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Australia moved to their rightful place at the top of the Group A on Wednesday, finally catching up with the rest of the teams in terms of games played at the ICC Cricket World Cup. The reigning World Champions stretched their unbeaten run to 34 games with a crushing 7 wicket win over minnows Canada at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru. An opening stand of 183 between Shane Watson (94) and Brad Haddin (83) allowed Australia to chase down Canada's effort of 211 with more than 15 overs to spare. The four quarter-finalists from Group A are firmly in place, but with just 2 points separating 1st from 4th, the order in which they will finish will only be evident after Sri Lanka play New Zealand and Australia square-off against Pakistan.
Back at Bengaluru, Canada started the day on a positive note, winning the toss, and were brave enough to opt to bat first. The wicket looked like a belter, but the worry for the Associate Nations when taking on a powerful attack like the Australia's always is that they could get knocked over very quickly under a hundred runs and could face the ignominy of an embarassing defeat. Canada though opted to take the bull by the horns and give themselves a chance at being competitive but getting as many as they could inside 50 overs and then making Australia sweat a bit in the run chase.
The minnows had one more brand new opening combination to try in this game, with former Ahmedabad lad Hiral Patel opening the batting with ex-South Australian John Davison. Davison had announced his decision to retire from international cricket after this game, and one expected him to come out firing. Surprisingly though, the fireworks came largely from the other end courtesy of Patel.
The match had an exciting start as Michael Hussey fielding as square-leg failed grab a flick from Davison, missing an exceptionally tough chance. Patel played some glorious cricket, taking 16 runs off the second over of the innings bowled by Brett Lee. Patel didn't sit back and smashed Shaun Tait for a remarkable six over cover in the next over. Davison joined in the fun hitting Brett Lee for successive boundaries, but fell for 14 gloving a slow bouncer from Lee to the keeper. Canada though were flying with 41 runs at the end of 4 overs.
Patel didn't let Mitchell Johnson settle down either and hit a boundary and a six in his first over. Patel hit his third maximum, this time off Lee making it one each off the three Australian speedsters!
Watson's lack of pace came in handy as he stemmed the run flow. But Canada had made an emphatic start with 77 runs on the board in the first powerplay. The majority of those runs came off the bat of Patel, who reached his half century in the 10th over from just 37 balls.
Patel's adventure came to an end when he tried to get Watson away, edging the ball straight down the throat of the fielder at third man. Captain Ashish Bagai came into the middle to replace Patel, and it was now down to Bagai and Zubin Surkari to capitalize on the great start. The batsmen put together a handy partnership and despite a rapidly declining run rate brought up the 150 in the 29th over. With 8 wickets in hand, Canada could have well dreamed of using the thumb rule of doubling their score in the last 20 overs. But the wicket of Bagai swung the tide Australia's way.
Shaun Tait removed the Canadian skipper for 39 and within the space of 8 overs Canada had lost 5 wickets for 19 runs. The wickets were shared around by the bowlers with Tait getting both set batsmen, while Jimmy Hansra fell to Jason Krejza for 3. Rizwan Cheema was bowled by Brett Lee for 2, while 16-year old Nitish Kumar threw his wicket away attempting to loft Mitchell Johnson down the ground when on just 7.
Harvir Baidwan and Karl Whatham got a partnership going and looked like taking Canada to a competitive total. But Lee came back and wrapped up the innings shortly after Baidwan fell to Krejza for 17. Lee ended with 4 wickets, despite being a touch expensive, conceding 46 runs in 8.4 overs.
Canada began their defence of their score of 211 with some good early overs. Henry Osinde charged in and put enough deliveries in the right areas to extract some movement. At the other end, Canada's leading wicket-taker Harvir Baidwan should have moved to 13 scalps for the tournament, but a skier from Shane Watson was messed up by Rizwan Cheema, unpardonable at this level. The drop was to cost Canada the game.
Brad Haddin also went on offensive and was quite fortunate as some edges evaded the fielders and raced away for boundaries. Luck, so vital if a minnow is to challenge one of the big guns, refused to side with the Canadians as they picked the wrong battles, failing to review a plumb leg before decision and then opting for the third umpire when a delivery was clearly missing leg.
Canada had contained the Aussie openers to just 41 in the mandatory powerplay, quite the achievement. However, Haddin and Watson grew in confidence as they spent more time in the middle and opted for the batting powerplay in the 21st over. The openers brought up their century partnership in the following over, and Haddin reached his third half-century at this World Cup with a four over midwicket. Watson achieved his landmark in the next over as 41 runs flowed in that 5 over window with the bulk of those coming from Brad Haddin's bat, the wicketkeeper batsman having motored along to 74.
Feeling rather left out at the other end, Watson decided it was time to play catch-up, and smashed the Canadian bowlers for four sixes in three overs! The brutal assault was felt most by Hiral Patel, who was taken for 19 runs in his solitary over. Haddin smashed a boundary and a six off the first two deliveries of the next over, but fell in it, caught down the leg side off John Davison for 88.
Watson too fell a couple of deliveries later as he attempted to get to his hundred in a single hit, but holed out in the deep for 94.
Michael Clarke and Ricky Ponting took the Aussies to within 5 runs of victory when Ponting fell trying to hook Henry Osinde, only managing to get the ball high on the bat and giving a dolly to the fielder at square-leg. It was another low score for the Australian skipper and though he was visibly disappointed, as long as his team keeps winning he won't be doing too much complaining. Cameron White and Clarke saw the team over the line, with the help of Osinde, who was wided for a delivery which went over the head of the batsman to give Australia an easy 7-wicket win.
Australia continue to chalk up the results without necessarily playing their best cricket and one wonders if an opposition like Pakistan in their last group game will indeed bring out the best in the no.1 side in world cricket. For Canada, it is the end of the road of an exciting World Cup campaign and the players would have undoubtedly benefited from rubbing shoulders with the elite of world cricket. They would have loved to have perhaps picked up another win, especially the scalp of one of the big guns, but are unlikely to be too disappointed having won one game at least.
Canada: Hiral Patel, John Davison, Zubin Surkari, Ashish Bagai (wk & c), Jimmy Hansra, Rizwan Cheema, Nitish Kumar, Harvir Baidwan, Karl Whatham, Henry Osinde, Balaji Rao
Australia: Shane Watson, Brad Haddin (wk), Ricky Ponting (c), Michael Clarke, Cameron White, Michael Hussey, Steven Smith, Shaun Tait, Mitchell Johnson, Brett Lee, Jason Krejza
Canada 211 all out in 45.4 overs (4.62 runs per over)
H Patel 54(45) B Lee 4-36
A Bagai 39(55) S Tait 2-34
Australia 212/3 in 34.5 overs (6.08 runs per over)
S Watson 94(90) J Davison 1-29
B Haddin 88(84) H Baidwan 1-41
Australia won by 7 wickets with 15.1 overs to spare
File Photograph Copyright: Barry Zee
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