Australia clinch a thriller at the SCG

Australia 225 for 8 (Gilchrist 95, Ponting 42) beat India 296 for 4 (Yuvraj 139, Laxman 106*) by 2 wickets with a ball to spare (D/L method)

Even losing 16 overs to a lightning-illuminated thunder shower did not dampen a cracker of a game at the SCG. Yuvraj Singh (139) and VVS Laxman (106 not out) lifted India to a commanding 296 for 4, only to watch in shock as Adam Gilchrist made a mockery of the target. He blasted 95 from just 72 balls and set up a platform from which the supporting cast merely had to hold their nerve to go past the finish line. They did so, but not before several twists and turns, with just one ball to spare.

When he began his innings Gilchrist was still looking at a long, hard climb, with Australia needing to score at nearly six an over for 50 overs. But Gilchrist knows no plodding. He slapped the second ball he faced to the cover-point fence, and proceeded to hit every bowler off his line and length. Ajit Agarkar, returning to the team, kept the ball up in quest of swing, and was duly thrashed. Lakshmipathy Balaji began promisingly, but soon discovered that there was no room for error when bowling to Gilchrist outside the off stump. Irfan Pathan was promising, and had Simon Katich out in just the second over, pulling awkwardly to mid-on (1 for 1).

From then on, however, Gilchrist took over. He went after anything that was loose, unafraid to slash hard even if he was not to the pitch of the ball, and threaded gaps in the off side with ease. Any width outside the off was mercilessly exploited. Soon the bowlers were forced to keep it straighter, and began to stray onto leg. That, of course, was simply playing into Gilchrist's hands. His nonchalant flick over midwicket for six was a case in point.

But when play was stopped with 9.2 overs bowled and Australia on 73 for 1, India still held the edge. Scoring close to 300 would never be easy, no matter how deep a team bats. When over an hour of play was lost and the players returned, Gilchrist was a bit more circumspect. Ricky Ponting, nowhere near his fluent best, had made 13 before the interruption. The break had obviously done him good. He grew in confidence, dispatched Sourav Ganguly for a six over square leg, and now appeared to be in control.

Completely against the run of play, Pathan snaffled two wickets in as many balls. Ponting and Damien Martyn went in identical fashion, feathering nicks to Parthiv Patel (150 for 3). Just four runs later, Gilchrist (95, 72 balls, 14 fours, 1 six) presented Murali Kartik with a return catch (154 for 4), and India were back in the hunt.

Andy Symonds (16) creamed one delicious six over cover off Ganguly, but then hit the very next ball down Agarkar's throat at square leg (176 for 5). The situation was tailormade for Michael Bevan. Unfortunately for Australia, though, he was edgy at the crease, and made just 12 from 20 balls before playing down the wrong line and losing his off stump to Ganguly (195 for 6). The pressure was on, and Michael Clarke jumped down the wicket off the first ball he faced. He was comprehensively beaten, but then so was Patel, who fumbled the stumping.

Clarke clattered 21 from just 20 balls, but fell with the score on 210, holing out to Hemang Badani at long-on. Andy Bichel and Brett Lee were charged with the task of making 15 runs in 12 balls. The penultimate over, bowled by Agarkar, went for four runs, and now 11 were needed off the final over, bowled by Balaji. He fired the first three balls into the blockhole, and only four runs were conceded. Going for the yorker once more, Balaji dropped the fourth ball in the slot. Lee lined up and teed off. The ball sailed into the stands over long-off and that settled the matter. With one ball left, Australia were home.

The Indians, deflated, walked off the field a dejected lot. After all, they had done everything right when they won the toss and chose to bat first. On a true wicket, Yuvraj played an innings he will remember for a long time to come. He hit the ball with amazing power and precision, never more so than in the penultimate over, when he belted Ian Harvey for 22 runs, and powered India to 296 for 4. While Yuvraj (139, 122 balls) battered the bowling to the tune of 16 fours and two sixes with his long blade, Laxman caressed and coaxed his way to an unbeaten 106, his fourth ODI century. With a little help from Patel (28), who was once again promoted to the opening slot, and Rahul Dravid (12), who stroked three gorgeous boundaries in his short stay at the crease, India finished just four runs short of the 300 mark. In the end, though, the total was inadequate.