'I felt we would get across the line' - Ponting
Until the fifth ball of the 47th over, Australia were cruising towards their target of 292. Matthew Hayden's run-a-ball 92 had given them an outstanding start, his second-wicket partnership with Ricky Ponting had produced 85 in 13.1 overs and Andrew Symonds was batting in cruise control mode during his half-century. They needed only 24 off 19 balls when RP Singh bowled Symonds and the match turned on its head.
"I must admit that right through our run-chase I felt pretty comfortable that we were going to get across the line," Ponting said after the eight-run defeat in Chandigarh. "We just lost wickets at crucial stages and Symonds' dismissal halted any momentum we had going into those last few overs."
Hayden, who scored his third fifty of the series, shared a 58-run partnership with Symonds for the fourth wicket and although Australia had slowed down against the spinners, the question of pressure hadn't arisen for they were above the asking-rate and had wickets in hand. Hayden confidently moved from 88 to 92 by lofting left-arm spinner Murali Kartik to deep midwicket but holed out to Zaheer Khan in the deep when he tried repeating the shot next ball. Both Ponting and Mahendra Singh Dhoni said that it was the first "turning point".
That the match reached a tense climax was due to the efforts of India's two spinners, Kartik and Harbhajan Singh. The Indian body language was beginning to drop after their new-ball attack, Zaheer and RP Singh, was battered for 75 in the first ten overs. Harbhajan took the crucial wickets of Michael Clarke and Brad Hodge and had outstanding figures - 2 for 43 - but it was Kartik's spell that made a massive difference. His performance justified his selection and Dhoni said that he was "one of the people who wanted a left-arm spinner in the side and backed him".
Kartik was playing his first one-dayer since February 2006 and was up against a rampant Australian batting line-up. He began poorly, conceding 19 off his first three overs but his last over was of immense significance. With Australia needing 24 off 18 balls, Kartik conceded only two runs off the 48th over.
"With Kartik bowling and the ball spinning away from the right-handers, it was pretty hard to score boundaries," Ponting said. "I spoke to Hodge later and he said he thought Kartik bowled very well. You have to give credit where credit's due."
Australia took a tough decision to persist with Brad Hodge, who made 0, 3 and 3 in the first three games, and drop Brad Haddin, who scored consecutive fifties in Bangalore and Kochi, when Ponting returned in Hyderabad. Hodge made 17 off 29 balls today during a 56-run stand with Symonds but was stumped at a crucial stage. Ponting, however, refused to blame the lower-middle order and said that the settled batsmen should have finished the job.
"I think lower-order batting is generally difficult in the subcontinent," Ponting said. "Someone like Hodge hasn't played much cricket here. I don't think it's what cost us the game. The guys who were in and established needed to bat through the innings. Not someone like Hodge or [James] Hopes. If Hayden or Symonds had batted through the innings we would have won the game."
Ponting said that Australian had a lot to improve on from this game. They conceded 31 runs in wides, didn't take early wickets, allowed India to score 91 runs off the final ten overs and struggled to keep the momentum going against spinners on a wearing pitch. India have kept the series alive but making it 2-2 will be another daunting challenge. Australia, who prepare for each game meticulously, are unlikely to repeat their mistakes in Vadodara.
George Binoy is an editorial assistant on Cricinfo