India are getting into the habit of upsetting Australian winning streaks. They stalled one at Kolkata barely ten days ago and now halted their opponent's 10 ODI winning streak at Bangalore, cruising home by 60 runs with 39 balls to spare. India got off to a flyer with Tendulkar and Laxman spraying the ball all round the park but it was Rahul Dravid who marshalled India's resources expertly in the middle overs.
Chasing 316 at an asking rate of 6.32, Australia suffered two early knocks in their runchase, losing Mark Waugh and Ricky Ponting. However Matthew Hayden, who replaced a slightly out of touch Adam Gilchrist at the top of the order, is in the form of his life and stroked the ball effortlessly all round the wicket. Coming off ducks in his last two ODIs a year ago, Hayden pulled and drove with felicity, fortified by the company of Michael Bevan. The pair added 109 in good time, 17.3 overs to be precise, running between the wickets with audacity, and running the Indian ground fielding ragged.
Ganguly brought on Harbhajan Singh in the 13th over and the off spinner did deceive Hayden in flight a couple of times. Most notably when Hayden on 56 chipped one to the bowler's left; Harbhajan lunged at it with one hand but put it down. Bevan played a couple of lovely drives on either side of the wicket off the pacemen but as is his wont, preferred to accumulate his runs with the stealth of a panther.
Having collected 49, he pulled Ganguly unerringly into Robin Singh at midwicket and from then on Australia slid steadily downhill. Hayden was unlucky to be trapped leg before on 99 by Shewag; the ball may have just missed off stump. Damien Martyn, woefully short of match practice in the last few weeks, fell in a trice.
That brought skipper Steve Waugh and his deputy Gilchrist together in a last ditch effort. They added 33 at run-a-ball until Waugh bottom edged Shewag onto his pads only to look on in disbelief as umpire SK Sharma's finger rocketed to the heavens. It was Shewag's third wicket; Australia's jinx against off spin had struck again. Gilchrist, batting at an unfamiliar No 7, gamely stuck to a now prohibitive task but when Zaheer Khan rearranged his wickets with a low full toss, the game was all but over. Five overs later it was, as Australia ran out of steam at 255 in the 44th over.
Earlier, India got off the blocks like a speeding train thanks to some pyrotechnics from Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman at the top of the order. That they did not careen off the rails was due to a fine holding action by Rahul Dravid (80) who played an innings out of character with his usual obdurate self.
Saurav Ganguly carried over his wretched form from the Tests, scratching around for a measly six runs before driving Fleming into Mark Waugh who had just moved from slip to short cover. Tendulkar was in awesome form, whacking Glenn McGrath for 19 in one over, including a full blooded pull that sailed several rows into the stands at midwicket. But a dreadful mixup with Laxman cruelly cut him short in full flight for 35.
That dismissal seemed to light a spark under Laxman who blazed away in a savage counterpunch. Ian Harvey was pounded for three fours in a row and Shane Warne's first over disappeared for 15 including an inside out shot over long off for six. As with Tendulkar, there was little subtlety about Laxman's approach. The danger signs were there when Ian Harvey baited him with the slower ball. Laxman went through with his drive to loft it over mid off; next time Harvey had long off on the fence and Laxman holed out for a dolly catch.
The first 15 overs had yielded a whopping 102 but the price was heavy, for India had lost their top three. That left Dravid with the responsibility of leading India through. While he's always showed a preference for playing second fiddle, Dravid has rarely seemed capable of playing the lead role. Here for once he broke through his self-imposed shackles, ably assisted by Virendra Shewag who was preferred over Robin Singh at the pivotal No.6.
Dravid and Shewag played sensibly, rotating the strike with practised ease, and setting themselves up for a concentrated assault at the death. Dravid reached his 50 (61 balls) with a flick off his legs, a shot he played profitably all day. His fifty contained just one boundary but Shewag was more inclined to find the pickets which he did eight times in the course of his 58. The fifth wicket stand swelled to 100 in just 96 balls before Shewag fell. Vijay Dahiya, smarting at being omitted from the Test side, effortlessly stepped into the breach, adding 61 with Dravid in just 6.4 overs. Ultimately it was the Delhi stumper's rollicking 51 that propelled India to the heady reaches of 315.