Australia came out the victors in a low-scoring fourth match of the Carlton & United Series at the Sydney Cricket Ground this evening. It was all over by 9.12pm, and looked for most of the day like being something of a walkover, but in the end there was just enough excitement to keep the 38,831 SCG crowd on their toes. Australia defeated India by five wickets with 23.1 overs to spare, but splendid bowling by Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad kept a glimmer of hope alive for the tourists when all else seemed lost.
India were dismissed for exactly 100, a total that in the end was not quite enough to defend on a pitch that was providing plenty of assistance for the seamers in both teams. But it was the all-round efforts of Andrew Symonds that won the man-of-the-match award ahead of excellent bowling performances by Glenn McGrath and Javagal Srinath.
Pitch curator Tom Parker was quoted in the morning's papers as saying that 300 would be a winning total on this strip. But by the end of the day that sounded like a prediction worthier of Tom Parker, the hyperbolic manager of Elvis Presley.
Sachin Tendulkar won the toss and elected to bat first. India made two changes from the team that lost by 28 runs to Australia on Wednesday night, Devang Gandhi and Nikhil Chopra replacing Jacob Martin and Ajit Agarkar. Australia fielded an unchanged eleven, with Stuart MacGill named as twelfth man.
The crowd buzzed with excitement as Tendulkar strode to the crease, elevating himself to open along Sourav Ganguly. Much was anticipated of the first appearance in Australia of the duo in this capacity. But so little was delivered, with both players back in the pavillion within the first five overs thanks to some excellent bowling by Glenn McGrath.
Tendulkar had scored a single from his first ten balls faced, when he misjudged the bounce from a McGrath delivery outside off stump and edged a simple catch to Adam Gilchrist. The left-hander Ganguly was on five when he fished outside off to a shorter ball from McGrath which got some movement off the seam, another simple catch to Gilchrist. India 9 for 2.
Runs were hard to come by for Laxman and Dravid against the swing and seam of Fleming and McGrath. The first non-single of the match came in the tennth over when Dravid deflected Fleming to fine leg, for Michael Bevan to misfield an easy save and nudge the ball into the boundary.
India's third wicket fell when a hostile McGrath got a ball through Laxman's defences, removing middle stump. Laxman faced 25 deliveries for his 2, the hasty last-minute decision to include him in India's one-day squad looking ever more questionable.
With Devang Gandhi joining Dravid at the crease, the score at the end of the eleventh over was 21 for 3.
India's fourth wicket of the day fell with just 29 runs on the board. Brett Lee, who replaced Damien Fleming in the twelfth over of the day, struck in the second over of his spell. With just two fielders forward of the wicket, Devang Gandhi (6) spooned an easy catch of Lee straight to one of the two, Michael Bevan at extra cover.
Glenn McGrath's superb opening spell of 7-3-5-3 came to an end, and with Shane Lee joining in the brotherly bowling attack some of the pressure eased on Rahul Dravid and Robin Singh. The two built a recovery of sorts until Singh (11) fell to a Shane Lee outswinger, taken by Damien Martyn at first slip. Their stand was a valuable 42 in the circumstances and scored at 3.3 per over.
Andrew Symonds, who had replaced Brett Lee at the southern end, struck twice with successive deliveries in the 28th over. He had Dravid (22) adjudged lbw by umpire Simon Taufel, although the ball pitched outside off and seamed in with the batsman appearing to play a shot.
Anil Kumble slashed at a ball which should have been a wide, and was gone first ball, taken by Adam Gilchrist - the Australian wicketkeeper's 100th career catch in his 79th ODI. Nikhil Chopra left the hat trick ball alone, pitching outside off.
The hapless Sameer Dighe was the eighth wicket to fall for India, edging McGrath's final ball of the day to Damien Martyn at first slip. Dighe scored 2 from 21 balls, giving him 11 from 57 deliveries so far in this series. McGrath finished the day with the astonishing figures of 10-4-8-4.
Andrew Symonds took the last two wickets of the innings, for the second time in the innings. Chopra, who had edged a boundary through first slip, was gone for 14 when Symonds trapped him plumb lbw after India had reached 100 in 178 minutes.
Next ball, Symonds dislodged Venkatesh Prasad's off-stump, to finish with 4/11 from 3.3 overs.
With the Indian innings ending at precisely 5.30pm, Australia had 20 minutes to bat before the start of the dinner break. Mark Waugh and Adam Gilchrist survived a short five-over spell before the interval, in which 12 runs were scored without loss. Waugh was fortunate to survive two confident lbw appeals off Srinath during the pre-dinner spell, umpire Peter Parker giving in favour of the batsman on both occasions.
After dinner Mark Waugh became Srinath's first victim when he was given out lbw to a ball cutting in from off. Umpire Peter Parker adjudged that the ball would not have missed leg stump, and Waugh was out for 3.
Ricky Ponting had not scored when he slashed at a ball from Prasad, well taken by Laxman at second slip. Michael Bevan came out to join Gilchrist (19*), but before play could resume the rain which had been threatening to appear all day finally descended.
The sharp but not heavy shower descended on the SCG amid bright sunshine at 7.12pm with Australia on 29 for 2 after ten overs. Play resumed 26 minutes later with no reduction in overs.
Gilchrist immediately put the foot on the accelerator hooking Srinath for two boundaries from the first two balls after the rain interruption. A short delay followed later in that over as the umpires approved Tendulkar's request to place sawdust on the bowlers' footmarks at each end. Unlike the controversy during the Test match a fortnight ago, the surface was slightly slippery after the shower of rain.
Gilchrist had hit five boundaries in his 51-ball knock when, on 37, he misplayed an on-drive from Srinath, getting a thick outside edge to Rahul Dravid at third slip. Chasing a small target, his innings had placed Australia into a strong position. However the fall of two wickets in that over placed that hold in jeopardy.
Michael Bevan failed yet again in his promotion to No 4 in the batting order. He had scored two when, three balls after Gilchrist's dismissal, he found himself in trouble yet again with a lifting delivery from Srinath, fending it to Kumble in the gully.
With Steve Waugh and Damien Martyn the new men at the crease, Australia were 4/56 after 15 overs. The required run rate was barely 1.2 per over, but Australia still needed to hang on to their six remaining wickets. And there was still a chance that the rain would return.
Australia lost their fifth wicket with the score at 59, captain Steve Waugh (4) given out lbw decision by umpire Parker - though there was a lot of movement, possibly passing leg stump - to become Srinath's fourth victim of the innings.
Srinath (10-2-30-4) and Prasad (10-0-29-1) both bowled unchanged, and while Srinath received all the plaudits, Prasad also beat the bat on many occasions.
The arrival of Ganguly in the attack to replace Srinath was greeted with two lofted fours by Andrew Symonds, one a straight hit that fell just inside the fence.
At the end of the 25th over, Australia needed 17 runs for victory. Tendulkar, hardly the shrewdest captain in world cricket, made the brazen move of replacing Robin Singh (2-1-1-0) with Anil Kumble. The response from Andrew Symonds? Three boundaries in six balls. Twelve runs off Kumble's first over at a crucial moment of the game.
Martyn joined in the slogfest with a boundary off Ganguly, and a single to mid-on brought victory.
Symonds was named man of the match for his 28 not out from 32 balls and 4/11 from 3.3 overs. Australia now join Pakistan on four points, though Pakistan have a match in hand. Australia are showing signs of a brittle batting lineup this season. Bevan's promotion to No 4 seems unwarranted as is the selectors continuing faith in Damien Martyn. It is a mystery why Stuart MacGill does not walk straight into the shoes of Shane Warne at every opportunity, while there is the inescapable feeling that Australia are playing one, and maybe two, Lee brothers too many in the short-form game.
India are winless after three matches and have an uphill battle forcing their way into the finals from here. Their batting is showing no consistency, and Tendulkar is leading the team in the field like a Captain Uninspired. Srinath and Prasad bowled with a passion which suggested that the match was theirs if only they had 150 or so to defend. Continuous excessive appealing and self-congratulations at even the scent that they may have taken a wicket continues to be a major weakness in the emotional fabric of this Indian side who would be better off concentrating on the basics and putting more effort, more hard work, into getting the habit of possessing the will to win.