Magnificent Tendulkar seals victory
In 38 previous ODI innings in Australia, Sachin Tendulkar had never scored a hundred; in 11 previous one-day internationals against Australia in Sydney, India had never won. Both those jinxes were wiped out in a memorable evening at the SCG, as Tendulkar scripted a magnificent unbeaten 117 and shared a 123-run fourth-wicket stand with Rohit Sharma to take India to an emphatic six-wicket win and a 1-0 lead in the CB Series finals.
The match was a story of sizeable contributions by two openers - Matthew Hayden scored a brisk 82 - and two century partnerships for the fourth wicket - Andrew Symonds shared a 100-run stand with Hayden. Those efforts lifted Australia to a challenging 8 for 239, which, given the Australian bowling strength, might have been enough on another day. Today, though, they ran into an in-form Tendulkar.
From the outset, Tendulkar's approach suggested he was in the mood. In the first ten overs he only found the boundary once, through a savage lofted square-cut off Nathan Bracken, but the evidence that he was in top form came in other ways: the footwork was precise and decisive right from the start, and the judgment of length was impeccable. With Robin Uthappa, he gave India the perfect start, as both ran hard between the wickets, placed the ball into gaps, and put together 50 an excellent rate with scarcely a risk - there were just three fours in the stand.
The innings wobbled briefly thereafter, though, as Michael Hussey pulled off a magnificent catch at deep midwicket - it will surely rank among the catches of the season - to get rid of Uthappa. Two more wickets fell quickly, as Gautam Gambhir failed to respond to an obvious call for a second run, and Yuvraj Singh continued to flounder abysmally against Brad Hogg's spin.
At 3 for 87, the match was perfectly in the balance, before Tendulkar found the perfect ally in Rohit, and their stand turned out to be the match-defining one. With Rohit secure in defence and attack, it allowed Tendulkar to play normally too, and what followed was a treat. After the early threat of Brett Lee had been negated, Tendulkar turned his attention to the others: Hogg was driven over extra-cover for two glorious fours while Mitchell Johnson was perfectly tipped over slip. All along, he pierced the infield, took the singles, and ensured the asking rate never got beyond control. A cramp towards the end of the innings restricted certain strokes, while a beamer from Lee - who apologised immediately - crashed into his shoulder when he was on 98, but today he was not to be denied. The century finally came with the dab to gully, and the celebrations indicated how special it was.
At the other end, Rohit showed why he is held in such high regard by the experts. He began with two glorious straight-drives off Bracken, and then continued in such serene fashion that Australia scarcely had a sniff. He finally fell immediately after Tendulkar's hundred, but by then the result was only a formality.
The target eventually turned out to be inadequate, but at the halfway stage it seemed Australia had enough to offer a stern test to the Indians. Their innings was largely built around one partnership, which came after they had slumped 3 for 24. India's move to change things around paid off quite spectacularly as Praveen Kumar, who got the new ball ahead of Irfan Pathan, induced two poor pull shots from Adam Gilchrist and Ricky Ponting. When Michael Clarke got a rough caught-behind decision off an indipper from Ishant Sharma which clipped pad, Australia were three down inside six overs and India were off to a dream start.
Obviously, it mattered not a jot to Hayden, who had got his innings going by bludgeoning Praveen over his head in the first over to get to 6000 ODI runs. Four balls after Clarke fell, Hayden announced his intent even more emphatically, taking two strides down the pitch and swatting Praveen over midwicket. From there, it was a run deluge for the next hour, as Hayden imposed his commanding presence on the game. Pathan, who had an entirely forgettable day, leaked three fours in an over on two separate occasions to Hayden as he pummelled boundaries through the off side to bring up his half-century off a mere 43 balls.
Hayden's blistering onslaught allowed the out-of-form Symonds to settle in, and Australia seemed to running away with it, before the spinners pulled it back for India. Chawla, who was drafted into the side instead of Sreesanth, got the ball as soon as the Powerplays were out of the way, and immediately dropped into an impeccable line, giving the batsmen few scoring opportunities. Harbhajan had gone for 17 in his first two overs, but with more protection in the outfield, the flight was more pronounced and caused fatal mishits from both Symonds and Hayden.
The two blows, within five overs of each other, caused a sharp decline in the scoring rate, as Hussey and James Hopes were forced to do the rebuilding act. The absence of Ishant, who injured a finger while bowling and didn't complete his ten overs, was a bit of a blow but Yuvraj slipped in with four tidy overs. Hussey batted sensibly, ensuring that Australia played the entire 50 overs and pushed towards what seemed like a challenging total, but that was before Sachin Tendulkar got into the act.
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo