Harbhajan helps India clinch a thriller
India 104 and 205 (Laxman 69, Tendulkar 55, Clarke 6-9) beat Australia 203 and 93 (Harbhajan 5-29, Kartik 3-32) by 13 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Australia's mighty batting line-up capitulated for just 93 in the face of some magnificent bowling from Harbhajan Singh and Murali Kartik, as India pulled off a scarcely credible 13-run victory in the final Test at the Wankhede Stadium. Australia might have already won the series, but for an Indian team under the cosh since the third Test at Nagpur, it was a triumph to savour. Though the bowlers will get most of the plaudits, many of the hard yards had been done earlier in the day, with Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman scripting superb half-centuries before Michael Clarke uncurled his golden arm.
But no-one could steal the limelight from Harbhajan. When Dravid recalled him into the attack, after Australia had crept to within 14 of the modest 107 they needed, he had Michael Kasprowicz caught at leg slip, and Glenn McGrath taken at slip to leave India victorious, and Jason Gillespie unconquered on an obdurate 9 that had spanned 51 balls.
Zaheer Khan, destined for nothing more than a supporting role on this dustbowl, had given India the perfect fillip when Australia started their pursuit, with Justin Langer edging one to Dravid at first slip. And after a quick flurry of fours from Ricky Ponting and Matthew Hayden, Dravid opted for spin at both ends, with Kartik taking over from Zaheer.
The impact was immediate. Ponting was caught by Laxman at second slip after the edge had initially gone on to Dinesh Karthik's thigh-pad, and Damien Martyn, Australia's most assured batsman in this series, lasted just five balls, trapped in front on the back foot by the last ball of the over (24 for 3).
That was the wobble. The quake started in earnest when Simon Katich aimed a drive at Harbhajan to give Dravid another scalp at slip. Hayden (24) was still a menace though, cutting Harbhajan for four and then miscuing one down to the fence at long-off. But when he attempted a sweep to one pitched outside leg, the ball trickled onto the stumps via glove and pad. Harbhajan celebrated, and Australia's hopes nosedived.
Kartik then bowled Clarke, and the collective delirium intensified when Tendulkar took a simple catch on the square-leg boundary after Adam Gilchrist had essayed a senseless sweep. But though India were in the box seat, the drama was far from over. Nathan Hauritz chiselled out 15 from 18 balls, and with Gillespie in thou-shall-not-pass mode, the target was whittled down by 20.
Anil Kumble, on for Harbhajan, provided the crucial breakthrough, with Aleem Dar giving India the benefit of the doubt after Hauritz was struck on the pad in front of leg stump. But Gillespie and Kasprowicz then weathered the assault for over half an hour while eking out 15, before the voluble Harbhajan had the final word.
Such a gripping contest had appeared very unlikely when Clarke, who had already given India plenty of heartache with the bat in this series, turned in a stunning spell with the ball either side of tea. Dravid, who had compiled a patient 27, was his first victim, caught off the glove by Gilchrist, and Karthik's prod was expertly grabbed by Ponting at silly point (188 for 6). With tea only moments away, Kaif - who was sprightly and fluent on his way to 25 - padded up to one that pitched in line and straightened.
The procession continued after the interval, as Harbhajan, Kartik and Zaheer managed just two runs between them to leave Clarke with the astonishing figures of 6 for 9 from 6.2 overs. For a while in the morning, it had seemed that the likes of Clarke wouldn't be needed, with McGrath sorting out both openers. Gautam Gambhir edged one to slip, and Virender Sehwag inexplicably shouldered arms to one that nipped back as India slumped to 14 for 2.
That brought McGrath and Tendulkar face to face in a Test for the final time. Laxman was already in the middle, promoted to the No. 3 slot from which he had scripted his Kolkata magnum opus, and after the first 11 overs of the innings produced just 15, the next three went for 30 with both men uncorking some champagne strokes.
Ponting then called on Hauritz, but there was to be no repeat of yesterday's dream spell. Tendulkar stroked one through cover and then slammed one into the stand bearing his name as he raced to a 62-ball half-century. For the first time in a fair while, there was a real urgency to Tendulkar's method. When he not stroking boundaries with a flourish, he worked the ball into the gaps and scampered singles and twos that often had the leaden-footed Laxman struggling. He batted with the panache and fluency of old for his 55, before an attempt to fetch the ball to leg only resulted in a top-edged skyer that was beautifully caught on the run by Clarke.
Dravid was never fluent, save for a brief phase after lunch when he drove Hauritz with a flourish through midwicket and cover, but his presence allowed Laxman freedom to go for his shots. But the attacking intent, especially against Hauritz, was to be his undoing. After bisecting the leg-side field with a pull and piercing the off side with a fabulous cover-drive, he smashed the next ball in the direction of long-off, only to watch in amazement as Hauritz dived to his left to snaffle the chance (153 for 4).
By then, Laxman had sauntered to 69, and in the final analysis, it - and Tendulkar's gorgeous cameo - made all the difference, as Australia's dream of a 3-0 series win went up in huge puffs of Mumbai dust.
Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.