This was a terrific victory for India. The host has now kept the series alive with this backs-to-the-wall win.
India Innings Start
India won the toss and for the first time in this series, batted first. This was a high-risk strategy because of the early-start, the cloud-cover and a somewhat shaky batting lineup. But full marks to Dhoni for having made the call to bat first. The strategy appeared to be to hold down one end and take more risks at the other. And the start typified this strategy! The score at the end of the first 5 overs was 13-0. Off these, 6 were from extras! There was a lot of movement off the seam for Bracken and Lee. Sachin Tendulkar was lucky to be there. He survived an LBW shout as well as a caught behind appeal. The bowlers bowled with pace and pitched it up, allowing the ball to do its thing. But by and large, the doctor ordered stay-on-at-the-crease and that’s what the Indian openers did, in the hope that the pitch would ease up. While Sourav Ganguly opened up a bit after this first lot of 5 overs, Tendulkar continued to play well within himself and also, quite unusually, with minimal confidence. The 6th over produced two 4s for Ganguly. It seemed like the southpaw had a measure of the swing and bounce. In the next over off Lee though, as if to counter the positive intent shown by Ganguly, Tendulkar had another huge LBW appeal turned down. For a man who had had a horrible time of it of late with umpires, Tendulkar was almost on his 4th innings by now! He had to make the best of the chances he had been given. In the midst all of this Tendulkar drama, Ganguly was playing cleverly. Tendulkar had made 6 runs off 33 balls at one stage! India were 47-0 at the end of 12 overs, a score that had 13 wides in it already! When India won the toss, they’d have set a target of 60-0 off 15 overs. At the end of 15 overs, India had made 68-0 off and Tendulkar had made 18 off 47 balls. and Ganguly had made 36 off 43.
Australia did not take their 3rd Power Play immediately; one sensed that they wanted a wicket. But they didn’t get it from 4 overs of spin and took the 3rd PowerPlay in the 20th over. Then, just when things were looking easy for India, against the run of play, Ganguly departed, caught behind off Hopes for 41 off the last ball of the 20th over. India were 91-1 at the end of the 20th over of which 23 were extras! This was a very un-Australian show from the point of view of sundries.
In a surprise move, Yuvraj Singh, the local boy walked in at #3. Perhaps the view was that Yuvraj Singh was the man in form and needed a longer stint at the crease, especially since the foundation was solid. Moreover, it would have continued the left-right contribution. In the main, I think the strategy from the Indians was the hold one end down while they were prepared to take more risks at the other end. Thus, if Tendulkar had got out, perhaps we would have seen Rahul Dravid.
At the end of the 25th over India were 112-1, a scoring rate of just under 4.5; a good platform for India to build from. But in the next period of 5 overs, Brad Hogg and Andrew Symonds bowled tightly and kept the Indian batsmen in check such that, at the end of the 30th, India were 134-1. At this stage, Yuvraj Singh had made 16 off 32 balls and Tendulkar had 58 off 90. Soon after, Tendulkar had his 50 off 91 balls and India were 172-1 at the end of 35 overs. They were almost at 5 runs an over.
But all it took was a few tight overs and Yuvraj Singh, in a rush off blood, spooned a catch to Ponting at cover off Hopes to depart for a well-made 39 off 55 balls. M. S. Dhoni promoted himself up the order. Again, my assumption is that, if Tendulkar had got out we’d have seen Dravid there to hold up one end. India were 202-2 from 40 overs.
The previous ODI had seen Australia and India reign in the clowns. However, the 40th over saw 15 runs and a sledge-match between Tendulkar and Symonds! Now, I’ve been watching Indian cricket for a long time now and this is perhaps the first time (after Tendulkar sledged Glen McGrath in Kenya) that Tendulkar was involved in a public slang-match. And it took one mad clown to get him involved. And so, where’s that “Spirit of Cricket” and where’s that “respect” that Shaun Tait talked about?
End of the Indian innings
After a few good overs, once again against the run of play, Tendulkar was run out for 79 off 119 balls. He paddle-swept the ball to Brett Lee at short-fineleg and set off for a single as a loud appeal emanated. He was sent back by M. S. Dhoni but couldn’t beat a direct throw from Brett Lee. And like the previous times, whenever India looked to get ahead, the Aussies pulled it back with some good bowling or a wicket. At the end of 45 India were 235-3 meaning India only got 33 runs in that 5-over block from over 40 to over 45. Thanks to some hard hitting by Uthappa and Dhoni in the end, India reached a score of 292. The last 5 overs had yielded 57 runs. This was a strong result that was based on a solid foundation, absolute lack of panic at any stage and largesse from the Australians in the form of 39 extras — of which 31 were wides!
Record number of extras
If I am not mistaken, 39 extras is one run short of a record for the Australians. Their previous highest tally appears to be the 40 that they gave against Sri Lanka at Sydney in 2003. The huge number of wides they gave away in this match, which fell short of an Australian record by one run, was in part due to a bad day at the office for Adam Gilchrist!
Australia commence brilliantly
In their chase, the Australians showed their astuteness by keeping the singles going constantly. And they showed power and control too. While India waited until the last ball of their 50th over to hit their first and only six of their innings, Australia hit a six in the 4th over itself. And another on in the 5th over. While India had 13-0 off its first 5 overs, Australia had 37-0. Zaheer Khan and R. P. Singh had started awfully and the Australian openers had started brilliantly. But off the first ball of the next set of 5 overs, Gilchrist tried one pull down leg too many and his wicket was purchased — caught on the deep square leg boundary by Zaheer Khan off R. P. Singh for 18 off 17 balls.
But the start was brisk and brilliant. India were 68-0 off 15 overs. Australia were 75-1 off 10 overs! Sixteen runs had been scored off the 10th over by R. P. Singh to Ponting who had been struggling up until then. Even counting for the additional wicket that India had got by this stage, this was an amazing start by Austrlia. Both the Indian opening bowlers sprayed the ball around like millionaires.
At the end of the 10th over, India went into the 2nd PowerPlay with 2 players outside the ring. They should have, one felt, gone with spin for an over or two to slow things down. But Dhoni pressed on with pace and the 2nd PowerPlay. Indeed in the 11th over, one could hear Dhoni say “thoda dheere daalna” (“slow things down a bit”) to Irfan Pathan. This made sense as R. P. Singh and Zaheer Khan had been banging things in a bit too much.
India missed a great opportunity of running out Hayden in the 15th over. There seemd to be a single to be had off almost every ball! This was certainly a highlight of the Australian batting. What was particularly disappointing was the fielding by almost all bowlers off their own bowling!
At the end of the 15th over, Australia were 106-1. In contrast, India were 91-1 at the end of the 20th. In other words, by this stage, Australia was about 6-7 overs ahead and were making an absolute mockery of the target!
Ponting brings the game into disrepute?
Ponting was out thanks to a brilliant bit of stumping by Dhoni off Pathan. Pontings’ befuddled look at square-leg, as umpire Shastri brought the 3rd umpire in, suggested a mistrust of umpire Shastri who referred the decision to 3rd umpire Pratapkumar. But, as commentators say often, when they are in cliche-overdrive, “the line belongs to the umpire” and Pontings’ foot was on the line.
The question that must be asked is whether or not Ponting brought the game into disrepute through his on-field and off-field antics? Will Chris Broad bring him to task or will Ponting receive yet another note of congratulations from the Match Referee?
Australia march on towards victory
With that dismissal, the momentum had shifted slightly. A few tight overs would bring things back. And that’s what Harbhajan bowled in the 20th over. Australia had 124-2 at the end of the 20th. India were India were 112-1 off 25 overs! Again, Australia appeared to be about 6 overs ahead at this stage. Despite Michael Clarke’s departure, the runs kept flowing and by the 25th over, Australia had reached 150. The Australians were going at 6 an over! India needed Murali Kartik to bowl well; to bowl tight and pick up a wicket or two. However, in his initial overs, Murali Kartik didn’t spin the ball much and speared the ball in quite regularly. The one time he flighted the ball, Symonds took him for 6!
At this stage, Australia had a let off when Symonds was given not out — caught behind off Harbhajan Singh. That would have changed the complexion of the game dramatically. However, that was not to be and at the end of 30 overs Australia was 174-3. Murali Kartik was bowling some decent and some ordinary stuff and R. P. Singh had started his 2nd spell with three wides — this typified his day really.
Hayden’s brain explosion
So after just one over, Irfan Pathan was back! India needed some tight overs and maybe even a wicket! A tight over from Pathan indeed followed. This perhaps resulted in Hayden having to take a few risks off Murali Kartik, who bowled brilliantly. He was helped by Hayden having a brain explosion to hole out to Zaheer Khan in the deep. Hayden had made a powerful 92 runs off 92 balls. And Murali Kartik was starting to bowl well. What was required was some tight stuff at the other end. But R. P. Singh continued to spray it. His wide-count kept increasing. Australia had made 196-4 off 35. At the same stage, India were 172-1 at the end of 35 overs. Perhaps Australia were about 4 overs ahead.
The next 5 overs saw Kartik improving. He was bowling with a better rhythm particularly since Hodge was at the crease. At the end of 40, Australia were 222-4. India were 202 at this stage! So Australia were probably still 4 overs ahead at this stage. But India still had 2 R. P. Singh overs to bowl!
India crawl back into the game
Dhoni then stumped Hodge brilliantly off a Harbhajan wide down legside. India were probably better off with Hodge there! He was scratching around and kept India in the game! But that was a brilliant stumping by Dhoni — yet again! He is having a terrific series as a ‘keeper and captain.
R. P. Singh came on for the 45th over. India needed him to bowl well with Australia needing 42 runs from 6 overs. He gave just 4 runs off that over and this would have given Dhoni confidence to bowl him out from there on in. In his very next over, he bowled Symonds off a beauty. Australia needed 24 from 19 balls. Perhaps it was all a bit too late? Brad Hogg kept India in the game by charging down the wicket off the first ball he placed only to be run out — again by R. P. Singh!
I’d have thought that Zaheer Khan should have bowled the 48th over. But Murali Kartik bowled the 48th, his 10th over. He finished his spell well. He conceded only 2 runs off his last over and had given 48 runs and had taken 1 wicket in his spell. Australia needed 22 runs off 2 overs.
R. P. Singh bowled the 49th over; the last of his full quota of overs. He gave 6 runs off his last over and Australia needed 16 runs off the last over to be bowled by Zaheer Khan. For perhaps the first time in the match, Australia was under pressure! And they didn’t redeem themselves at all.
The series was brought alive.
Uphill task for India
India won and somehow Australia had gone on “to do an India”: they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory! I watched the entire game and it wasn’t until the last over that I thought India could win it — such was Australia’s dominance of the game. They controlled the game brilliantly in both bowling as well as batting. They never let India get away with the bat and were always — apart from the last over or two — in the drivers’ seat when batting.
So, if Indian fans start jumping up and down scenting an Indian comeback in this series, I’d like to submit a reminder that there is a lot of work to do.