Australia lose despite Hayden century
India 303 (Laxman 103*, Tendulkar 86, Dravid 74) beat Australia 284 (Hayden 109, Balaji 4-48) by 19 runs
Irfan Pathan troubled the batsmen with his control and venom
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After a series of insipid matches, the VB Series finally came to life with a pulsating contest at Brisbane. There were two centuries of widely contrasting styles, plenty of other classy innings and almost 600 runs scored in the match. In the end, India's total of 303 - the highest ever in a one-day international at the Gabba - was just enough to eke out a 19-run victory and take their points tally to 12 from three games.
On a superb pitch, India's much-vaunted batting line-up came to the fore once again: Sachin Tendulkar overcame a circumspect start and an ankle injury to score 86, VVS Laxman stroked a delightful unbeaten 103, his third ODI century - all of them against Australia - and Rahul Dravid contributed an elegant 74.
Australia responded with a typically spirited effort, but despite a 107-ball 109 from Matthew Hayden, fell short. There was some cheer for the young Indian seamers as well, as Lakshmipathy Balaji (4 for 48) and Irfan Pathan (3 for 64) held their nerve under mounting pressure and bowled with exceptional control.
Needing to score at over a run a ball, Adam Gilchrist and Hayden got the Australian run-chase off to a furious start, driving, pulling or just plain slogging almost every ball. Gilchrist's luck ran out early, though, when he top-edged an attempted swing to leg and was caught by Balaji at mid-on (46 for 1). Hayden's contest against Pathan and Ashish Nehra was enthralling - every once in a while, they pushed him back with well-directed bouncers, but whenever the ball was pitched up, Hayden, already batting out of his crease, plonked his front foot further forward and clunked powerful drives over mid-off and mid-on.
However, wickets kept falling at the other end - Laxman held on to a swirling skier when Ricky Ponting top-edged a hoick (86 for 2), and Damien Martyn guided a swinging half-volley to Yuvraj Singh at point (94 for 3). Balaji, whose performance was a huge improvement on his previous displays, picked up both wickets.
Andrew Symonds threatened a revival, but Rohan Gavaskar - in the team for the injured Virender Sehwag -got his maiden ODI wicket off his fifth ball when he brought off a fine diving return catch to dismiss Symonds (141 for 4).
Then came the period when Australia looked most likely to pull off their run-chase. Michael Clarke, displaying all the calm of a Zen monk, coolly tapped the ball around to keep the score ticking over, while Hayden, after a manic start, settled down to play sensibly, ensuring that the asking rate was kept within striking range.
With Australia requiring only a run-a-ball for their last 100, Ganguly turned to Pathan, and he responded immediately. Balaji dropped a clanger to let off Hayden off the first ball of Pathan's spell, but two balls later Pathan nailed his man, when Hayden nicked to Dravid (204 for 5). Four overs later, Clarke, who once again demonstrated just why he is rated so highly in Australia, threw it away chasing a wide one from Pathan (224 for 6). Ian Harvey lashed at a few, then clipped a half-volley from Nehra to Gavaskar at midwicket (249 for 7). Meanwhile, Bevan kept the fight going, but with only the tail for company, and an asking rate that kept climbing, the target proved just too much against an Indian attack that refused to bowl four-balls.
India's huge total was dominated by two prominent partnerships - Tendulkar and Laxman added 110 for the second wicket, and then Dravid joined Laxman to put together 133 for the third.
For much of his innings, Tendulkar was hampered by an injury to his right ankle, which he twisted while playing a ball to leg. However, that only galvanised him into action, as he uncorked some glorious drives to get India off to a rousing start after they won the toss. Despite Sourav Ganguly's early dismissal, India raced to 89 off the first 15 overs.
Both Tendulkar and Laxman were especially severe on Brett Lee, driving down the ground or pulling whenever he erred in length. Ten runs came in each of Lee's first three overs, and he ended up with 1 for 83 from 10 overs - the second-most expensive figures by an Australian in an ODI (the most expensive figures, incidentally, were by Lee as well, against Pakistan at Cardiff in 2001.)
The boundaries gave way to singles and twos as the fielding restrictions were lifted and the slower bowlers came on, but Tendulkar, despite clearly being hampered by his ankle injury, refused the option of taking a runner - Ganguly came out fully padded up and was promptly sent back. Like the Indians later in the evening, the Australians missed a handful of run-out opportunities, but apart from that, there were few chances that came their way.
The partnership finally ended in rather tame fashion, when Tendulkar slapped a short ball from Symonds straight back to the bowler (147 for 2). Dravid ensured that the momentum didn't fall away, working the ball around superbly from the outset, and immediately showing the rich vein of form he was in. His fifty contained just one four, and yet it came off a mere 49 balls. It was a batting masterclass, from a player at the peak of his form and confidence.
Laxman, meanwhile, played with a calmness he has often struggled to find in one-dayers. He located the boundaries when the field was in, and then settled down to nurdle the ones and twos effortlessly. Dravid was dismissed in the search for quick runs, but Laxman carried on, and reached a well-deserved hundred off the last ball of the innings, tonking a full toss from Harvey over midwicket. In the end, the total turned out to be just enough.