Bangalore: The Indian bowlers did a star turn for hosts under lights in Gwalior. Magnificent as Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman were, not to forget the little cameos of Yuvraj Singh and Ajit Agarkar, it needed an all-round effort from the team to slay the World champions Australia.Bowlers complemented the batsmen and that's how it should be. The Indian bowlers operated with clinical precision. Once Indian spearhead Zaheer Khan got through the defence of world's most dreaded opener Adam Gilchrist, the Australians steadily slipped downhill.
The Australian openers till then had put on 132 runs and appeared running away with the match. Zaheer recovered brilliantly after his first spell and the wickets of Adam Gilchrist and Andrew Symonds cast the dye for Indians. My Man of the Match would have been either Zaheer or Anil Kumble who bowled exceptionally well under extreme conditions. Mind you, when the ball is wet because of the dew, it is not easy to grip the ball. So many towels rubbing on the ball are never much of a help. Even the change of ball in the latter stages of the game wouldn't have made much difference as the outfield was soaking wet.
To be fair, it didn't help the batting either, as the wicket was at its best in the first half and the heavy outfield didn't let the ball travel as freely as it did when India batted. Quite a few shots cleared the fielders but still stopped short of the boundary because of the heavy outfield. Both Kumble and "Bhajji" (Harbhajan Singh) bowled fantastic lines and brought the pressure to bear on the Australians. Kumble varied his bowling with great control. Bhajji too was outstanding and was unlucky not to have picked up a few more wickets.
Indians did slip in the field initially but once Matthew Hayden was stumped, everything fell in place. Hayden is coming fresh from his world record and there must have been quite a few in the packed stands, and millions in front of telly, to see the powerfully built Australian at work. He batted long but his final runs were not too big to matter. The Australian skipper Ricky Ponting will clearly have to come to terms with the Indian spinners and the manner of his dismissal showed he is still vulnerable in these conditions. The wickets of Hayden and Ponting dipped the scoring and run-rate began to climb with each passing over.
It was the right time for Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar to join the party. Sehwag dismissed Michael Bevan and Damien Martyn in one over and it broke the back of Aussie resistance. It was only expected that Tendulkar would hit his straps sooner than later. It's been a long time coming. He couldn't have timed it better than with a century against world's best team. The array of shots played all around the wicket is an indication there's lot more coming from his barrel in this tournament. The hunger for runs hasn't diminished a wee bit.
Mark of a champion, which we all know he is. As for Laxman, his elegant hundred leaves the Hyderabadi unconquered in the season so far. He is putting a premium on his wicket and the good work of Test series is being reproduced in the One-dayers. Success couldn't have come to a nicer guy. The two rotated the strike very well and were responsibly aggressive which set a good platform for Yuvraj. The southpaw was brutal in his onslaught and very few international teams have been able to do anything when Yuvraj is striking as clean and hitting as powerfully as he did on Sunday. He is a match-winner and on this day is comparable to the best in business.
Consistency is the only thing what the team would be expecting from him. His lusty hitting along with his fielding prowess makes him a vital cog in India's wheels. The Indian batting blazed away despite the early setback in the form of Sehwag's dismissal. Stand-in captain Rahul Dravid, right from tossing the coin to his advantage, did everything to maintain the pressure on the Australians. He was astute not only in making the right changes in the bowling but also in promoting Yuvraj and Agarkar higher than others in the batting order.
He also handled Kumble and Bhajji extremely well and both of them stood up to the test. It's been a good start for the Indians in the triangular series after the abandoned game in Chennai and Sunday's match in Gwalior shows the Indians want to bat aggressively in the first 15 overs. It makes sense because One-day matches in India generally produce high scores and they are best achievable when the openers set the pace. Bowlers really have to mix it up. Also as the two teams used seven of their men to turn their arms over, it is evident more than five bowlers would be required to go through the quota of 50 overs.