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Appropriately, the deciding Test of an enthralling series, marked by dramatic shifts of fortune, produced a grandstand finish. India, requiring 155 in the final innings, seemed to be heading for a comfortable win, only to encounter a brave, if unavailing, challenge from the Australian bowlers.
The bare pitch prompted both sides to alter the balance of their attacks towards spin. Australia picked Miller as a second spinner for the first time in the series; India included leg-spinner Sairaj Bahutule to back up Harbhajan Singh and the slow left-armer, Kulkarni. While all three shared the workload, the concentrated threat to Australia's batsmen was again posed by Harbhajan, who took 15 wickets, his second successive Test match return of ten or more wickets. Only leg-spinner Narendra Hirwani, with 16 against West Indies at Madras in 1987-88, had claimed more wickets in a Test for India.
That Australia took any advantage from their continued luck with the toss was all down to opener Hayden, who was last out for 203 made in 474 minutes off 320 balls. Fifteen fours and six sixes - the most sixes by an Australian in a Test innings - testified to his form and his positive approach regardless of the situation. But support was confined to Langer and the Waugh twins. He added 150 with Mark Waugh, who passed 7,000 Test runs, and 123 with Steve, whose dismissal in circumstances both unfortunate and bizarre triggered his side's collapse.
Australia's captain became only the sixth batsman in Test history to be given out handled the ball. While Waugh's attention was fixed on the umpire after an lbw appeal, following a missed a sweep at Harbhajan, the ball came to ground outside the popping crease and spun back vigorously towards the stumps at bail height. Alerted to the danger by Hayden from the other end, Waugh fatally intercepted the ball with the palm of his hand. Harbhajan now collected the remaining six wickets for 26 in 9.4 overs; Hayden's mastery was emphasised by the fact that he scored all but four runs of the 51 added in that time. Warne made his 23rd duck in Tests, an Australian record.
India's reply, launched by Das and Ramesh with a century partnership, also tapered away after the fall of the fifth wicket. The difference was that their collapse started with the total already at 453, which included four fifties and Tendulkar's superb century. He reached it with his second six off Miller, and also hit 15 fours in his 126. Helped by Tendulkar's 169-run partnership with Dravid, the eventual lead was 110. Hayden and Slater quickly chipped away at this, raising 82 in 18 overs before a diving catch by Zaheer Khan at deep mid-wicket dismissed Hayden. Mark Waugh then added 100 with Langer and Steve Waugh, and the latter, composed and assured, remained unbeaten at the end of the fourth day. Harbhajan had him caught next morning in the eighth over, and this time India's off-spinner took the last six wickets for 15 in 17.1 overs to finish with a career-best eight for 84.
Australia seemed beaten as India reached the hundred mark with only two wickets down. Laxman and Tendulkar were in such firm control that victory looked a formality. However, Gillespie's dismissal of Tendulkar, caught by Mark Waugh at second slip off a ball of lethal speed and aim, was the signal for two more wickets in the next three overs. Laxman was still scoring freely, but after tea, with 20 runs wanted, Mark Waugh removed him with an amazing mid-wicket catch that put the match wide open once more. When the seventh wicket fell at the same score, the balance was tipping Australia's way. Stand-in wicket-keeper Sameer Dighe and Zaheer tilted it back again and, with India nine short, McGrath - suffering from a stomach disorder and having to be sparingly used - was called on to make a final effort. Aided by Mark Waugh's fourth catch of the innings he prised out Zaheer, but it proved to be Australia's last throw. The target was now just four runs. Dighe and Harbhajan picked up a single each and then, fittingly, Harbhajan, voted Man of the Series, nonchalantly pushed a McGrath half-volley square of the wicket for the winning runs. The two-wicket margin matched India's narrowest Test win, also against Australia, at Bombay in 1964-65.
Man of the Match: Harbhajan Singh and M. L. Hayden. Man of the Series: Harbhajan Singh.