This week in the Commonwealth Bank Series we saw a hugely significant moment in the history of Australian cricket, with Ricky Ponting dropped from the ODI squad. In his subsequent press conference he admitted that he doesn’t expect to play limited overs cricket for Australia again. Coincidentally, his last game fell almost seventeen years to the day since his ODI debut. To put that into context, let’s consider some other things that have changed over that time.
Back in February 1995 Noel’s House Party was the BBC’s flagship Saturday night programme. The legendary ongoing battle between Noel Edmonds and Tony Blackburn gripped a nation, with schoolyards across the UK being divided between ‘Blackburnites’ and ‘Edmonds Boys’.
Fast-forward seventeen years and things are very different. Noel’s House Party was cancelled by the BBC in 1999. Edmonds found work hard to come by after that and drifted into poverty and eventually homelessness. He can now be found most days at Highgate tube station, where he dances for bemused tourists, looking to earn a few pennies to pay for a night in a nearby hostel.
So what has this taught us? Two things really: Firstly, seventeen years is an incredibly long time in sport and television and Australian cricket will never be the same again. Secondly: Noel Edmonds is a very, very strange man.
Ricky Ponting wasn’t the only international captain to have a disastrous week. Two excellent performances in the previous round of matches had gone someway to repairing MS Dhoni’s somewhat battered reputation. Another fine individual performance (top scoring with 56) couldn’t hide the fact that his side were an absolute rabble here.
India chose to go without a front-line spinner, for reasons that weren’t overly clear. At least when they’d done it for the WACA Test there was a degree of logic behind it. Here all it did was slow down the over-rate to an almost absurd extent. In the end India took 31 minutes more than their allotted time to bowl their overs, resulting in Dhoni earning himself another one-match ban.
It certainly didn’t help that his side spent a fair chunk of their time in the field fetching the ball from the boundary. Australia racked up 288/5 from their 50 overs with every batsman (bar Ponting, again captaining in Michael Clarke’s absence) getting in. David Warner made 43 while Matt Wade made 45, pushing Brad Haddin’s ODI (and potentially Test) career closer to its inevitable end. Peter Forrest made 52, his second half-century in three innings, and Mike Hussey 59. Add in quick runs from David Hussey (26* from 20 balls) and Dan Christian (30* from 18) and it was hard to see where things could have gone any better for the home side (bar Ponting).
In reply India were just awful. After a few decent performances this was a clear throwback to their disinterested Test performances. The top order collapsed with no-one in the top four making more than 12. Tendulkar was particularly guilty, playing a shot that must rank up as the stupidest he’s ever played. Having seen Kohli dropped by Xavier Doherty at third man (thanks to some eyes-closed catching) he promptly gave the same man a simple chance to redeem himself just one ball later.
Following that disastrous start there was only going to be one result and so it proved: India skittled out for just 178. Ben Hilfenhaus, not even considered an international one-day bowler a month or so ago, helped himself to five wickets.
With Dhoni presumably off sightseeing in Queensland, India turned to Virender Sehwag to captain the side and Partiv Patel to keep wicket. It really didn’t make much difference, although they did at least get through their overs on time.
Batting first Sri Lanka racked up 289/6, a score built around every batsman (bar their number three) getting in. Honestly, just read the description of the Australian innings above and put in some Sri Lankan names, plus one extra run. We can’t let the innings pass without commenting on some odd captaincy from Sehwag – the last two overs were bowled by part-time spinners (Raina and Kohli), neither of whom had bowled in the innings up to that point. Angelo Mathews tucked in heartily, as Sri Lanka added 21 from those overs.
In reply India needed a good start if they were to stand any chance. They didn’t get one – Sehwag brainlessly clipping his second ball to third man. We’re sick of hearing the phrase ‘but that’s how he plays’, as if it excuses him somehow. We once drove into a tree because ‘that’s how we drive’ but it really didn’t go down well with the magistrate.
Sachin followed, playing on for 22 and that was basically that. India at least made a bit of an effort, Kohli making 66 and Irfan Pathan 47, but the inevitable end came with five overs unused, bowled out for 238. It was an excellent all-round performance from Sri Lanka and a fully deserved victory.
The final game of the round saw the two teams that actually care produce a minor classic. After a poor start Australia eventually found their way to a more than competitive 280/6. David Warner failed again and might be next for the chop, with a fit-again Shane Watson lurking as twelfth man. The key innings came from Peter Forrest, playing only his fourth ODI and batting in the number three spot vacated by Ponting, who made 104. Michael Clarke marked his return to the side with a lively 72.
In reply Sri Lanka set off like a train, albeit a dangerously lop-sided one. The opening pair added 55 before Dilshan was out for just 3. Jayawardene continued on his merry way, making 85 before being beaten by the turn of Xavier Doherty and stumped. If we hadn’t seen it with our own eyes, we wouldn’t have believed it either.
Dinesh Chandimal carried the momentum onwards, making a fine 80 while the others batted around him. There was a slight wobble towards the end but Thisara Perera (21*) carted Dan Christian around the park in the penultimate over and Sri Lanka made it home with four balls to spare.
A week that started with India at the top of the table ended with them bottom and looking unlikely to reach the final. A more cynical website than 51allout might suggest that they won’t be all that disappointed to finally be able to get away from those damn sporting pitches and onto some flatter batsman-friendly ones. Of course, we’d rather point to the excellent performances from Sri Lanka and (sometimes) the hosts.
Either way, following two more defeats India have seen themselves drop to third in the ICC ODI rankings behind South Africa. As some have learned this week, nothing lasts forever. Just ask Noel Edmonds.