MS Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh lead India to victory
Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni shared a serene 148-run stand to help India win a battle of attrition on a sluggish track at the Feroz Shah Kotla and take a 2-1 lead in the seven-ODI series. Australia would perhaps rue the fact that they settled for 229 when they batted after winning an important toss.
"A total of 220 should be a good score on this pitch," Ponting had said and Australia's approach while batting reflected his mindset. Their bowlers did pick up three quick top-order wickets to leave India wobbling at 53 for 3 but Yuvraj and Dhoni batted with the knowledge that sufficient time spent at the crease would ensure a risk-free victory. The pitch was slow and not conducive to stroke making but it did not spin treacherously, despite the visibly dramatic wear and tear.
The game was evenly balanced mid way during the chase with India in consolidation mode at 101 for 3, but Yuvraj and Dhoni slowly and surely pulled India ahead. They batted with restraint while settling in on this track because, as Michael Hussey proved earlier during an unbeaten 81, batting got easier with more time spent on it.
They scored largely in singles and twos before Yuvraj attacked in the 34th over with 94 needed in 17 overs. He flicked for six and hit an extra-cover drive off Moises Henriques before he repeated the sequence next over with a bludgeoned six over long-on and a square-driven boundary against Adam Voges. The momentum shifted permanently after that and Yuvraj played several exquisite drives. He fell 29 runs short of the target but Dhoni struck a couple of boundaries to ward off any hiccups.
Australia had tried their best to apply the squeeze in the middle overs of the chase with the spin-seam combo of Nathan Hauritz and Doug Bollinger. The fast-improving Hauritz slowed his pace and punctuated his offbreaks with the one that went on with the arm. Dhoni chose to play Hauritz off the back foot while Yuvraj pressed forward. Bollinger, who replaced Ben Hilfenhaus, bowled a nagging line and length to strangle the batsmen. Peter Siddle, too, was economical and Australia's bowling, in the absence of Brett Lee and a quality spinner, was as tight as Ponting could hope for but perhaps they had erred in their conservative estimate of a total on this sluggish track.
Once Australia decided not to play specialist opener Shaun Marsh, and possessing a thin middle-order inexperienced in such conditions, they were going to depend heavily on Ponting, Hussey and Shane Watson to reach a competitive total. Their approach seemed to indicate wariness that a collapse was never too far away on a demanding surface. Ponting, who opened only for the second time in his 327-ODI career in Tim Paine's absence, and Watson didn't try anything fancy during a sedate but solid start before Hussey took charge of seeing Australia through to the finish.
Hussey's innings was tailored to the situation. He played numerous little dabs and nudges, cut and swept whenever he could, and never got ahead of himself at any stage. He did play a reverse sweep against Yuvraj but it wasn't a shot of flamboyance but one that exploited the gap in the field. He only hit three more boundaries - the first was a result of a misfield, the second came in the 48th over when he finally heaved one across the line and the highlight was the last, when he charged out to clatter Ashish Nehra over long-on in the 50th over.
Before Hussey played his characteristic innings, Ponting and Watson played uncharacteristic ones to give the innings a steady start. With swing out of the question, the Indian seamers tried to win lbw decisions by bowling as straight as possible and the spinners slowed their pace and kept to an off and middle stump line. Ponting began cautiously, taking care to get his bat in front of the pads, and dealt in singles. Watson also batted in a similar vein and just when he was beginning to cut loose, he fell to Yuvraj after he was beaten by flight and turn and dragged his back foot out of the crease. Hussey came to Australia's rescue with an assured knock but it wasn't enough to stop India from going ahead in the series.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo