Watson dazzles as Aussies beat India
Colombo, Sri Lanka – Shane Watson and David Warner are easily the most explosive opening pair in limited-overs international cricket. They complement each other beautifully, one right-handed and the other left-handed, with both of muscling the cricket ball a long, long way.
At the R Premadasa Stadium on Friday night, both made half-centuries and showed exactly why they are so feared by opposition attacks across the world, launching a fearsome onslaught that knocked the stuffing out of India.
India had packed its line-up with three specialist spinners – the major component of a five-pronged attack, with Virender Sehwag again warming the bench – but they were all smashed out of the equation as Watson and Warner defied all predictions to fashion a ridiculously easy victory for Australia in its opening Group 2 Super Eights clash at the ICC World Twenty20.
The spinners dominated Friday’s opening match between Pakistan and South Africa, and while India wouldn’t have been entirely happy with its middling tally of 140-7, it must have thought it was in with a chance of making a match of it. Watson and Warner destroyed that belief with a blistering assault, fours and sixes flying with astonishing regularity to the delight of a large gathering that was decidedly pro-Australia.
In a sustained burst of aggression that only ended with Watson’s dismissal, eight short of victory, Australia made this a no-contest, romping to a nine-wicket victory with a massive 5.1 overs in the bag. It was comprehensive, spectacular and achieved with a clinical professionalism and ruthlessness that doesn’t bode well for the rest of the field.
By the time Watson was dismissed, 133 had been realised in 81 deliveries. Glenn Maxwell came out to help Warner complete the formalities, as Australia hurtled to 141-1 in just 14.5 overs.
India will point to a seven-minute interruption due to rain in the first over of the Australian chase as one of the main reasons for the ineffectiveness of R Ashwin, Harbhajan Singh and Piyush Chawla. It’s not an argument without merit, because a wet ball did make it hard for the spinners to grip it properly, leave alone impart considerable spin. But that was only half the story.
Warner was the early aggressor, latching on to Ashwin both before and after the stoppage, but once Watson flexed his muscles, even Warner had to take a back seat. Coming off two man of the match award-winning performances in his previous two games, Watson was determined to show that even had the boundaries been pushed 20 yards back, he would have cleared them comfortably.
The run-fest actually got underway in the fifth over, as Ashwin went for two sixes and 16 runs in his third over. It led to an amazing sequence of sixes as Watson set about Chawla and Irfan Pathan, and Warner turned his attention to Harbhajan.
Harbhajan and Chawla, who looked so potent against England, suddenly had no answers. Watson’s strength and Warner’s aggression were simply too much for them, as India keeled over without a fight and subsided to its seventh successive Super Eights defeat in ICC World Twenty20 competitions.
Beyond the toss, which Mahendra Singh Dhoni must have believed was a crucial one and a promising start, very little went right for India. Gautam Gambhir looked in excellent touch before being run out as Pat Cummins side-kicked the ball on to the stumps, Virat Kohli again began fluently and Pathan was gradually warming to his role as opener.
Australia was under fire for the first seven overs that produced 56, though it continued to persist with its short-of-length barrage that didn’t really trouble India’s batsmen, but still yielded rich dividend. Kohli was the first to perish to the pull, top-edging Watson for Daniel Christian to cling on to an excellent catch running back and to his right from mid-off. It ended a promising stand of 35 – which in the end was the highest of the innings – and set the cat among the pigeons as India’s middle order imploded.
Contrary to expectations, it wasn’t spin that did the trick. All the six Indian wickets that fell went to the pace bowlers. Yuvraj Singh was the second of the top four to perish to the short ball. Pathan tamely drove Watson, again the man of the match, to mid-wicket and Rohit Sharma was undone by one from Mitchell Starc that shaped in and stayed down a touch.
At 74-5, India was in grave danger of being embarrassed, but Dhoni steadied the innings in Suresh Raina’s company. Ashwin played a brilliant cameo towards the end. By then, though, plenty of damage had already been done and India never found any acceleration worth the name despite the first five overs having brought 42.
It was a competent bowling performance by Australia, but all that was forgotten once the Watson-Warner show got underway. Australia is here, and thirsting for a fight, its short visit to the UAE for a draining limited-overs series having toughened it. Next up is South Africa, which is in a must-win situation, on Sunday afternoon. No prizes for guessing which team will be favourite then.