Centuries for Tendulkar and Laxman as India romp home
India 283 for 5 (Laxman 102, Tendulkar 100, Yuvraj 44) beat Australia 246 for 9 (Gilchrist 83, Hayden 47, Zaheer 3-49) by 37 runs
The turning point: Zaheer Khan removes Adam Gilchrist
An abrupt and messy collapse by Australia, after they had begun their pursuit of India's 283 for 5 in riproaring fashion, meant that they completely lost the plot in mid-innings in the second game of the TVS Cup, and finally fell short by 37 runs.
Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden put on 132 for the first wicket in under 25 overs, but only Gilchrist, among Australia's batsmen, looked convincing, and once India dismissed him they ran rings around the rest. India owed their large first-innings score to hundreds from Sachin Tendulkar, his 35th in one-day internationals, and VVS Laxman. They were helped by a characteristic late-innings cameo from Yuvraj Singh and a less characteristic one from Ajit Agarkar.
It was the first game between the two sides since they squared off in the World Cup final in March, but India showed no ill-effects from that crushing defeat. Indeed, playing in home conditions, against a side that was missing three frontline bowlers, they arguably began the game as slight favourites. Despite starting badly, losing Virender Sehwag in the first over, the Indians called the shots in the first half of the game, scoring at close to five an over for the first 40 overs of the innings, and making an even 100 from the last ten. Later it was Sehwag who more than made up for his failure with the bat with a spell with the ball in which he once again revealed a golden arm, bowling Damien Martyn and Michael Bevan in the space of three balls to effectively end Australia's challenge.
Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman: added 191 fluid runs
The best batting of the day came from Tendulkar, Laxman and Gilchrist, the first two having the chance to take strike when conditions were at their best. From Tendulkar's display today it would appear that he was not really out of form against New Zealand, but merely saving it up for the Australians. He lost Sehwag before he had opened his account, but as early as the third over of the innings there was a familiar gleam in his eye, as he flayed Nathan Bracken through the off side for four, and repeated the dose in successive overs. He raced to 50 at exactly run-a-ball with nine boundaries - better than one every six balls - divided almost equally between crunching hits through the off side and deft whips off his pads through square leg.
Tendulkar's innings, like most of his one-day hundreds, was one of two contrasting halves, with a swashbuckling first fifty amassed with the field up followed by a sedate second one with the slower bowlers on and the field back. His second took 67 balls, and contained no more fours and just the one six. Towards the end, it was less than pleasing, for he had his foot at the Australians' throat, and it was almost as if his opposition conceded him the landmark in exchange for relief from further carnage. It was Tendulkar's seventh ODI hundred against Australia in 36 games.
Restored recently to his place in the one-day team after a long lay-off during which Dinesh Mongia was preferred to him, Laxman did his cause no harm with an accomplished innings. He, too, likes Australian bowling; not only are his two biggest Test scores against them, but both his ODI hundreds as well. His half-century took him 75 balls, but he kept the scoreboard ticking over in the middle overs, and though he was not as imperious as Tendulkar, in the end he hit just as many fours as his senior partner. He was at ease against all the bowlers except Brad Hogg, who troubled him by turning the ball both ways from a spot just outside off stump.
When Australia began, Gilchrist and Hayden set about their task in characteristically urgent fashion. At the beginning there was little to set the two apart, but Hayden soon fell back, struggling to get the ball away, and it was Gilchrist who was in his element. He rushed to 50 off just 39 balls, his bat whirring, his feet springing back on the crease to hit through the off side, and his body pivoting rapidly to slap short balls over midwicket. The first seven overs yielded 51, as Zaheer Khan and Agarkar were put to the sword. But the introduction of spin from the eighth over allowed India to regain a measure of control over proceedings.
Even so, Gilchrist and Hayden kept the score ticking along at a healthy rate, and when Gilchrist collected a flurry of boundaries off Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid was forced to turn to Zaheer in search of the breakthrough that would keep India in the game. Zaheer struck with the fourth ball of his new spell, as Gilchrist swung across a full-length ball, missed, and saw his stumps shattered. He made 83 off 79 balls, but he had thrown his wicket away, and what followed would have reminded him of the old adage of not leaving the job for other batsmen after getting a start.
Ricky Ponting had only played four balls when he shaped to force Anil Kumble through mid-off off the back foot, stopped the shot, and popped a dolly back to the bowler, a perplexingly soft dismissal (135 for 2).
Hayden had kept one end up with a laborious innings - he hit his first boundary off his 67th ball - and had survived one stumping chance, but he continued to come down the wicket to the spinners, and now Kumble held one up slightly and got it to run across him, and beat his attempt to work it to leg all ends up. This time, Parthiv Patel made no mistake (140 for 3). In the next over Zaheer , bowling from round the wicket, won a contentious lbw shout against Andrew Symonds, and India had claimed four wickets in five overs.
This brought them strongly back into the game, but the killer blows were dealt by Sehwag, bowling Martyn and Bevan with offbreaks as innocuous as those reportedly bowled by Geoff Boycott's legendary grandmother (176 for 5, 177 for 6). Australia lost nine wickets for just 97, and in the end they finished a good 37 runs short.
Chandrahas Choudhury is staff writer of Wisden Asia Cricket magazine.