Australia were denied a certain victory in the third match of the DLF Cup, as the wet weather played havoc for the second match in a row at the Kinrara Oval. After Australia mustered 244, India, set a revised target of 170 in 29 overs, were decimated by an outstanding spell of fast bowling by Mitchell Johnson, who ripped out the heart of the Indian batting in two hostile overs. He returned magnificent figures of 4 for 11 to have the Indians reeling at 35 for 5 in eight overs, before the rains returned to save India the blushes.
Already having lost a rain-affected match to West Indies on Thursday, India were lagging in third place on the points table, but their bowlers put in a fine show after Australia won the toss, recovering from an early battering to restrict them to 244. Shane Watson, promoted to open the innings for the first time in his ODI career, rode his luck early on and bludgeoned some fine blows en route to a career-best 79 while Michael Clarke made a controlled 64. But the Indian attack, led by the irrepressible Harbhajan Singh (2 for 24) hit back in fine style, ensuring that India needed an asking rate of less than five an over to get their first points of the tournament.
Sachin Tendulkar versus Glenn McGrath was the big contest everybody had been waiting for, and their tussle, though brief, lived up to the hype. McGrath rattled Tendulkar on the helmet off the first ball he bowled to him, and then kept Tendulkar guessing with excellent variations in length and seam movement. Tendulkar hit back with an audacious down-the-pitch hoick over midwicket before the rains sent the players scurrying back with India on 16 without loss after five.
The three overs of play after resumption was the most dramatic passage of the entire day. Johnson has been touted as the next big thing in Australian fast bowling, and he showed just why he is so highly rated, destroying the famed Indian line-up with pace, swing and seam. The revised target of 154 in 24 overs clearly meant the batsmen had to up the pace instantly, and the pressure told, as Dravid scooped a drive to cover. Irfan Pathan walked out, and was greeted with a jaffa - the ball pitched on middle and off, and took off stump even as Pathan shaped to get into line.
Virender Sehwag briefly provided respite with an upper-cut off Stuart Clark for six, but then succumbed to a misunderstanding with Tendulkar, who himself was next out after surviving the hat-trick ball. When Yuvraj Singh edged a catch to slip, India had lost five wickets for 19 runs in three overs, and were staring at a humiliating defeat, before they were rescued by the rain.
The Australian innings was split into two parts - the first one was all about their batsmen - especially Watson - dominating completely, while the second part belonged to the Indian bowlers.
Watson and Phil Jaques, his opening partner, got the innings going in fine style after a circumspect first six overs, which fetched only 23. The next four overs produced 41, though, and the Australians were well and truly underway, as both batsmen launched into Ajit Agarkar and Munaf Patel - the Indian new-ball pair - with a series of pulls, lofted straight-drives and punches through the off side. India had one chance to stop the rot before it had even begun, when Watson - then on 13 - got a leading edge off Agarkar, but Harbhajan made a mess of the chance at cover.
The first wicket added 64, and though Ricky Ponting and Damien Martyn didn't contribute much, Australia were rollicking along thanks to Watson. Plonking his front foot down the pitch, he took full toll whenever the bowlers pitched it up, thumping fours down the ground and through cover. And when they pitched it short, Watson unleashed some fierce pull shots, none more destructive than the one off Munaf in the eighth over - the ball soared over midwicket for six. Irfan Pathan, still woefully short on confidence, was taken to the cleaners too, as he leaked four fours in an over. Then Harbhajan was introduced into the attack, and the momentum shifted completely.
Controlling his length, pace and flight superbly, Harbhajan immediately commanded respect from the batsmen. The pitch afforded him some turn, and he used it perfectly, turning it in from outside off, and keeping the batsmen guessing with the occasional doosra. He soon got the vital wicket of Watson - who clipped one to midwicket - and then rode on that success. Mark Cosgrove didn't have an answer to his guile either, and with Sehwag offering fine support at the other end, Australia were suddenly on the defensive.
With Australia losing the momentum, it was left to Clarke to play the role of sheet anchor. His approach too changed as the wickets fell, and fluent strokeplay gave way to nudges and pushes as he sensibly reined himself in. He finally fell trying to force the pace, as Agarkar and Munaf returned with accurate second spells. A brief spell of rain forced the players off the field with seven deliveries left, but, on resumption, they needed only three more to take the final Australian wicket and wrap up the innings.
Dravid woud have been looking forward to four points at the halfway mark, but by the end of the game, he would have been mightily relieved to get two.
Phil Jaques c Sehwag b Munaf 25 (64 for 1)
Miscued a lofted shot to mid-off
Ricky Ponting c Tendulkar b Pathan 19 (92 for 2)
Pulled straight to short fine leg
Damien Martyn c Dhoni b Singh 4 (113 for 3)
Edged to slip, where Dravid juggled with it, but Dhoni alertly grabbed the rebound
Shane Watson c Raina b Harbhajan 79 (157 for 4)
Clipped to midwicket, superb low catch
Mark Cosgrove c Dravid b Harbhajan 1 (167 for 5)
Edged to slip
Brad Haddin run out (Sehwag) 16 (200 for 6)
Bowler whipped off the bails as the non-striker was backing up too far
Michael Clarke c Raina b Munaf 64 (230 for 7)
Mistimed a lofted drive to long-off
Mitchell Johnson c Dhoni b Agarkar 1 (232 for 8)
Tried to steer, but edged to the keeper
Stuart Clark c Singh b Munaf 7 (243 for 9)
Slogged to long-off
Hogg c Dhoni b Agarkar 12 (244 all out)
Top-edged a heave, high catch well-judged by the keeper
Rahul Dravid c Martyn b Johnson 6 (20 for 1)
Mistimed a drive to cover
Irfan Pathan b Johnson 0 (20 for 2)
Comprehensively beaten by one which pitched on middle and off, and took off
Virender Sehwag run out (Clarke/Haddin) 8 (34 for 3)
Mix-up as Tendulkar turned down a third run
Sachin Tendulkar c Haddin b Johnson 12 (34 for 4)
Edged an attempted drive to a delivery outside off
Yuvraj Singh c Hogg b Johnson 0 (35 for 5)
Poked at one outside off and edged to first slip
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo