India forced to work hard for five-wicket win
India 5 for 160 (Tendulkar 44) beat Australia 159 (Hussey 65*, Ishant 4-38) by five wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
A five-wicket win chasing 160 might seem a comfortable victory but India made hard work of their success at the MCG, grinding out their first triumph of the CB Series with less than five overs to spare. Their youngest star Ishant Sharma set up the small target and their oldest warrior Sachin Tendulkar put their batting on track, but it was left to Rohit Sharma and their captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni to complete the task.
Rohit finished unbeaten on 39 and Dhoni was on 17 as Ricky Ponting ran out of attacking options with only four specialist bowlers in his line-up. The pair was in no hurry and for 13 overs India scored only in singles as they battled from 3 for 93 to 5 for 118. While the match remained alive, the crowd did not care that picket fences were being constructed on the scoresheet instead of being cleared by towering sixes.
The previous day in Wellington England were thrashed as New Zealand chased down 131 with 20 overs to spare. But with an extra 30 runs, a world-champion attack and helpful conditions for the fast bowlers, Australia proved that low totals can still make for gripping contests at the highest level.
It was fitting that Dhoni was there at the end, as his aggressive captaincy earlier in the day had put his side in a winning position. He must have had moments of doubt though when he watched his top order stumble. After India's Twenty20 thrashing at the hands of Australia less than a fortnight ago Dhoni said the batsmen had forgotten their individual roles. Similar problems were glimpsed in the 50-over format until Dhoni and Rohit came together.
Things were ticking along comfortably at 2 for 89 with Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir both looking dangerous. Gambhir was caught when Brett Lee surprised him with extra bounce but Tendulkar threw his wicket away by driving Mitchell Johnson to mid-off on 44 as the runs began to dry up.
Still, nothing silly was needed as they required less than three an over with six wickets in hand. Unfortunately for India, dot balls do not sit comfortably with Yuvraj Singh and the superb tight bowling of Stuart Clark and Johnson tempted him into folly. Yuvraj did not pick a slower one from Clark and drove to short cover, which left India at 5 for 102 and handed the momentum back to Australia, albeit briefly.
Clark, who for so long has been on the fringes of the ODI side, highlighted his potential value with a ten-over collection of 1 for 26 and Johnson was excellent with 2 for 24. But it was Lee who put the frighteners into India, regularly clocking over 150kph and generating some sharp bounce. His figures of 1 for 41 suggested he was the weak link in Australia's attack but it was his ferocity that sparked his colleagues.
His figures ballooned after an early 12-run over when Tendulkar drove him superbly straight and through cover for three boundaries. Things might have been different had Rudi Koertzen raised his finger when Tendulkar appeared to edge a Clark legcutter to Gilchrist on 24; Gilchrist was extra frustrated as Koertzen also failed to hear a thick edge off his own bat in Australia's first over and wrongly adjudged him lbw.
Regardless of how hard India made the chase look, Australia knew they needed early wickets to defend such a small total. Ponting's reluctance to push harder - during the second over Virender Sehwag edged Nathan Bracken marginally wide of the sole slip - made Australia's task even more difficult. Ponting was out-captained by Dhoni.
Dhoni realised the best way to rattle the world champions was all-out attack and he juggled his three main strikers for 21 overs before thinking about spin. He backed the fast men with an assortment of catchers, which forced Australia into a different game-plan after Friday's thrashing of a defensive Sri Lanka.
The results spoke for themselves as Ishant had Matthew Hayden caught behind following a pair of lucky slashes over the three-man cordon and Ponting snared at first slip when he was surprised by extra bounce. Between them, Ishant and Harbhajan Singh have this season driven Ponting into what by his high standards is a very rare slump.
A lack of easy runs also frustrated Michael Clarke into a loose flick straight to midwicket off Irfan Pathan after Andrew Symonds edged behind to give Ishant his third. Australia soon fell to 6 for 92.
Sreesanth, who at 25 was the old man of India's pace attack, kept things tight and fittingly it was he and Ishant who returned to finish off the Australians after Michael Hussey and Lee poked and prodded for a 53-run stand. Ishant was the pick, finishing with 4 for 38, while Sreesanth complemented him with 3 for 31 from nine overs.
Hussey's unbeaten 65 was his first time past fifty in an ODI in nearly a year. Most of his runs were sprinted ones and twos and he found the boundary only four times, although a pull over midwicket from a Sehwag delivery that wasn't that short was particularly impressive.
But Australia's pain had been inflicted long before and Hussey's roll of sticking plaster ran out as the team's wounds gradually gaped wider and wider. The only people who might have enjoyed the game even less than Ponting's men would be Sri Lanka, who on Tuesday face the conquerors of a team that beat them by 128 runs in Sydney.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo