Clarke delivers a statement of intent
Two familiar trends gained momentum at the Chinnaswamy Stadium on Saturday as Michael Clarke's second hundred here bailed Australia out of danger and India failed to kill off a faltering opposition. In the absence of Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey, and with the dangerous opening pair not quite coming off, Clarke played a classy innings that showed off the depth in Australian cricket.
Clarke had managed three runs in two innings at the World Twenty20 but he was his natural self once back in the one-day format. As with Shaun Pollock on this same ground in the Afro-Asia Cup opener earlier this year, Clarke stuck to the basics and delighted the purists with some old-fashioned shots and good, simple cricket.
"I'd definitely say I'm at home here," Clarke said when asked which form of the game he preferred. "I faced four balls in the Twenty20 tournament. The advantage for me was that I had time to bat out a lot of overs; actually I had no choice. I had to spend as much time out there as possible because I hadn't had much time in the centre."
Time was indeed something he had plenty of today. Adam Gilchrist fell cheaply, Brad Hodge went for a duck and Matthew Hayden didn't convert his start. Walking in at 18 for 2, Clarke took time to settle. The first delivery he received was clocked at 147kph and he did well to leave it alone. There were more leaves mixed with tight defence - he middled the ball very well early on - as Sreesanth's threat was seen off, at least at one end.
He then had two lives, both in the 22nd over; the first was a very close shout for leg before, the second when Mahendra Singh Dhoni couldn't hit the stumps after he called for the single and was well out of the crease.
"I certainly had a bit of luck and things went my way and I enjoyed it out there," he said. "I think I faced 140 balls [it was 132] so that was certainly something I thought I needed."
Those lives didn't go to waste as Clarke, nimble-footed, chipped deliveries into the gaps and pushed the field, gnawing away at India's Sreesanth-induced advantage. He worked the singles with the feisty Brad Haddin - who he said played "brilliantly" - and kept the run rate at above five all through their fifth-wicket stand of 144. And it all came without a chancy stroke or a whiff of frustration.
He reached his century with a pull over deep midwicket off a Ramesh Powar lollypop, then raised his arms and soaked in the moment. He'd been here, done this in Test cricket. "It's obviously a great place to come back to after making my debut in Test cricket. It's disappointing we didn't get a result tonight but good to score a hundred."
All this while India watched the advantage - gained with four early wickets - slipping away from them. It was a familiar one-day trend for India - failing to go for the kill.
Sreesanth, after his very impressive first spell, couldn't deliver at the death, while RP Singh and Irfan Pathan looked pedestrian, pitching the ball all over the place. There was no semblance of the discipline that marked their bowling in the Twenty20. Powar, back in the side after missing out on the Twenty20 tournament, served up too many full tosses.
Perhaps India simply hadn't switched gears from the Twenty20 game but they had no excuse. Dhoni's life to Clarke aside, the fielding wasn't as sharp as it was in South Africa, testament to the fact that the longer the format, the more the demands.
At the Rose Bowl this summer, India had England at 43 for 1 but let Ian Bell and Alastair Cook cut loose and add 178. India only managed two wickets in 50 overs. At The Oval, they allowed England to recover from 83 for 4 to 316, taking just two wickets in the process, at 137 and 243.
Rain robbed this match of a result but there was still time for Clarke, possibly a future leader of the team, to deliver a statement of intent. India will need to find one of their own in Kochi.
Jamie Alter is an editorial assistant on Cricinfo