Kolkata: Damien Martyn produced a gritty half-century as Indian bowlers exploited a turning track to restrict Australia to 235 for five in their allotted 50 overs in the TVS Cup triangular cricket series final in Kolkata on Tuesday. Electing to bat, the world champions never really came to terms with the slow turning pitch at the Eden Gardens and it was Martyn (61) who held the innings from plunging into total disarray before Michael Clarke's unbeaten 28-ball 44 took the Australians to a fighting total.
Michael Bevan was the other notable contributor with an unbeaten 40. Spurred on by a vociferous home crowd of nearly one lakh, the buttered-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.
But in the last five overs India conceded 48 runs to undo the good work to some extent. 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. Unlike in the other matches, the Indian new ball operators Zaheer Khan and Ajit Agarkar managed to contain the two Australian openers who could not launch the innings with the characteristic flourish. Both Agarkar, who began the bowling operations, and Zaheer seemed to have done their homework well as they mixed their balls intelligently to trouble the openers.
Agarkar fired the first salvo by evicting the dangerous Adam Gilchrist (7) in his third over sending the capacity crowd at the Eden Gardens into frenzy. The left- handed Gilchrist was deceived by a slower delivery as he tried to play across the line only to see his stumps being dislodged. The Indians removed the other opener Matthew Hayden three overs later with Zaheer Khan getting the prized scalp with another slow delivery. The muscular left-hander mistimed his shot completely, offering a simple catch to VVS Laxman at short cover.
Ponting, who was dropped by Laxman at first slip even before he had opened his account, and Damien Martyn tried to steady the ship by playing the Indian bowlers cautiously. The two batsmen were quite content in keeping the scoreboard moving with gentle pushes and nudges but were also quite prompt to despatch the loose deliveries to the boundary. The third wicket pair put on 80 runs before Kartik, plotted the dismissal of the Australian skipper much to the delight of his teammates. Ponting edged Kartik's sharply turning ball to Laxman at first slip who made no mistake for a change. Despite the wickets falling at the other end, the in-form Martyn looked quite composed in the middle as he kept collecting the runs without taking too much risks against the spinners who managed to obtain a fair amount of turn on the dry Eden track.
Martyn opened his account with a boundary off Zaheer and then picked up young paceman Avishkar Salvi for some special treatment by clobbering him to the fence twice to give ample evidence of his form. Andrew Symonds, who joined the action after Ponting's dismissal, looked totally out of sorts on the slow surface and virtually threw away his wicket by going for a rather ambitious stroke against Harbhajan. Symonds (10) went for a lofted shot without getting hold of the ball and succeeded in giving a simple catch to Hemang Badani in the long on region as the world champions were reduced to 129 for four by the 30th over.
It was then left to the well-set Martyn and the dependable Michael Bevan to retrieve the situation for the Aussies. The duo played watchfully, allowing the hosts to bring down the run rate considerably. Bevan did not allow the hamstring injury, sustained in the early part of his innings, affect his concentration or his strokeplay as he grimly held on to one end till the slog overs. Martyn and Bevan added 41 runs for the fifth wicket before part-timer Virender Sehwag got rid of Martyn to push the Aussies on the mat again.