.
After Sreesanth's gift Symonds took care against each ball. The top order had started so well that he was happy to spend time nudging singles but he was equally prepared to punish loose balls, like when he helped settle himself with a pulled six off Yuvraj Singh from his 12th delivery.
As if copying Michael Bevan, Symonds controlled the middle overs by rotating the strike and pushing hard to turn singles into twos. That has happened all series and has significantly relieved the pressure on his partners. But unlike Bevan, who typically avoided hitting over the top, Symonds has such confidence in his power that his aerial strokes usually seem risk-free.
|With the series decided Symonds was duly congratulated by his fellow trouble-makers Sreesanth and Harbhajan. Nobody forgot to shake hands this time|
As he ticked into the 60s he got to the pitch of a Harbhajan offbreak and drove it safely over long-on for six. The biggest cheer - at least from the few Australian fans at Nagpur - was reserved for a seemingly casual flick off Murali Kartik that held so much force that it landed on the roof at long-on and rolled out of the premises.
On a turning pitch he managed an impressive double of negating the impact of Harbhajan and Kartik yet obstructing India's brisk chase himself with ten overs of incredibly tight offspin. He was brought on in the 13th over to negate Sachin Tendulkar's fast scoring; Symonds obliged, going for one in his first over and two in his second. He flighted it when the batsmen needed tempting, fired in darts when they needed quelling and finished with 0 for 39.
Since December 2005 Australia have failed to defend a 300-plus total four times. Notably, in none of those games did they have the spin duo of Symonds and Brad Hogg. They hustle through overs so quickly and expertly that batsmen barely have time to think. The asking-rate balloons and the pressure usually brings wickets. Today Symonds was arguably the better of the two but Hogg earned the rewards with four victims.
With one game left, a 4-1 lead to Australia and 365 runs to his name, Symonds has achieved his objectives this tour. He describes himself as "pretty thick-skinned", which made him perfect as the side's chief niggler in India. With the series decided he was duly congratulated by his fellow trouble-makers Sreesanth and Harbhajan. Nobody forgot to shake hands this time.
Brydon Coverdale is an editorial assistant on Cricinfo