Cricket: Ponting tells middle order to shape up

BANGALORE - Skipper Ricky Ponting says Australia's middle-order batsmen must work a lot harder against spin bowling or hopes of a fourth consecutive World Cup title are over.

Chasing 215 to win their opening warm-up game against India on Sunday, Australia were bowled out for 176 in 37.5 overs.

Leggie Piyush Chawla (4-31) and off-spinner Harbhajan Singh (3-15) took advantage of a Bangalore pitch that India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni described as ideal for spin bowling.

Chawla ripped the heart out of Australia's middle order, dismissing Michael Clarke, David Hussey, Cameron White and Callum Ferguson for a total of just 12 runs.

Ponting played a determined knock of 57 from 85 balls in his return following finger surgery which kept him out of the one-day series against England over the past month. It was his best score of the summer after averaging 16 in the Ashes series.

Australia rested leg-spinning all-rounder Steve Smith, although Ponting said the 21-year-old was likely to play in Tuesday's final warm-up clash with South Africa on the same pitch at M. Chinnaswamy Stadium.

"Hopefully some of our younger guys in our middle-order batting can learn a little bit today about starting in tough conditions like we had tonight," Ponting said.

"I don't remember the last one-day wicket I've played on that spun that much.

"But you've got to find a way sometimes to combat good spin bowling in tough conditions like that.

"Who knows, we could face some conditions like that somewhere else in the tournament. I'd like to think that we'd play a lot better than we did tonight, otherwise we're not going to win.

"When they were bowling at some of our new batsmen, you could see by the low scores that we had in our middle order that it was hard to start against that spin bowling tonight.

"We'll learn from that. We've got to find ways to be better than that at this tournament."

Ponting blamed his batsmen for the defeat, although he admitted sending down 25 wides was "unacceptable".

Opener Shane Watson (33) gave Australia a solid start, adding 51 with Tim Paine, while regular wicketkeeper/opener Brad Haddin was rested.

Paine (37) and Ponting took the score to 1-118 before Australia lost 9-58.

We still should have chased that many runs anyway," Ponting said.

"The bowlers did a pretty good job. It was the batters who let us down."

Ponting was seventh man out, stumped off Harbhajan.

The 36-year-old skipper, aiming to be the first man to captain three World Cup-winning sides, said he was thrilled to have a long stint at the crease.

"My finger was fine," he said.

"It was my first game for about six weeks and it was okay.

"I certainly wasn't at my best but it was difficult out there and I should be better for the opportunity that I got tonight."

Australia's hesitant middle-order batting unit is expected to face another stiff test against spin on Tuesday.

Pakistan-born leg-spinner Imran Tahir took 3-35 in South Africa's eight-wicket win in a warm-up game against Zimbabwe on Saturday.

Australia's pace spearhead Brett Lee meanwhile picked up 3-35 in India's total of 214.

Big all-rounder John Hastings claimed 2-24 while opener Virender Sehwag top-scored with 54.

Paceman Shaun Tait was rested but is set to return on Tuesday.

On a turning deck, Australia's only specialist spinner Jason Krejza could manage only 1-56.

Ponting praised pace bowlers Lee, Mitchell Johnson (1-42) and Hastings and said it would be a learning experience for Krejza, who has played only one one-day international game.


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