Dinesh Mongia and Suresh Raina consolidated after India were reeling at 50 for 4, but their effort wasn't enough
Displaying more hunger, drive and common sense than India, the Australians eked out an 18-run win in the all-important last league match of the DLF Cup to make it to the final. In a match where both batting line-ups caved in, Australia held their nerve after scoring just 213, bundling India out for 195 - with Brett Lee taking his sixth five-for in ODIs - despite a superb unbeaten 63 from Dinesh Mongia, who returned to the Indian team in style after a 17-month absence.
Considering that the batting line-ups on display were two of the best in the world, it was a surprisingly low-scoring game. Apart from Matthew Hayden, who made a typically forceful 54, none of the other top-order batsmen got going, and only an outstanding rearguard partnership between the two Brads, Haddin (46) and Hogg (38), allowed Australia to get past 200 after they had been tottering at 117 for 6. India showed that they could collapse just as effectively as the opposition, slumping to 96 for 5.
The one Indian batsman who remained unfazed by the challenge was the one who had last played for India in April 2005. With the ball, it had been a mixed bag for Mongia - he nailed Andrew Symonds, but was later tonked for four sixes by Haddin. With the bat, though, Mongia took charge after the Indian top order crumbled for the third time in three matches.
The slide started early. Sachin Tendulkar, the one in-form batsman in the side, lasted only ten deliveries but they were full of drama: off his fifth, he was given out caught when the ball glanced off his shoulder, but umpire Mark Benson changed his mind after consulting Asad Rauf, his partner. That let-off didn't help, though, as five balls later he carved one straight to point. Virender Sehwag was bowled through the gate for the third time in this tournament, and after a brief partnership, Mohammad Kaif and Rahul Dravid too left in quick succession, leaving India tottering at 50 for 4.
Mongia began the resurrection, batting with a calm assurance that unfortunately for India didn't rub off on the rest of his mates. With Suresh Raina - the only other batsman who showed a semblance of common sense - he added 46 for the sixth wicket in what the most encouraging period for India. Both ran the singles well, while Raina also cracked some meaty blows to keep the runs coming at a fair clip.
Even when Raina left, deceived by a superb wrong 'un from Hogg, Mongia kept the innings going. His driving - through cover and down the ground - were a treat, and he handled Hogg well too, employing the sweep and cut to good effect. More than all that, though, what stood out was his level-headedness: knowing that the asking rate was never an issue, he completely eschewed the risky strokes and stuck to the percentages.
The rest of the batsmen, though, were intent on pressing the self-destruct button: Mahendra Singh Dhoni smacked a lofted cut - both feet off the ground and very spectacular visually - but hit it straight to deep point, while Ajit Agarkar missed an extravagant pull. Harbhajan Singh was admittedly unlucky to be given out, but RP Singh and Munaf Patel continued to opt for heroics over watchfulness, despite the fact that when the innings finally folded, there were still 37 deliveries left to get 19 runs.
Ponting was dismissed early giving India a big boost
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If India's top order was a shambles, then Australia's was little better, as they wasted the opportunity to get a sizeable total after winning the toss. Hayden held the innings together early in the face of accurate seam bowling by the Indians, as only 60 came in the first 15 overs, but the innings really lost its way when the spinners came on.
The mayhem started after Hayden and Damien Martyn had added 38 to steady the innings after the early dismissal of Ponting. Hayden, slapping the drives and flicks with characteristic power, had reached his 50 off 65 balls and looked good for many more, but was done in when Martyn pushed to point and called for a single which was never on. Martyn himself fell to the run-out route soon after, and when Harbhajan and Mongia helped themselves to a wicket each, Australia had lost 4 for 30 in ten overs. It would have been even worse for them had the third umpire ruled in India's favour when Harbhajan flicked off the bails with Haddin well short of the crease. Tony Hill, the third umpire, wasn't entirely sure if the bails had been removed by the ball or by Harbhajan's hand, and gave the batsman the benefit of doubt.
Haddin survived, and made the Indians pay. Showing exceptional footwork against the turning ball, he waded into the part-time spinners after Harbhajan had completed another outstanding spell (1 for 24 in ten). The five overs between 37 and 41 produced 45 as Haddin clobbered Mongia for four sixes, all down the ground. At the other end, Hogg joined in the act, cutting Sehwag twice for fours and then tonking a six over long-on, all off successive deliveries. Their 77-run partnership took just 13.1 overs and suddenly put India on the defensive.
However, the innings quickly came unstuck after the two were separated, leaving the Indians with a modest target. Ultimately, though, that turned out to be enough for Australia to squeeze into Sunday's final.
Simon Katich c Raina b Agarkar 9 (36 for 1)
Exceptional two-handed catch diving to his left at point off a slash
Ricky Ponting c Agarkar b Munaf 4 (49 for 2)
Flicked high and straight to deep fine leg
Matthew Hayden run out (RP Singh/ Dhoni) 54 (87 for 3)
Mix-up in mid-pitch after Martyn pushed to point and started for a run
Damien Martyn run out (Tendulkar/ Mongia) 20 (98 for 4)
Sharp single attempted after push to off side, accurate throw finds batsman short
Andrew Symonds lbw b Mongia 2 (97 for 5)
Trapped in front by one which didn't turn
Michael Hussey c Dravid b 13 (117 for 6)
Attempted to flick against the turn but edged to slip
Brad Haddin c Dhoni b Singh 46 (194 for 7)
Top-edged a pull, high catch well judged by the keeper
Brad Hogg run out (Singh) 38 (208 for 8)
Non-striker out of the crease as bowler got a hand to a Lee straight-drive
Stuart Clark b Agarkar 6 (213 for 9)
Full and straight ball, batsman missed a slog
Brett Lee c Sehwag b Singh 7 (213 all out)
Carved straight to deep square leg
Sachin Tendulkar c Hussey b Lee 4 (7 for 1)
Carved a drive straight to point
Virender Sehwag b Lee 10 (20 for 2)
Jagged back after pitching and crashed through between bat and pad
Mohammad Kaif c & b Clark 21 (47 for 3)
Played too early at one that stopped; good one-handed reflex catch
Rahul Dravid lbw b Clark 7 (50 for 4)
Shuffled too far across and caught in front
Suresh Raina b Hogg 26 (96 for 5)
Deceived by a wrong 'un as he went back to cut
Mahendra Singh Dhoni c Martyn b Lee 23 (158 for 6)
Hoicked a short ball to deep point; replays showed it was a no-ball
Ajit Agarkar lbw b Hogg 9 (185 for 7)
Tried to pull and missed
Harbhajan Singh c Haddin b Symonds 0 (186 for 8)
Played and missed at a straight one but given out
RP Singh c Hussey b Lee 4 (193 for 9)
Scooped a drive to point
Munaf Patel c Symonds b Lee 1 (195 all out)
Sharp catch at cover
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo