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Downslide continues

Batsmen fail yet again as India stares at elimination after third successive defeat

Written by Aditya Iyer | Sydney | Published: February 27, 2012 1:54:41 am

Ben Hilfenhaus dived face front during his follow-through and reached out to grab the return hit,barely inches above the soil. But as gravity took the big fast bowler’s body down in a thud,the ball spilled out of his outstretched hand and Hilfenhaus dropped a visibly relieved Irfan Pathan. It was the 35th over of the reply,and Hilfenhaus buried his face in the pitch. Pathan was batting just on one.

Pathan,in turn made the most of his chance by collaring Hilfenhaus for a six a couple of balls later. A few deliveries on,the No.9 batsman even dumped Brett Lee into the Bill O’Reilly Stand for a humongous maximum,en route to becoming the third highest scorer in India’s chase at Sydney on Sunday. But on a day when the third best Indian innings was 22 (behind Ravichandran Ashwin’s 26 and Gautam Gambhir’s 23) in a stiff chase of 253,India crashed to their second straight defeat conceding a bonus point,by 87 runs.

India’s fourth loss of this tri-series — one that has made their qualification for the finals only a possibility on paper — began when Hilfenhaus didn’t spill his first attempt at an incredibly hard return catch,in just the second over of the innings. The batsman then was Virender Sehwag,and a head-first leaping Hilfenhaus showed just what the Aussies were willing to put on the line to qualify for the finals. Sehwag had earlier crunched the Tasmanian pacer through covers for India’s first boundary of the day in the ninth ball of the second innings. But after the catch of the series packed Sehwag (5) back for his fifth straight failure of the triangular,the onus was on Sachin Tendulkar and Gambhir to keep the runs flowing. While trying to do just that,Tendulkar waved goodbye to Sydney one last time just the way he did to Perth and Melbourne — without success.

With the cheap dismissals of Sehwag and Tendulkar,Virat Kohli walked in to assist Gambhir in the rescue act. The pair dragged India from 35 for two to 77 at the beginning of the 16th. But that’s when Australia’s stand-in skipper Shane Watson had his biggest impact on the game.

Watson show

Introducing himself at the begining of the bowling powerplay,Watson dismissed Kohli with the final delivery of the over,the extra pace pinning Kohli’s lifeless flick into midwicket’s hands. Watson celebrated like a man possessed and repeated the fist-pumping act in the 19th over,with the fall of Suresh Raina. The left-hander chased a wide one into the keeper’s mittens,and Watson’s double strike had destroyed half the Indian side for 89. Against the Indians,captaincy was clearly a lot easier than he figured.

Forget Australia,prior to Sunday,Watson hadn’t captained even his state sides,the only time he had ever been skipper was for Queensland under-19 team. He didn’t have a great start with the bat,out for a seven-ball one,but his team-mates ensured that on his first day in-charge,Australia qualified for the finals convincingly. And for that,he would have have to thank the half centurions — David Warner,David Husey and Matthew Wade.

Praveen Kumar,participating after a prolonged break since the first round,removed Watson and the in-form Peter Forrest for single digits,his figures reading 5-1-2-9. More importantly,Australia’s read 26 for two. But in front of his home crowd,Warner decided to come good for the first time this series with a belligerent 68.

The pocket dynamo hammered Pathan and Umesh Yadav for successive boundaries,the latter of which brought up his first 50 of this series. Even when he got out to Ravindra Jadeja a few overs later,Warner caused maximum damage. His mis-sweep caused a terrible collision between Raina and Pathan. Raina did well to hold on to the catch,but speared into Pathan,who didn’t bowl again. Dhoni was forced to use Sehwag at the death with the last over by Sehwag going for 13 runs; but immediately after the break,his wicket cost India a lot more.

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