India lost the World Cup final inside the first 10 overs of the match against Australia but it has made considerable ground during the tournament.[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Australia proved the pundits correct when it added to its impressive recent record of wins by taking the World Cup final in a canter. Adam Gilchrist intimidated the Indian bowlers on a wicket that offered the seam bowlers more than a modicum of assistance and from there it was all downhill for India. With each run made by the Australian batsmen the pressure was building on the Indian batsmen, especially Sachin Tendulkar. One thing about this Australian team is that, apart from its talent, it is the best-prepared team in world cricket. It came to this World Cup with the intention of peaking for the final.
Everything it has done in the tournament was aimed at being on top of its game for the Wanderers finale. Even the set back of losing Shane Warne, then Jason Gillespie, has not been allowed to interrupt its preparation. Hogg and Bichel slipped into the team seamlessly. Ponting and Buchanan would not allow any negative thoughts to enter the minds of anyone involved with the touring party. Preparation is all about arriving for the start of a game at the perfect level of arousal. Too little arousal and you can feel tired and flat. Too much arousal and the adrenalin will race too much for you to focus on the micro level. Even focussing on the macro level is difficult.
Very soon you willhave exhausted all your energy. One of the main dangers for a player leading into a big game such as this is that he will have played the game over and over in his mind before the actual event. By the time he arrives at the ground he is mentally exhausted from having tossed and turned for hour after hour playing imaginary innings or bowling make believe overs. We have all made that mistake!It is only experience that teaches you to save your energy for when it is required. Either you learn that lesson early or your career will be a brief one.
Australia was the more experienced of these two teams with six players having played in the winning team in 1999 and it showed up early. The Indian players appeared much more on edge than their Australian counterparts.India arrived at the final with great hopes of lifting the trophy from the supremely confident and focussed Australians.
The confidence gained from eight wins in a row since its loss to Australia had given it good reason forIts optimism. Had not India's recent victories been more decisive than Australia's wins over New Zealand and Sri Lanka? The counter to that was that it had not batted against an attack as powerful as that possessed by Australia nor hadIt bowled against as formidable a batting line up as the boys from down-under. Saurav Ganguly would have been delighted to have won the toss on a wicket sporting some moisture from heavy overnight rain. He will have wanted to avoid facing the likes of Lee and McGrath for one thing, but it was also a chance for his attack to put some pressure on the Australian top-order.
After all, had not the Australians been struggling to get a good start? What is often overlooked when sending the opposition in to bat is how much pressure it puts on the bowlers. The expectation is that they should take early wickets. This can increase the tension that, in turn, makes it hard to bowl with freedom and precision.Some bowlers try too hard in this situation. Others are prone to succumb to the pressure. On this occasion Javagal Srinath was the former and Zaheer Khan was the latter.
As much as the Australians say they do not target particular bowlers, Gilchrist seemed to have Zaheer Khan firmly in his sights. Khan obliged by bowling in the areas he likes. Mind you, there are not many areas he does not like! Wide in short or full of a length will do him most times. Khan tried all three plus a few wides and no balls for good measure. It was not his day! There were enough balls bouncing and seaming to suggestthat winning the toss was an advantage. The trouble was that the bowlers could not hit a line or a length. By the time Gilchrist had reached his fifty and Australia its 100 inside 15 overs, the Indian team body language told a dismal tale.A score of 350 plus was on the cards and you could feel the noose tightening on the Indian batsmen. More than ever India was going to require another masterpiece from the little master.
He cannot always oblige. He is only human after all!What this score did for the Australian bowlers was to take the pressure off them. A few early errors were not likely to be fatal so they could steam in and try to unsettle the Indian openers.There was still enough moisture in the wicket to offer the new ball bowlers some assistance so batting was not easy against an attack that was able to do what the Indian bowlers had been incapable of doing. Bowling a line and length.Brett Lee was intent on destruction and Glenn McGrath was accurate as they set about strangling the Indian reply. Tendulkar was intent on fighting fire with fire. He hit McGrath for four from a short delivery, but once he was dismissed aiming a second pull shot at McGrath the trophy was on its way to Australia once again. Sehwag and Ganguly lived dangerously as they took to Lee and McGrath and while it was exciting the risks were high.
As clouds gathered Ganguly may well have been thinking of the runs required before the 25 over cut off. If he was, there was some method in the madness. If not the method was questionable. It looked as if the captain felt the bowlers had left them with too much to do.Once the skipper finally imploded, and was quickly followed by Kaif, it appeared that he had left the rest of the batters with way too much to do. Sehwag and Dravid prospered for a while, but the Australians could taste victory as they closed in for the kill.
This Australian team has lifted the bar a little higher. No other country is remotely close to having the combination of infrastructure and preparation that Australia possesses. Until such time as they do, or until some of thegiants of this Australian team retire, I cannot see anyone matching their combination of talent and commitment to excellence.India has made considerable ground during this tournament. Ashish Nehra is a new star on the horizon and some of the young batsmen show signs of developing into excellent players and Tendulkar is still Tendulkar. There is much to look forward to for the Indian supporters, but they are still a long way short of being able to match the overall strength of this wonderful Australian team. PTI