For a side without six first-choice players and also one of their replacements, Australia did pretty well tonight. Led by the two of the most senior members of the side, Ricky Ponting
and Michael Hussey, they got themselves a defendable total.
Ponting opened the innings only for the second time in his 327-match career to provide balance to a line-up that needed an allrounder in Moises Henriques, in place of specialist batsman Shaun Marsh.
Then he played an innings completely out of character and yet the kind of fighting innings Ponting usually conjures when put in a corner. He was watchful, kept getting on to the front foot as often as he could to negate the low-bounce lbws, cut out the horizontal shots until absolutely sure of them.
But it was one of those days, his first mistake proved to be his last; the first time that he played across the line he was trapped in front - at a crucial juncture too, having played 17.1 overs without a boundary. His 92-ball 59 had set Australia up for a total of about 250, but his wicket took away the momentum.
Boundaries wouldn't come for another four overs, but even without the big hits Hussey played an innings completely in sync with his character. He dabbed, he nudged, he swept, he reverse-swept (once), and all along he maintained a strike-rate in the 90s. He crossed the rope only three times, the first one was a misfield, and the last two came in the last three overs. Yet he scored 81 off 82. Hostile spells from Peter Siddle and Mitchell Johnson gave Australia a glimpse, at 53 for 3 in their defence, but MS Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh took the game away.
It was a big improvement from Nagpur where they were clobbered, and Ponting was graceful in defeat. "I don't think we can blame ourselves too much, to tell you the truth," Ponting said. "India played very well, there is no doubt about that. They certainly batted a lot better than us, in probably slightly more difficult conditions. The wicket was probably slightly worse, but I think our spinners in particular got a bit negated by how wet the ball was."
The dew did remain a point of contention because Ponting couldn't convince the umpires to change the ball besides the mandatory 34-over switch. "Spinners couldn't grip the ball," he said. "Hence [Adam] Voges bowled only one over, and [Nathan] Hauritz had to come on very early on when the ball was fairly dry, and then come him back after the 34-over ball change, because the ball was so wet. We were only granted one ball change tonight, which frustrated us a little bit.
Opening the innings, Ponting played an innings completely out of character and yet the kind of fighting innings he usually conjures when put in a corner
"We found it really difficult to hang on to the ball, so we asked numerous times to have the ball changed, and it was knocked back, and we had the one ball change. As you saw the ground was incredibly dewy tonight. Very wet. Probably as wet as I have ever played in."
Ponting didn't seek to make an excuse out of the pitch, one that both Yuvraj and he reckoned was the slowest ODI track they had ever played on. "It was a difficult wicket, but it was the same for both teams. We just weren't good enough today."
There was praise for Yuvraj-Dhoni partnership, and awareness that the 148-run stand was what separated the teams. "We tried everything to separate Yuvraj and Dhoni, but it was an excellent partnership," Ponting said. "They kept finding the boundaries whenever they needed to, unlike us in the middle of our innings. We found it hard to get boundaries. That was probably a bit of a difference in the game."
They don't have much time before the fourth ODI. It was already midnight by the time they left the Feroz Shah Kotla. It would be around noon by the time they reach Chandigarh. And in about 24 hours after that, they will be at the PCA Stadium in Mohali, warming up for the next match. But Ponting said he could take positives from this game. "I'm pretty proud of the guys tonight, they stuck it out, we got close but not close enough. Today wasn't a bad game of cricket for us. We lost, but we didn't play badly. We have got to focus on the positives out of this game. We have got to think about it pretty quickly."
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo