Symonds special seals the series
Riled by the behaviour of some of the Indian cricketers and the crowd in Vadodara, Andrew Symonds channelled his ire to hit the Indians where it hurt most, with a glorious 82-ball century which inspired Australia to a series-sealing victory with a match to spare. Just for good measure, he added a nearly immaculate spell of offspin as Australia staved off a 140-run partnership between Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, and a thrilling late flourish from Robin Uthappa to clinch an 18-run triumph.
Adam Gilchrist and Ricky Ponting had established the perfect platform with a dazzling 96-run partnership, and with Brad Haddin and James Hopes providing invaluable support, Symonds combined brute power and masterly timing to utterly destroy the Indian attack. Hopes cut and drove superbly as the pair added 90 from just 9.4 overs to wrest control.
But there was never any doubt as to who was the main man, with Symonds providing a lesson in late-overs batsmanship. Murali Kartik had been outstanding in his first spell, giving away just 15 from seven overs, but even he was a helpless bystander as Symonds clubbed one over the roof of the temporary stand at midwicket before coolly lofting over long-on for six more.
He followed up with a late cut, just to show that he could do finesse as well, and it was with the deftest of dabs off Irfan Pathan that he got to three figures. His coiled-spring-unleashed celebrations left no one in any doubt as to how much it meant after the events of the past few days.
When it was India's turn to tilt at a 318-run windmill, Tendulkar and Ganguly reeled off a 26th century stand, giving India hope of a first successful run-chase against Australia in nearly a decade. The turning point was undoubtedly Tendulkar's dismissal after a magnificent 72, smartly stumped by Gilchrist off Hopes.
Brad Hogg's left-arm variations then fetched him four wickets, and when Rahul Dravid holed out to long-on, India's chances appeared non-existent, with 100 needed from 57 balls. But Uthappa laced some stunning drives and lofted with Twenty20 panache as he and MS Dhoni rattled off 72 from just 46 balls, leaving India 28 to get from the last two overs.
The door was ajar, but Mitchell Johnson, the five-wicket hero in Vadodara, soon plunged the ground into darkness, with an ice-cool maiden. Uthappa's 28-ball 44 ended with a superb tumbling catch by Hopes, while Dhoni's attempt to maim the man on the moon ended up in Ponting's safe hands. The capacity crowd, so buoyant moments earlier, was stunned into silence.
They had cheered themselves hoarse for three hours. After the embarrassing display in Vadodara, it was Ganguly who was the first to announce intent, with a sliced drive off Johnson, and a quite glorious extra-cover drive off Brett Lee. Lee came in for some stick, with Tendulkar taking three consecutive fours off him. It mattered little to the capacity crowd that one was a top edge and the other off the bat's outer.
Both men played some lovely shots through the covers, and Tendulkar produced one trademark stroke down the ground as India more than kept up with the asking rate. When Ganguly charged down the pitch to heave Nathan Bracken for six, Ponting sensed that it was time to slow things down. On came Symonds, and down went the rate, with neither batsman able to pierce the field.
They had more success against Hogg, though, with Tendulkar getting to his 50 courtesy of a huge six over midwicket. Ganguly wasn't far behind either, lofting Hogg over long-on, and it was clear that India weren't about to exit the series quietly.
Tendulkar's exit slowed Ganguly down, and it was left to Pathan to inject some momentum with some clean hits down the ground. But when he cut Hogg to point, the rot set in. Ganguly, who was again in sight of an elusive century, fell to a catch in the deep, while Yuvraj Singh was cleaned up by a full toss that struck him flush on the pad.
India's spin element had dragged them back into the game after Ponting and Gilchrist had unleashed mayhem. Michael Clarke, opening in place of the injured Matthew Hayden, was snaffled by Dhoni down the leg side in the first over, but India's new-ball pairing of Sreesanth and Zaheer Khan came in for a real hammering as the pair carried on in the same vein as they had finished in Vadodara.
Ponting set the tone by glancing the first ball he faced for four, and when he then crunched Zaheer over midwicket for six, it was clear that circumspection would have little role to play in the Australian approach. At the other end, Gilchrist cut and drove Sreesanth for fours, but was then reprieved as Dravid failed to hold on to a chance high to his left at gully.
Gilchrist was on 16 at the time, and he soon made India pay with three fours in a Sreesanth over. Dhoni was forced to turn to Pathan and he nearly provided the breakthrough, squaring up Ponting, only to see the edge go through where slip would have been. Harbhajan was on as early as the 13th over and Gilchrist was on to him immediately, driving and cutting for fours, but Harbhajan had his moment in the next over, when Ponting's prod at one that straightened was superbly pouched by Dravid at slip.
Gilchrist got to his half-century in just 46 balls, but then slammed the next straight to cover, and after a couple of fine sweeps, Brad Hodge's wretched tour continued, with Dravid taking the catch at slip off Kartik's bowling. Then came the key moment.
Had Sreesanth latched on to a difficult chance running in from deep square leg when Symonds had made just 2, Australia's plight would have been immeasurably worse. Instead, as they had in the rain-affected series opener at Bangalore, Symonds and Haddin lifted Australia towards a huge total, after a cautious phase against Kartik and Tendulkar.
After his initial success, Harbhajan went for plenty, with Symonds using his feet beautifully to counter the turn. The partnership was worth 75 when Haddin miscued Sreesanth to mid-off, but that would be the last moment of cheer for India in the field. Hopes came in, and India's sank, with Symonds jubilant at having dealt the most painful blows of all.
Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor on Cricinfo