The 6th ODI of this long-draw-ot series (yawn!) saw yet another clinical performance from Australia, who won the game, but not after a few flutters.
Australia won the toss on a good wicket and elected to bat first. Despite Michael Clarke’s first-ball duck, which gave India hope, and despite the fall of wickets at regular intervals, Australia made a good score of 317, setting India a gettable target of 318.
The key to the Australian innings was partnerships, a fact that man-of-the-match Andrew Symonds acknowledged in his post-match interview.
One felt that M. S. Dhoni may have missed a trick or two in the bowling!
In the middle overs, the spinners had created a stranglehold on proceedings. Ponting and Gilchrist had just got out off successive overs from Harbhajan Singh (15th over) Irfan Pathan (16th over). Immediately after that, in the 19th over, Symonds was dropped by Sreesanth and Hodge was struggling. That was the time to go for the jugular. And, detecting the slowness of the pitch, Dhoni did just that by bringing on Murali Kartik. In the 22nd over, Hodge was out to a beauty from Kartik. At that stage, Harbhajan had figures of 5-0-30-1. Another few overs of the spinners bowling in tandem would have created more pressure on the Australians. Insead, Dhoni went for a conservation-based caution approach. He brought in Yuvraj Singh instead and the foot was suddenly off the pedal. That over went for 15 runs and although Yuvraj Singh was taken off immediately, and although Sachin Tendulkar bowled four tight overs, one sensed that the pressue was off.
After that it was a Symonds show all the way. This was a well-constructed and carefully-crafted century from the burly Queenslander. His batting has improved tremendously over the last few years and he forms a vital part of the Australian middle-order these days. It is almost impossible to imagine an Australian ODI line-up without him!
The Indians in their reply, batted with purpose initially, lost their wheels completely in the middle and tried valiantly in the end to press for victory. The start that Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar provided was brisk, purposeful and pretty. They put on 140 in 25 overs before Tendulkar was out, brilliantly stumped by Gilchrist off a James Hopes down-the-legside slower ball! Tendulkar had played brilliantly for his run-a-ball 72! Interestingly, at this stage, although Australia had completed their 3rd PowerPlay, they hadn’t taken their 2nd PowerPlay yet.
India sent in Irfan Pathan at #3 and Ponting took the 2nd PowerPlay. The decision to send in Irfan Pathan was fair enough. Dhoni may have felt that India needed to stay in touch with the run-rate. Moreover, with Dravid out of sorts, it may have made more sense to let Pathan pinch-hit a bit. The PowerPlay segment of 5 overs had yielded 34 runs. So perhaps the decision to promote Pathan was vindicated after all? At that point, the as was 144 runs off 20 overs with 9 wickets left — a very gettable target!
Pathan was batting brilliantly, but may have lost his concentration after a verbal clash with Symonds. He was out the very next over — caught at ‘point’ off a lazy lapse-in-concentration shot. A few overs later, Ganguly gave Brad Hogg the charge and was caught at long-on. The wheels fell off completely a few overs later when both Yuvraj Singh and Rahul Dravid were back in the hut!
Uthappa and Dhoni then batted with much purpose to get India within striking distance — 28 runs were needed off the last 2 overs. But a series of brain explosions and a double-wicket-maiden in the 49th over from Mitchell Johnson left India short of its final target by 19 runs.