Kolkata: India choked again and caved into world champions Australia to lose the final of the tri-angular series here tonight with a massive crowd of 125,000 stunned by a poor batting and fielding display by the hosts. On an indifferent track at the Eden Gardens, the Indian bowlers finally came into their own by restricting the formidable Australian batting line up to 235 for five despite the fielding lapses with VVS laxman dropping as many as three sitters off some of the greatest One-day batsmen in the world, Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting.
But the Indian batsmen, with the exception of skipper Rahul Dravid (49) and Sachin Tendulkar (44) could not overtake even this moderate total and handed over the TVS Cup to the World champions on a platter. Although the Indian bowlers did reasonably well, the batsmen succumbed to the pressure and could never really recover from the early jolts to fold up for 198 in 41.5 overs to lose a final at the historic Eden Gardens for the first time. The home team, desperate to avenge the humiliation in the World Cup final, had themselves to blame for the debacle as they allowed the mighty Australians to wriggle out of a difficult position and take the honours with a 37-run victory.
It was the World Champions' sixth consecutive victory in the series. Electing to bat, Australia struggled to come to terms with the slow turning track to score 235 for five in their alotted 50 overs mainly due to Damien Martyn's responsible 61 and a quickfire unbeaten 44 from 28 balls late in the innings by the young Michael Clarke. The reliable Michael Bevan also chipped in with an unbeaten 40. The Indian run chase began on a disastrous note as they lost opener Virender Sehwag for five with just 12 runs on the board. Paceman Nathan Bracken put the hosts on the backfoot by evicting Sehwag, running in front of him to hold a return catch after the ball ballooned up.
Both Bracken and his new ball partner Brad Williams produced a fiery opening spell to keep the strong Indian batsmen on a tight leash. With the hosts gasping at 36 for two after 12 overs, it was left to Tendulkar and stand in captain Rahul Dravid to pull the team out of the pits and the duo raised hopes of a spirited fightback by accelerating the pace of scoring. The fourth wicket pair of Tendulkar and Dravid unleashed a flurry of boundaries and the little master seemed to regain his touch clobbering Andy Bichel for three fours in the same overs.
But a hushed silence descended at the floodlit Eden Gardens when Bichel struck back with a vengeance by claiming the prized wicket of Tendulkar and breaking the 63-run partnership. Tendulkar was clean bowled by Bichel's off-cutter as he left a gap between the bat and pad. It was a big blow for the hosts who were relying on him to steer the team to the victory target. His 45 came off 66 balls. Hardly had the crowd recovered from the shock of losing Tendulkar when Yuvraj Singh also returned to the dressing room without troubling the scorer much. Yuvraj Singh looked distinctly uncorfortable before Andrew Symonds brought an end to his brief occupation of the crease with Matthew Hayden taking a smart catch at first slip.
The home team suddenly slumped to 110 for four by the 24th over, allowing the Kangaroos to take control of the proceedings. Dravid, who seemed to be in fine nick, and new man Hemang Badani then tried to salvage the situation for the hosts as the duo kept the scoreboard inching towards the target without taking too many risks. Tendulkar and VVS Laxman, who joined the action after Sehwag's early departure, had a torried time in the middle as the first ten overs fetched just 22 runs. The batting maestro was a pale shadow of himself in the early stages of his knock as he failed to time his shots properly and was was beaten outside the off-stump on a number of occasions.
But both the batsmen seemed to find their rhythm to some extent after Bracken and Williams were removed from the attack, coming out of their shells to play some delightful strokes. The stylish Laxman slammed Williams for three boundaries before the speedster send him back to the pavilion with a ball that kept a trifle low to uproot his off-stump. Badani played a breezy 36 ball 30 before becoming a victim to part time bowler Clarke to put India in dire straits.
Earlier, Martyn produced a gritty half century as Indian bowlers exploited a turning track to restrict Australia to 235 for five but all the good work was undone to some extent as the hosts conceded as many as 48 runs in the last five overs. Martyn held the innings from plunging into total disarray before Michael Clarke's unbeaten cameo took the Australians to a fighting total. Spurred on by a vociferous home crowd of nearly one lakh, the butter-fingered Indians had themselves to blame for not pegging their formidable rivals to a smaller total as they dropped as many as six catches, VVS Laxman being the offender on three occasions.
The home team did now allow the huge jolt of losing their captain Sourav Ganguly to injury barely an hour before the match affect them as they went into the summit showdown determined to bury the ghost of the World Cup final. Ganguly, who suffered a groin injury in the last match in Hyderabad, failed a fitness test but the bowlers did not compound the stand-in captain Rahul Dravid's misery as they managed to keep the mighty Aussies on a tight leash. Left-arm spinner Murali Kartik was the pick of the Indians bowlers returning impressive figures of 10-1-30-1 but his economical effort was overshadowed to some extent by a late onslaught by Clarke and Bevan.