India set foot on the Wankhede ground with only pride to salvage and they managed that, thanks mainly to Murali Karthik’s incredible spell. After having been on a hatrick twice in the match, Murali spun a web around the Aussie batting line up. Credit must be given where it is due and Mahendra Singh Dhoni has clearly earned it. Dhoni has gone on record for having pushed for the left arm spinner’s inclusion. One wonders if he might have earned some snorts from some disbelieving seniors for bringing the cricketer-turned NEO Sports commentator back in the middle. Perhaps this is really the beginning of a better era of Indian cricket where game tactics and strategy turn the focus – even if only a smidgen – away from dressing room politics and senior-junior tussles.
Turning back to the Mumbai ODI, the story could have been different if Murali wasn’t the middle. Pacer R P Singh, who was replacing Sreesanth, unable to adjust to the swing, had a nightmarish day and ended up conceding the most number of extras of the day. Pathan and Harbhajan also struggled although in ways different from R P Singh. With the exception of Murali Karthik, Zaheer was the only other bowler who bowled brilliantly, and that after a fairly mediocre series he has had.
As for the Indian innings, one could’nt agree more with Dhoni: “…the batsmen should have contributed”. You can’t win too many matches with tail-enders. The on-again-off-again top order turned itself off yet again with the shocker coming from the early overs with Ganguly’s dismissal. We do understand the ball was swinging wildly, but the top order need to handle this. Dinesh Karthik who came in at #3 walked back with a duck making one believe that the #3 batting slot in the Indian order is currently jinxed; perhaps by Dravid himself. Speaking of Dravid, ironically, this would have been the perfect Dravid-ian innings: defend a bunch of deliveries, and play occasionally. Although one would agree that with the mindset that Dravid seemed to be in now, he might have dropped more catches, had he been included, but I thought it was rash to not include him for the Mumbai ODI. On the flip side, had he failed in this situation, his critics would now be screaming for his retirement from all forms of cricket.
Turning back to the Indian innings, Tendulkar looked in excellent form, but didn’t last too long. Sachin being the only man with the experience to deal with maddening swing, his wicket was what Australia needed to turn this low scorer in their favor. Yuvraj came and went like lightning. Honestly, when Robin Uthappa walked up to the crease, I had my doubts as to how long he would last. But refreshingly, Uthappa seemed to have worked on some of the areas he had missed out in the previous matches and seemed solid in defence and fearsome in strokeplay. And with that Uthappa, you’ve won my vote (for what its worth) for the Gen-X player of the Indian cricket. M S Dhoni came in at his usual position and threatened with a few good shots but perished to caught-behind dismissal yet again! Dhoni disappointed again, and if he doesn’t buck up with his batting soon, he’ll get branded as the ‘classic India captain’ who generally fits the description of performing-player-turned-team-member-who-fails-with-everything-other-than-captaincy (and in some cases, fails with that also). With Harbhajan and Uthappa at the crease, I had lost all hope. But the stodgy Harbhajan with Uthappa’s contained aggression and Zaheer and Kathik’s determined partnership, India were through, to the relief of the millions of fans of Indian cricket.
The intense nail-biter was followed by a rush of honesty from Man-Of-the-Match Murali Karthik who confessed to knicking one to Gilchrist when asked by Ramiz Raja. Only a Pakistani would have asked that to him. What was more interesting was to watch the camera cut to Ganguly having something to say to Murali after his ‘moment of truth’. Whether he should have said that or not is an endless debate, but if you ask me, it takes guts to say the truth. He must have had his reasons for sticking to the facts and it was refreshing to see some honest, nearly ego-less statements from an Indian cricketer. Go Karthik! Hats off.
The Symonds controversy continues even with the series ending. More on that soon.