Australia survive late scare to draw first blood
by Jinu Sabastian

Ground:Reliance Cricket Stadium, Vadodara
Scorecard:India v Australia
Player:Harbhajan Singh, P Kumar, G Gambhir, CL White, MEK Hussey, TD Paine, RT Ponting
Event:Australia in India 2009/10

DateLine: 25th October 2009


The seven-match One-Day International series between India and Australia got off to an excellent start as the hosts, chasing a challenging 293, fell short by just four runs. Electing to bat first, Australia ran up a score of 292 in their 50 overs thanks to some brilliant batting from Ricky Ponting, Tim Paine, Mike Hussey and Cameron White.


For India, only Gambhir crossed the 50-mark. The top order fell apart only for Harbhajan Singh and Praveen Kumar to launch a late assault to give India a glimpse of hope.


Ponting had no hesitation in electing to bat first. Shane Watson opening the innings with Tim Paine caressed the first ball of the innings from Praveen Kumar through mid-on to indicate that he has not lost any form that he displayed in Champions Trophy. But Nehra brought an end to his innings when he curved one back into him to trap him leg before. With the ball moving around, Ponting looked scratchy while Paine decided to take the matters into his own hands by counter-attacking. Praveen was able to induce a couple of edges from the bat off Paine but either the edges fell short or evaded the slip fielders.


Paine negated the movement that Nehra and Kumar were able to generate by moving down the track, forcing the pace duo to opt for a shorter length and the keeper-batsman executed some crisp cut shots and powerful pulls. Ponting slowly got into his stride and began to go on the offensive and Dhoni was soon looking for answers.


The Indian skipper rung in changes bringing in Ishant Sharma and Harbhajan, the two bowlers who has tormented Ponting in the past. But Ponting, realising that Sharma was low on confidence and Harbhajan was going through a difficult patch, began attacking the duo relentlessly thus blunting Dhoni’s options. Dhoni soon realised that h had not one but three misfiring bowlers at his disposal and waited for the Powerplays to be done with.


Once the Powerplays were over and the field spread out Dhoni could afford to protect his bowlers by employing defensive fields to restrict the batsmen. The pair added 97 runs to negate the loss of early wicket before Sharma induced an edge from Paine to jolt the Australian charge. Ponting meanwhile motored on to his 74th half-century to power Australia to a position of strength. Ravindra Jadeja, who was brought on as the fifth bowling option, struck when he trapped Ponting leg before with a one that kept low.


Just when it seemed that the momentum would swing in the favour of the Indian side, White and Hussey doused any such hopes. Both the batsmen began collecting the runs in singles while striking the odd boundary. Hussey was the aggressor as he fetched the boundaries regularly and soon he was going at better than run a ball.


White completed a serene half-century and soon the pair took the batting Powerplay in the 42nd over to boost the run-rate. Trying to up the ante, White tried to slog a slower one from Nehra only to top-edge to Raina at covers. The Hussey-White partnership had been worth 76 and continued on the solid platform built by Ponting and Paine. Adam Voges holed out in the deep off Harbhajan while James Hopes was run-out in a calamitous mix-up with Hussey.


Hussey pierced the field several times for boundaries in the final overs and an enormous six off an expensive Praveen in the penultimate over. In the final over he sent a catch down deep mid-wicket's throat as Sharma delivered a brilliant 50th over that brought two wickets for one run.


India, in reply, got off to a perfect start when Virender Sehwag send the first two balls of the innings to the boundary to kick-start the innings. Sachin Tendulkar looked scratchy and kept mistiming most of the balls that he received. Sehwag tried to continue with his cavalier method before an outside edge off Lee was snaffled up by Paine behind the stumps. Tendulkar tried to break by trying to drive Watson through the covers but could only find Ponting at extra-cover and with India at 45 for 2 it looked like they were wobbling.


Virat Kohli send up the order partnered Gambhir to steady the Indian innings as India kept in touch with the required run-rate. The pair added 58 runs in 12.3 overs before Kohli’s impetuous attitude got better off him. Kohli's eyes lit up at the introduction of the part-time spinner Voges and skied a catch to long-off, where Watson held the chance.


Gambhir and Dhoni put the chase back on track with a stand of 64 runs in 13.3 overs and the frown on Ponting’s forehead increased. The pair mixed caution with aggression to blunt the Australian bowlers operating in the middle overs forcing Ponting to turn to Lee and Johnson but to no avail. The pair accumulated the runs in singles and then when the required run-rate went up got the boundaries to keep abreast with the required run-rate.


Gambhir got himself a half-century and it seemed that he along with Dhoni would help India across the line. With the mandatory ball change in the 34th over Dhoni decided to call in for the batting Powerplay. But the move boomeranged in spectacular fashion as Gambhir was trapped in front with a low full toss from Johnson. Suresh Raina was, as expected, peppered with short balls one of which he pulled over mid-wicket for a six. But his stay at the crease was ended when he spooned a simple catch back to Johnson and an Indian win was receding fast.


The final nail was driven into the coffin when Dhoni mistimed an on-drive straight to Lee at mid-on. Jadeja, who was visibly uncomfortable during his short stay, was trapped leg before by Hauritz and the Indian side sank further.


Harbhajan was joined in the middle by Praveen and the spectators slowly began leaving the ground. The two batsmen began their innings with some uncultured heaves across the line against the bowlers and it was expected that their stay at the crease would be short. Some heaves connected while others did not.


The duo soon found the boundary ropes while some soared beyond the boundary ropes and the runs flowed. Praveen started the proceedings by lofting Watson over long-off and Harbhajan joined the fun by collecting boundaries for himself. To make the matters worse for Australia substitute Shaun Marsh dropped Praveen off Nathan Hauritz at mid-wicket.


Watson was the worst sufferer as Harbhajan and Praveen punished the unimaginative medium-pacer ruthlessly. Soon the required runs came down drastically as the two powered the Indian chase on. With every run collected the decibel level in the crowd began to rise and along with it hope.


The matters came to head when 42 runs were required off three overs. Peter Siddle conceded 13 runs and then came the most expensive over of the match. Watson entrusted with bowling the 49th over conceded 20 runs to hand India the advantage. In the end, nine were required from the final over and Siddle held his nerve to confirm a four-run margin in Australia's favour.


The key moment came when Harbhajan (49) was bowled from the second ball of the 50th, trying to launch a boundary off Siddle. With six required off the last ball, Nehra could only play it quietly to long-off.


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