Spirited India clinch Border-Gavaskar Trophy in nail biting finish
Thirty two wickets in the series alone was not enough for Harbhajan Singh. With eight wickets down, the tension mounting and Australia desperately trying to knock off the last two wickets, Harbhajan Singh sliced a ball past point and won for India the Pepsi Series by two matches to one on Thursday. The Border-Gavaskar Trophy is now in the safe possession of Sourav Ganguly's Indian team as a result of the pulsating finish to the third and final Test.
If Harbhajan Singh hitting the winning runs saw that poetic justice was served, Sameer Dighe with the steely look of a man possessed in his eyes, played an innings that defied the Aussies. The last session was so fraught with tension, the air at the ground could have been cut with a bread knife. The religious prayed, the nervous smoked, scribes typed furiously as the players slugged it out in the middle. There could have been no better advertisement for Test cricket than the game that just concluded at the MA Chidambaram Stadium at Chepauk. Steve Waugh's Australians lost, but the look on the captain's face at the end of the day said it all. It was a battle to the death, one team had to lose and in this case it was the touring side.
The day began however, with the Australians at 241/7 and looking to add runs. The man they turned to, Steven Rodger Waugh was back in the cool confines of the pavilion. Beaten by the turn and bounce of a Harbhajan Singh offspinner, the Australian captain edged the ball onto pad and to forward short leg. At 246/8 the Indians looked to close in for the kill. Steve Waugh's 47 gave Australia a glimmer of hope, but proved to be a little short at the end of the day. Australia managed 264, a lead of 155.
Harbhajan Singh with 8/84 in the second innings ended with match figures of 15/217 set up the platform for India's victory charge.
And what a charge it was. India began their effort to chase 155 in a smooth manner. Sadagoppan Ramesh timed the ball sweetly through the offside even as Das played second fiddle. This opening pair complement each other ideally. While Ramesh was fire and brimstone, Das was calm at one end. Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie steamed in, doing their best to dislodge the opening partnership. Bowling a good line and length, the Aussie fast bowling pair managed to keep things quiet and Das committed a blunder.
Attempting to hook a rising delivery from McGrath when he was 9, Das was a touch late on the ball. Even as the ball ballooned into the air for McGrath to catch himself, Das (35m, 17b, 2x4) walked back to the pavilion. VVS Laxman joined Ramesh out in the middle and the pair took India through to lunch without further damage.
Soon after lunch, the run of play began to fluctuate. While Laxman batted with aplomb, driving, cutting and pulling well, a spate of wickets falling cheaply at the other end set back India. A needless mix up between Laxman and Ramesh saw the Tamil Nadu southpaw stranded midpitch. Ramesh made 25. Sachin Tendulkar played a couple of cracking shots against Warne, first pulling and then cutting him to the fence off consecutive balls. When Tendulkar got comfortable against the spinners, Waugh brought Jason Gillespie into the attack. Bowling with intensity, Gillespie let rip a menacing delivery from around the wicket. Before Tendulkar could sway out of the way, the ball flew off the glove to Mark Waugh at slip. Much more was expected of Tendulkar than his eventual 17.
Sourav Ganguly needed to play a sensible knock, batting around Laxman. Instead, the Indian captain slashed hard at Gillespie and was given a reprieve when the ball flew through the slip cordon. Off the next ball, Ganguly tried that again and the result was different. Mark Waugh pouched the catch and Ganguly was gone. Rahul Dravid, coming in with the score on 117/4 departed just five runs later, trying to drive Miller through the on side. The resultant leading edge was well caught by a diving Steve Waugh at mid off.
Then came the innings that made the difference between victory and defeat. Sameer Dighe, making his Test debut silenced all his critics by wielding the willow with maturity. Playing with a dead straight bat Dighe kept out both Gillespie and McGrath. When there was a bit of width, Dighe was up for the shot, cutting hard, often even slashing the ball to the fence. With VVS Laxman (66 runs, 136 mins, 82 balls, 12 fours) being brilliantly caught by Mark Waugh off Miller with the score on 135, the burden of India's expectations fell on Dighe's shoulders.
Undaunted even by the loss of Sairaj Bahutule and Zaheer Khan, Dighe remained unbeaten on 22 as India scored the requisite runs. A very relieved Dighe made a telling comment a bit after the game. Tendulkar once told Dighe that playing Test cricket was not simply about talent or ability. It was heart and the courage to fight that shaped success said Tendulkar.
Today, Dighe did Tendulkar proud, showing precisely those qualities in abundance.