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February 5, 2008
For the second match running, a faithful Brisbane crowd was denied a full day of cricket as further inclement weather washed out the second match of the CB Series, this time between India and Sri Lanka. What they were treated to, in India's uninterrupted innings, was the prototype of the perfectly-paced ODI century from Gautam Gambhir in only the second battle between these two teams on Australian soil.
It was all happening during a compelling 50 overs of cricket, where Gambhir and Mahendra Singh Dhoni breathed life back into an innings that looked to have suffered a coronary attack by the halfway mark, putting on 184 for the fifth wicket to take India to a commanding 267 for 4. The average score at the Gabba in the last five ODIs has been 233 and India would have fancied their chances at recording a record 50th win over Sri Lanka, but the rain had other ideas.
After a steady start, Tendulkar, who became the first batsman to go past 16,000 ODI runs, dragged one from Lasith Malinga back onto his stumps for 35. Virender Sehwag fell to a mistimed pull shot soon after, while Muttiah Muralitharan nailed two in his first over - he snapped up an out-of-sorts Yuvraj Singh for 2 in his comeback match and an unlucky Rohit Sharma for 0, after replays showed he didn't edge to the wicketkeeper. The repair work began when India slipped to 83 for 4.
However, there was little swing for Chaminda Vaas and Gambhir signalled his intent, straight-driving and pulling the veteran bowler for boundaries in the first over of a third spell. He should have been caught on 11, after opening the face of the bat off Ishara Amerasinghe, but Kumar Sangakkara dropped a left-handed take. Gambhir showed his hunger for runs and took the fight back to Sri Lanka.
Arguably the best player of spin in the side after Tendulkar, he relied on his ability to flick, nudge and sweep Muralitharan. It worked very well, and an unflustered Gambhir negated Muralitharan's mid-innings spell confidently. The spinners, with the field especially spread between overs 33 and 39, were quietly squirted into the gaps before Gambhir accelerated. It was a good exhibition of building an innings under pressure.
Dhoni, on the back of a poor Test series, helped the partnership gain momentum with soft-handed pushes to the off side and hard, trademark paddles down the leg side. Perhaps most critically, the running between the wickets was top-drawer stuff; in fact, rarely has it been better, against one of the best fielding units around. The right-left combination ticked runs along at about four-and-a-half an over and as the conditions turned overcast, the 50-run stand came up in 78 deliveries.
Gambhir welcomed the hard ball - following a mandatory change after 34 overs - with an even harder cut for four. With rain in the air, he began to target the shorter areas of the Gabba. Muralitharan came back on before the slog overs and Gambhir wasn't afraid to use his feet in an attempt to lift the run rate. A thumping extra-cover-drive raised his ninth fifty in the 41st over and Gambhir rounded off the over with a firm pulled four. Singularly, Gambhir's handling of Muralitharan was the stand-out feature of his innings. The same bowler who was so threatening initially was handled with utmost ease in the latter stage of the innings, and went for 51 from ten. For good measure, Malinga was welcomed back with an effortless six over extra-cover and India had scored 40 runs in four overs. Gambhir's second fifty needed a mere 28 balls.
Dhoni brought his fifty up with a six down the ground and despite cramping up after that shot, picked up boundaries down the leg side. India successfully picked up at least one four in each of the last ten overs, bar the 43rd, and they had Dhoni to thank for much of this as they added 105 during that period. Unflustered for his entire stay in the middle, Dhoni played a captain's innings, an unbeaten 95-ball 88, highlighted with punchy shots and superb running. Shot by shot, run by run, he and Gambhir had turned damage control into coruscating counter-aggression.
The drizzle began towards the end of the Indian innings, and only gained in intensity during the break. It soon turned into an annoying shower, engulfing the Gabba. With further thunderstorms predicted later in the evening both sides were left to play the waiting game inside the dressing room, while plenty of others began to furiously hit their calculators to see what Messrs Duckworth and Lewis would have to say, but play was finally called off at 7.55 pm local time.
During the 1992 World Cup, these two sides met in Australia but the match lasted just two deliveries owing to rain. Sixteen years on from that washout the two most-capped players in the game, Tendulkar and Sanath Jayasuriya, were the only survivors but once again, they couldn't get out of the way of a storm.
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