You could probably count on one hand the misjudgements Ricky Ponting has made during his seven-year reign as captain of Australia. The most high-profile came in the 2005 Ashes series when he won the toss only to generously offer England first use of a feather-bed of a pitch at Edgbaston. You know the rest. The stakes were not quite as high in Nagpur on Wednesday when Ponting made another uncharacteristic injudicious call. After correctly calling heads he allowed India to bat first, believing the dew in the day/night encounter would hinder India's seam-based attack in the second innings. It was a decision that backfired spectacularly as Virender Sehwag, the swashbuckling right-hander, whipped up the already febrile atmosphere at the inauguration of the new ground by slamming six fours and a six off just 31 balls. Sehwag's positivity spread through the team as India racked up 354, their highest ever one-day total against Australia, and went on to win by 99 runs to level the seven-match series at 1-1.
Ponting has mellowed with age, and he had no qualms about conceding after the match that he made the wrong call. "The wicket was very good and, to be honest, I thought at the toss it would slide a bit later on," he admitted. "But the dew which we expected didn't come in." It would have come as scant consolation to Ponting but MS Dhoni, his opposite number, admitted he would have asked Australia to bat had he won the toss. "We would have also bowled first," said the captain, who played what many felt was his finest one-day innings in scoring 124 from 107 balls.
With the next two matches of this fascinating series also day/night affairs, both captains will need to re-assess the relevance of the dew factor. The momentum is clearly with India and they look set to reap the benefits of consistency of selection: they have named the same squad for the next two matches, in Delhi tomorrow and Mohali on Monday. A 5-2 series victory would propel India to the top of the ICC ODI rankings.
For Australia, meanwhile, the injury toll continues to mount and they appear to be feeling the effects of a punishing schedule away from home. This year, they have toured South Africa, played Pakistan in a limited-overs series in the UAE, spent five months in England, flown straight to South Africa for the ICC Champions Trophy and are now rounding off the year in India. Already without the services of Michael Clarke, Nathan Bracken, Callum Ferguson and Brad Haddin, Ponting lost Brett Lee and James Hopes on the eve of Wednesday's match, saw Mitchell Johnson passed fit at the 11th hour and wicketkeeper Tim Paine sustain a broken finger that has forced him to fly home.
Graham Manou, no stranger to emergency call-ups having replaced Haddin at short notice against England at Edgbaston in the summer, has flown in to take over behind the stumps. firstname.lastname@example.org