Australia clinch low-scoring scrap
A valuable half-century from Michael Clarke kept Australia afloat before a tigerish bunch of fielders backed up accurate bowlers to pull off a memorable 50-run win in Adelaide. Few would have given Australia a chance from the depths of 5 for 73 but so tenacious was the fightback that they pocketed a bonus point as well.
A scorching day saw the bowlers take centrestage. Irfan Pathan led India's charge before another left-armer, Mitchell Johnson, played a big part in the fightback. At 1 for 55, India seemed on course for an easy win but the contest opened up after they lost three wickets in nine balls, all to injudicious swings outside off. Once Mahendra Singh Dhoni fell to a moment of fielding brilliance, the match was headed only in one direction.
Australia were revived, quite fittingly, by James Hopes, a medium-pacer who surprised with extra zip off the pitch. He broke a promising stand, inducing an edge from Pathan, before luring Rohit Sharma into a false drive. Johnson managed to pocket a wicket in between, tempting the in-form Gautam Gambhir into a fatal flash to point. India were still in the hunt, though, especially with Yuvraj Singh showing signs of regaining form. But Yuvraj's shoddy swipe across the line to a long-hop and Dhoni's poor call shut the final window of opportunity.
Australia's intensity rarely wavered. Adam Gilchrist missed a simple chance against Sachin Tendulkar early on, when neither him nor first slip went for the catch, but made up with five dismissals by the end. With 73 dismissals against India, Gilchrist now has the most for a wicketkeeper against any country. He didn't do much with the bat but his performance behind the stumps, including a diving catch to finish the game, sealed a fine Adelaide farewell.
Australia's early slide began with Gilchrist falling, smashing his bat in the dressing room after his dismissal. To Ishant goes the credit of providing the initial breakthrough. Gilchrist was laying into Sreesanth when Ishant castled him with one that came in a fraction. Even before the dismissal it was clear that Ishant had sussed up the conditions early. He clocked up serious pace, going beyond the 152kph mark on one occasion, and extracted plenty of bounce from what was a good batting surface. He was duly rewarded with another wicket in his second spell - Andrew Symonds failing to gauge the bounce and chopping straight to gully - and showed the rest the value of a disciplined approach.
Pathan picked up the baton effortlessly. He moved the ball enough to create doubts in the batsmen's minds before slipping in the sucker punch of a ball outside off. Hayden didn't account for the extra bounce, snicking one to the wicketkeeper, and Michael Hussey wafted lazily at one outside off. Like all of India's bowlers, Pathan used the bounce in the track well and came back to nab two more wickets.
Clarke, who fell to Pathan towards the end, turned in an invaluable knock, adding 72 with the gritty Brad Hogg. The duo, coming together when James Hopes was left hopelessly stranded outside the crease to a Harbhajan doosra, played the percentages well. They decided to cut out the risks and chipped away with singles and twos.
Clarke began slowly but upped the strike-rate as his innings went along. He struck six fours but the signature strokes were the taps in the gaps followed by quick running between the wickets. He didn't go on to his hundred, holing out to midwicket in his first real slog attempt, but his knock was crucial in helping Australia post a competitive score.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is an assistant editor at Cricinfo