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The Shocked & The Aussome
The Australians came to South Africa as the team to beat. They leave undefeated, with a record of 17 straight wins and two straight World Cup titles. This team has a strong will to win, no matter what, and this World Cup did throw them some stiff challenges. There was the Shane Warne controversy, the innumerable injuries and three games at a venue, Port Elizabeth, that just did not suit them. However, they are the side that had the best depth in batting and the most variety and aggression in bowling. Without doubt, the best all-round team.
The debate on whether Saurav Ganguly did the right thing putting the Aussies in to bat will go on for months in India. I will back the Indian captain on this one. There had been overnight rain and there was sideways movement for the bowlers. Unfortunately, the seamers who had served so well right through were wanting on the day. The occasion got to Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra, but I was disappointed to see an old warhorse like Javagal Srinath also lose nerve. The Indians bowled on both sides of the wicket, dished out no-balls and wides regularly. The first over, in which Zaheer went for 15, set the tone for the Australian innings. Even at the death, the bowlers struggled to get in a decent yorker, bowled far too many boundary balls and full tosses.
Having said that, I don't take anything away from the Aussie batsmen. The 100-run partnership between the openers was almost predictable since they had not fired too often in the tournament. Adam Gilchrist was brilliant, seeing his team through a period when there was some assistance for the bowlers. He batted aggressively, laid a superb platform for Ricky Ponting and Damien Martyn to build upon. Damien was playing with a broken finger, but took the initiative early on. For Ponting, it was a defining moment. A 140 in a Cup match is special, the final makes it more so.
Sachin's getting out in the first over of the run chase must be hugely disappointing. He is, after all, only human. But I do think he would have been better served sticking to his natural game. I was a bit surprised to see him play such an uncharacteristic stroke so early. But these things happen in cricket. The Indians must remember that if he had not fired in all those lead-up matches, they may not have got so far with such ease.
The other batsmen seemed out of their depth chasing a 360-run target in the absence of their batting mainstay. Ganguly once again proved he does not relish playing quality fast bowling. His record against us has always been poor, averaging around 20. Virender Sehwag didn't impress me either. He was scratchy and very lucky to reach 80-something. Finally the target, coupled with some steady bowling, saw the Aussies win with consummate ease.
The Indians competed well and were the second best team on show. They have young players who can kick on to greater things. The only problem still is their over-dependence on Tendulkar, but that will change as the new order finds its feet. (Gameplan)