Ponting century outweighs fine Gambhir fightback
Australia 7 for 317 (Ponting 124, Symonds 59, Hayden 54) beat India 299 (Gambhir 113, Uthappa 51, Lee 5-58) by 18 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
A spirited chase led by Gautam Gambhir and Robin Uthappa fell 18 short as Australia celebrated the end of Ricky Ponting's rocky batting patch with a tight victory. While the home side toasted a return to form ahead of Sunday's first final, India's plight to reach the CB Series deciders now comes down to the match against Sri Lanka on Tuesday after they reached 299, a haul relying on Gambhir's second century of the tournament.
A horrible series was forgotten by Ponting during his fine 124 while half-centuries to Matthew Hayden and Andrew Symonds also lifted their clouds of poor form in a brutal team display of 7 for 317. In the face of such a challenge - it was easily the highest total of the series - India were always behind and it was only the performances of Gambhir and Robin Uthappa that kept them in the game after the first four wickets went by the 11th over.
Gambhir and Mahendra Singh Dhoni met at the difficulty of 4 for 51 and made sure the team could provide some outstanding fight during the 98-run liaison, but the assignment eventually proved too difficult. Gambhir varied his pace throughout his display and his 113 from 119 balls was important, although his side was left wanting more. Uthappa tried his best with Irfan Pathan and Harbhajan Singh providing excellent help as the overs ran out.
Gambhir lifted his rate after Dhoni departed, having taken his time in the first half of his innings, but he was unable to drag his side ahead. His best shot was a pull in front of square leg off Brett Lee - a slog-sweep for his only six from Brad Hogg was also impressive - and he was strong on the offside. The main shame was the lack of support provided from his top-order team-mates.
Dhoni failed to ignite regularly, usually working the ball around like he was chasing a total in the 200s, but while he was there the Australians sensed danger. He was removed for 36 when Lee picked up his second major wicket on a mixed night that included five wickets and some no-ball problems, including three in a row in a nine-ball over. At 5 for 149 India's were in big danger, but they didn't stop battling and Gambhir found a willing partner in Uthappa.
They needed about nine an over and the slow bowlers Michael Clarke and Hogg were targeted in the 67-run partnership in 8.4 overs. A sharp piece of work from Gilchrist, who stumped Gambhir when his back foot slid out of the crease when trying to slog Hogg, earned his fifth dismissal. Uthappa and Pathan scurried another 41 and Harbhajan arrived to slash 20 off 11 before he miscued and Gilchrist benefited again. Next ball Uthappa holed out to midwicket, leaving with 51 from 46, and Lee had four wickets. He came back to finish the match by bowling Ishant Sharma to collect an unlikely 5 for 58.
The batting problems began when Stuart Clark captured two early victims with the edges of Virender Sehwag (18) and Yuvraj Singh (5), who both pushed unconvincingly and provided work for Gilchrist. Rohit Sharma went in a similar manner to Bracken after the chase started badly when Sachin Tendulkar stepped across his stumps and was lbw to Lee fifth ball. What they needed was the start their opponents managed.
After a subdued campaign the Australia top order decided blasting out of a slump was the best option and in a game of no consequence to them they raced like a bushfire. Pegged back by the slower bowlers after reaching 92 from the first ten overs, they rebuilt through the reborn Ponting before Symonds added some late-innings impetus with 59 off 49 balls.
Along with Hayden, Ponting and Symonds have been the main under-achievers in the series, but the results of Ponting - his highest score in six previous matches was 25 - were the biggest worry for Australia. The century, his 26th in ODIs, came when he found a single to mid-off from his 111th delivery and he accelerated until he skewed to Pathan at deep mid-off.
Before today Ponting and Hayden had been responsible for sleepy starts that were from the 1980s, but the modern approach returned and the early exchanges were like a Twenty20. Ishant and Sreesanth, who came in after Munaf Patel suffered food poisoning, were unable to stop the initial pummeling. Sreesanth went for 37 off four overs and Ishant was only slightly better in giving up 37 from five.
Some reshuffling from Dhoni was effective - Harbhajan was employed for the 11th over - and only 32 came in the next ten overs, but Ponting was able to break away. Once Hayden departed for 54 and Clarke (31) left to a poor pull shot off Sehwag, Symonds joined the flexing. His six fours and two sixes were typically forceful and his fifty came up with a heave over the fence from Pathan.
India chased the same quick opening as Australia got from Gilchrist, whose 16 came from seven balls, before he left to a miracle take from Dhoni. Sreesanth clipped Gilchrist's inside edge, forcing Dhoni to change direction and he leaped to his right for a one-handed take. It was the highlight of India's time in the field and from there things went downhill.
The bowlers were almost helpless and gained figures to forget. Sreesanth went for 58 from eight overs - he did take two wickets - Ishant gave up 65 in ten and Pathan allowed 73 in nine. Harbhajan and the part-timers Sehwag and Yuvraj fared better, but it was Australia's turn to fire. India will hope the same applies to their big-name batsmen when they face Sri Lanka in Hobart on Tuesday in a must-win encounter.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo