BANGALORE // The Australia captain Ricky Ponting says he is insulted by claims from the India batsman Virender Sehwag that Australia cheated during their 2-1 home series victory in January. The opening match of a four-Test series between India and Australia begins here today in what is an eagerly awaited rematch of India's often spiteful tour of Australia earlier this year.
Sehwag yesterday said India suffered the most in a "catching pact" during his team's tour of Australia, in which the captains agreed to take the fielder's word on the legitimacy of close, low catches. "There is no point in having such an arrangement when the Australians claim one-bounce catches," Sehwag said. "We'd have won the Sydney Test match if they hadn't claimed catches taken off half-volleys in that game."
India lost by 122 runs in the dying stages of an acrimonious final day in Sydney when Michael Clarke took three wickets in the last over. Clarke was earlier involved in catching Sourav Ganguly in what video replays showed to be a contentious take. "That's fairly insulting," Ponting said of Sehwag's comments. "In the first innings I didn't claim a catch because I wasn't 100 per cent sure. It's amazing how they've picked out a lot of negatives from that game and don't seem to be speaking about the Perth Test [the third match of that series, which Australia lost], where we probably had the same things happen to us.
"Not one member of the Australian team has spoken about it. We go about our cricket in different ways." Ponting said his side - heavily criticised after the match - had moved on. "The fact they are still thinking about a Test that they lost is a good thing for us," he said. "There was a lot that came out of that Test, but we addressed the issues coming out of the game and it would appear, to us, they haven't."
Ponting said the victory at Sydney was "one of the best moments I've had on a cricket field. To win the way we did was an outstanding effort by the team." The match, marred by umpiring errors, excessive appealing and poor behaviour, finished with the India captain Anil Kumble saying only one team played in the spirit of the game. Kumble said yesterday the incidents from Sydney would have no bearing on this series.
"Let's not sit and dwell on what has happened in the past," he said. "I'm sure this series will be played in the right way." Meanwhile, with his spin department running low on stock, Ponting will rely on his battery of pacemen to deliver. Australia's first-choice slow bowler Bryce McGain returned home after injuring his shoulder and Cameron White was rushed out as a replacement. White, who plays for the Bangalore Royal Challengers in the Indian Premier League, is expected to be selected in the first Test ahead of Jason Krejza. The off-spinner Krejza was hammered for 199 runs in the warm-up game against the Board President's XI.
Fitness doubts also surround Clarke, who hit a double century on Test debut in Bangalore four years ago. Clarke, though, hopes to play the same brand of cricket he exhibited in the 2004 series. "I'm four years older since I last came here, but the mindset is similar," the Australian vice-captain said. A side issue of the series will be Sachin Tendulkar's pursuit of the world record for runs in Tests. India's leading run-scorer with 11,877 needs only 77 to pass Brian Lara's mark. "Hopefully it would take Sachin Tendulkar four Tests to get those 70-odd runs," Clarke said. "But I think it is important that we just concentrate on our job and make sure we play well."
Tendulkar, however, will not be the only player Australia will target on the field - his senior colleagues including Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman will be put under severe pressure especially with all the talk about their retirement dates. Australia will field a relatively inexperienced team, but Ponting said his youthful lineup will try to make some of their opponents look "past their use-by date".
"That's what we're trying to achieve, to put their older guys under immense pressure," he said. "We know if we do that, and make little things stand out, their whole media over here will just jump on them, especially if they lose an early game." * Agencies