Australia duly claimed the 1-0 lead that they had threatened during Saturday's washed-out series opener, stamping their authority over India with an 84-run victory that was achieved even in the absence of Ricky Ponting. Mahendra Singh Dhoni put the Australians in to bat in the hope of exploiting the wet conditions, but as the sun dried out the pitch and its surrounding area, India's hopes evaporated. First, Australia amassed a total of 306 for 6, then prised out ten wickets with clinical efficiency.
With all the rain about, the decision at the toss was always going to be a tricky one but Dhoni's decision to bowl first, having chosen to play two spinners and to leave out a medium-pacer, smacked of a gamble on the weather intervening. That said, it seemed to be working when Australia were reduced to 8 for 2.
Adam Gilchrist went without scoring, edging a Zaheer Khan ball straight to Sachin Tendulkar at first slip. Brad Hodge then played a forcing shot off Sreesanth and nicked to the keeper, getting the Kochi crowd roaring as the local boy scalped a wicket. India were pumped up, but they would have known that only days ago Australia recovered from 90 for 4 to post more than 300.
Matthew Hayden likes to bully bowlers, by walking down the pitch and heaving over the infield. But after his indiscreet shot in the last game, and considering the fact that the ball was not really coming onto the bat, he buckled down and played well within himself. There was still the odd muscular shot, thumped back down the ground past the bowler, and the slog-sweep over square-leg off the spinners, but largely the runs were added without much flash.
Michael Clarke hung around with Hayden for a time, clipping the ball efficiently off his pads, but a brilliant bit of work from Dhoni behind the stumps, whipping the bails off in a flash standing up to Irfan Pathan, cut short Clarke's innings. Then another big man, Andrew Symonds, joined Hayden out in the middle, and the two judged the state of play to perfection.
Apart from a flurry of big hits that greeted the operation of Harbhajan Singh and Ramesh Powar in tandem, runs were accumulated in risk-free fashion. Symonds took his time settling in, presenting the full face of the bat and driving down to long-on and long-off. They had added nearly 100 for the fourth wicket before Pathan produced a swinging yorker to nail Hayden's leg stump. Hayden had gone for 75 and Australia were only going at a little more than five an over.
Brad Haddin doesn't get too many chances as a wicketkeeper-batsman with Gilchrist being the first name pencilled down in Australia's team-sheets. But today Haddin was needed and he delivered magnificently. While Symonds took over the role of senior partner following Hayden's dismissal, Haddin kept the scoreboard ticking, and the runs continued to come even as Australia ensured that wickets did not fall in a heap.
Symonds and Haddin added 108 for the fifth wicket before they were separated. Symonds misread a slower ball from Sreesanth and hit the ball high rather than far, and was caught and bowled on 87 off only 83 balls. The unseemly and exaggerated celebration that followed from Sreesanth was certainly over the top and could attract the attention of the match referee, but the wicket of Symonds was just what India needed.
What they would not have anticipated was Haddin's response. A quick 40 would have been sufficient but Haddin batted through to the end for an unbeaten 87 and sealed the deal. All through the Australian innings one senior batsman took charge, starting with Hayden and moving to Symonds before Haddin applied the finishing touches. Accelerating perfectly with sweetly timed clunks over the leg side, Haddin's 87 came off only 69 balls as Australia ended on 306 for 6.
Chasing a big target India needed a strong start, if not a frantically quick one. But, apart from an audacious and breezy knock from Robin Uthappa at No. 3, there was little resistance from the top-order as India lost half their line-up with only 136 on the board.
It was Gautam Gambhir who went first, bowled by a superb ball from Mitchell Johnson that pitched and cut back in sharply to force a gap between bat and pad. Tendulkar square-drove uppishly and was smartly snapped up by Symonds at short point. Yuvraj Singh clattered one six off a free hit but soon fell in a left-handed impression of the Tendulkar dismissal. In the middle of all this Uthappa continued his Twenty20 form, flat-batting a straight six off Lee, driving on the rise through mid-on and cover-driving with careful placement. Uthappa had raced to 41 off only 30 balls but fell across his stumps and was trapped in front by the ever-accurate Stuart Clark.
A period of consolidation between Dhoni and Rahul Dravid kept India in the hunt, even if they were only limping along, and when Dravid was brilliantly caught on the ropes by Johnson off Brad Hogg, the game was all but finished. Pathan was run out soon after in frantic style, Harbhajan was stumped attempting a wild slog and Powar was nailed by a quick one from Clarke. Brad Hogg picked up three easy wickets even as Dhoni resolutely refused to give his wicket away and helped himself to a half-century, but it made no difference to the result. India were comprehensively outplayed.