Winning when it matters
Another one in the cabinet for Ponting and Australia
Ricky Ponting doesn't give a damn. About the fact that his side was playing this tournament without four frontline bowlers. About failing to conquer the final frontier on the subcontinent in 2001. About not having, what was being seen at the end of the first half, enough runs on the board. Ponting -- and the team he leads -- cares about just one thing: being on the winning side when the final ball is bowled. This Australian team will give anything to win when it counts -- and everything else is nothing. Everything else is irrelevant.
No wonder that at the post-match press conference, the captain seemed happy and cocky (Q: "What was wrong with your batting?" A: "Wrong? Not much. We won by 37 runs, didn't we?") but not gushing. It was a day at the office. A job well done. A match won. A habit, really, that they've got into. And they are pleased to have been able to keep it up -- "in hostile conditions, on a difficult wicket".
It is this matter-of-fact approach to winning (sorry, hardly an approach; an attitude that it's win-or-nothing) that sets this side apart any other team. The Indians did give away 20 runs too many in the final overs. The fielding was a travesty of catching practice. They got partnerships going, and threw it away. But even then, as Rahul Dravid said, they did do well to restrict Australia to 235. Even on a wicket where the ball was turning, stopping and keeping low, even without Sourav Ganguly and even with a batting order that had Ajit Agarkar at No. 7, it was gettable.
Dravid knew it. He said so after the match. Ponting knew it too. But he not so much knew that he wouldn't let the Indians get it as believed it. That was the key to this result.
So in came Ian Harvey, as much a bits-and-pieces bowler as any, to snap up four wickets in eight balls. In came Michael Clarke with a couple of key wickets to add to a 28-ball 44. The man might not find a place in the side once Darren Lehmann returns from injury. Ponting admitted that. "Every time you pick a side, it's so tough."
But then, that's why this is such a tough side. That's why this team has, since January this year, lost only five out of 35 games (three of those against the West Indies in a seven-match series that they had already won 4-0).
More than other great one-day teams in history, more than Clive Lloyd's West Indies, this is a side committed to winning. Player for player, Lloyd's team was far more talented. But they wore their invincibility on one shoulder, their vulnerability on the other. The parts of that side were greater than the sum. The sum of Ponting's team is greater than its parts.
Cricket is a team game. Australia's victory -- at the Eden Gardens on Tuesday night as well as at various venues right through this year -- is a triumph, amid the dazzle of individual brilliance, of this fundamental principle.
"We weren't thinking of losing here in 2001. You can't control what happened nearly three years ago. We were worried about this game. Because you can control what happens on the ground tonight," said Ponting. "We're going home and we've won the series. That's all that counts."
History is, well, history. These guys live in the moment. And the moment they live for is the one in which they win.
Soumya Bhattacharya is deputy editor of Hindustan Times, Kolkata.