<i>The gamble that paid off</i>
At the start of the 48th over of the first one-day international on Sunday, Australia captain Ricky Ponting sprinted from cover and Brett Lee from long-on to have a chat, around the 30-yard circle, close to mid-on. Lee had bowled just six overs of his quota.
India's Harbhajan Singh and Praveen Kumar, with their freak hitting, were threatening to achieve the improbable: chasing 293 from a worrisome 201 for 7 in 39.5 overs. After a few moments, having to shout amidst the din, Lee headed back to long-on, thumbs up, and Peter Siddle got the ball.
Turns out Lee had a sore elbow, and Ponting punted on a younger man. Siddle went round the wicket, started with a wide, and went for a six and a four later in the over. "I would have loved to have bowled him [Lee] in the last few overs of the game," Ponting said later. Quite a different picture from Mohali last year when Lee wanted to bowl, but Ponting wouldn't let him because of the already slow over-rates.
This time, though, Ponting had no choice, and he went for his next best bet. "Shane Watson is one of our better finishers, probably one of our best finishers to tell you the truth," Ponting said. With 29 required from the last two overs, Watson went for 1, 4, 4, 1, 4 & 6. The last 10 overs or so featured full-tosses, catches parried over for sixes, misfields at the boundary and in the ring, half-volleys, wide balls and every other possible crime. The delirium among the full house could be felt in the open-air press box. Clearly, Australia were under the cosh, having let the game slip from their hands, wilting under crowd pressure and the other team's momentum.
Ponting didn't hide his exasperation at what transpired in the last 10 overs. "We played well enough to win the game," he said. "I would have been disappointed if we hadn't crossed the line after having largely played well through the course of the game."
With nine required off the last over, Ponting had another chat with Lee, but this time he went for The Punt, something he is not extensively known for doing as captain. He could have easily asked Lee to bail him out, but he went for Siddle again. "Once again it was going to be a good experience for Peter Siddle as well," Ponting said later, explaining his choices in the last few overs.
Siddle finally held his own, stunning the crowd by bowling Harbhajan off the second ball, and then bowling four full, straight deliveries. "After his first few deliveries, when he went round the wicket to experiment, it didn't quite work, and he went back over and executed the plan well," Ponting said.
Having escaped this defeat-from-jaws-of-victory, Ponting afforded himself a joke too. Asked whether Harbhajan, their old nemesis, was up to it again, he refused to share credit. "Harbhajan didn't take the game away from us, though he did come close," he said. "I think our bowling in the last 10 overs, I mean I don't think that we can be that bad again." He was asked again, "But Harbhajan played well?" The reply provided the series with much-needed needle: "He played well… but not well enough."