Australia too good

Every time Australia reach the knockout stages of a major international tournament, much is made of their impeccable record in such situations. Even dating back to the mid-to-late 90s, high pressure situations always seemed to bring out the best in Australia’s key players. The likes of Michael Bevan and Shane Warne thrived under pressure, and in the last 10 years Australia have made three world cup finals, been knocked out of their home triangular series only twice, and made unsuccessful tournaments in other nations a rarity.

Tonight, they showed that this tradition of strong performances under pressure is far from dead. Australia disposed of India with a relentless team display in front of a parochial Indian crowd, and came out on top in every aspect of the game. India, on the other hand, broke down at key points in the game with poor bowling discipline and unimaginative batting, and will have plenty to work on in the few months remaining until the World Cup.

The day began well for India, with Rahul Dravid winning the toss and electing to bat on a fast, bouncy pitch. Virender Sehwag immediately attacked Brett Lee, slashing him over the off-side field for runs off the first ball of the innings. Lee’s first three overs went for 27 runs, the ball had stopped swinging and India were on top. At the other end it was a different story however, with Glenn McGrath taking the new ball for the first time in the Champions Trophy and re-affirming his credentials as one of the world’s best. McGrath didn’t stray offline once in his opening spell, and helped drag the situation back to parity with the crucial wicket of Sachin Tendulkar.

Dinesh Mongia came in at number 3 and played second fiddle to Sehwag through some early troubles, particularly against Nathan Bracken. The introduction of Shane Watson ended that partnership just as it began to blossom, as the all-rounder got some extra bounce and a bit of seam movement outside off-stump and Hussey was presented with a simple slips catch. The third wicket stand also started well, as Sehwag passed his half-century and added 37 with Dravid before he was dismissed by the best ball of the innings, trapped in front by Mitchell Johnson.

The middle overs provided the best partnership of the Indian innings, with Dravid and Kaif adding 60 for the fourth wicket, but the scoring rate was curtailed by some disciplined Australian bowling. As was the case in the last match against England, Australia’s five-man seam attack left no easy targets for the batsmen and Ricky Ponting rotated the bowlers well. Dravid played superbly for his half-century and was crucial to the Indian side reaching a challenging total, but fell to Lee as the death overs approached, spooning an easy catch to Michael Clarke at midwicket.

While Lee was disappointing in his early spells, his final spell was nothing sort of sensational, conceding just 12 runs in 4 overs in the later part of the innings, and adding Kaif’s wicket to Dravid’s. Mahendra Singh Dhoni pushed the scoring rate up at the death, but McGrath and Bracken picked up late wickets and kept Dhoni in check with full and straight bowling.

India’s eventual score of 249 was below par on a quick and flat wicket, and was especially disappointing considering that the home side had 7 wickets in hand at the 40 over mark. It would have taken a disciplined effort with the ball and dedication in the field to secure victory in the evening session, and India provided neither. Misfields, wides and erratic line and length were the order of the day in the first 15 overs, and Shane Watson in particular was merciless on the Indian bowlers, playing his finest international innings to date despite severe cramp that saw him call for a runner.

Gilchrist perished first, slashing the ball to Raina in the 9th over off the bowling of Sreesanth, by which time the score was already 61. The century mark came up in the 14th over, and no bowler had managed to concede less than 6 an over before that point. Dravid was left no option other than to utilise spin from both ends within the powerplay overs, and while the plan worked to dry up the runs and Mongia dismissed Watson for 50, it was simply too late to salvage the result without a major Australian collapse.

With only 4 an over needed after the loss of Watson, Damien Martyn and Ricky Ponting stabilised and looked to see off the spinners without the loss of further wickets. The pair added 74 in 108 deliveries, and the game was all but over by the time Sreesanth returned and grabbed Ponting’s wicket thanks to a spectacular Tendulkar slips catch. Martyn finished the job in style, bringing up his second consecutive half-century in the Champions Trophy and finishing on 73 not out, albeit with two let-offs courtesy of difficult dropped catches close in. Andrew Symonds played a brief cameo before being bowled by Pathan going for quick runs, and Australia reached the target with 26 balls to spare. The one shining light for India in the late overs was Sreesanth, who bowled a threatening return spell and found seam movement even with the old ball.

While the game was not the most one-sided of the tournament on the scoreboard, Australia were clearly the superior side in all areas of play. With the bat, the ball and especially in the field, Australia’s extra endeavour showed through, with even Glenn McGrath throwing himself across the turf repeatedly to save a single run on the rope, while India gave away numerous boundaries with sloppy work on the ropes and dropped two chances to dismiss Damien Martyn. Australia have never won the Champions Trophy before, but they showed ruthless dedication to ending that drought tonight, while India did little to dispel the perception that they struggle to bring their usual level of performance in the most important matches.

The Champions Trophy continues on Wednesday, when Australia meet New Zealand in the first semi-final. South Africa and the West Indies meet in the other semi-final on Thursday.

India 249-8 (50)
Virender Sehwag 65 (90), Rahul Dravid 52 (63)
Glenn McGrath 2-34 (10), Brett Lee 2-54 (10)

Australia win by 6 wickets.

Australia 252-4 (45.4)
Damien Martyn 73* (104), Ricky Ponting 58 (69)
Sreesanth 2-43 (8), Dinesh Mongia 1-36 (9)

Cricket Web Man of the Match
Damien Martyn – 73 not out.

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