| V.V.S. Laxman en route to his unbeaten 106 at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Thursday. (Reuters)
296-4 (50 ovs)
225-8 (33.5 ovs)
Sydney: India staged a remarkable fightback but could not stop the Australians from scripting a sensational two-wicket victory in a rain-truncated triangular series match on Thursday.
Career-best knocks by Yuvraj Singh (139) and V.V.S. Laxman (106 n.o.) propelled the visitors to 296 for four in 50 overs. The Australians benefited from a rain interruption, which reduced their target to 225 from 34 overs.
The world champions were cruising comfortably at 150 for one in 21 overs with Adam Gilchrist and captain Ricky Ponting plundering runs at will before the Indians effected a dramatic turnaround with some quick wickets to set the stage for an exciting finish.
Needing 11 runs in the last over with just two wickets in hand, Brett Lee tilted the balance in Australia’s favour by clobbering paceman Laxmipathy Balaji for a six off the fourth ball to tie the scores. He took a single off the next ball to seal the fate of the match.
Australia had got off to a rollicking start and raced to 73 for one from 9.3 overs when heavy showers forced a break. Gilchrist and Ponting continued in the same vein after resumption and the target seemed well within their reach. Irfan Pathan dismissed Ponting and Damien Martyn off successive balls to bring the Indians back into the match.
Murali Kartik then dismissed the marauding Gilchrist from the other end. The wicketkeeper smashed 95 from 72 balls with 14 fours and a six. India kept pressing and Sourav Ganguly had Andrew Symonds caught in the deep by Ajit Agarkar to leave Australia at 176 for five.
Sourav picked up another wicket, clean bowling Michael Bevan and then broke the stumps at the non-striker’s end with a throw from the deep to send back Ian Harvey. At this stage Australia were 210 for eight with 15 required from the last two overs. Agarkar conceded just four in the penultimate over, but Lee had the last laugh in the end.
Despite the loss, India had reasons to be pleased as Yuvraj and Laxman hit contrasting centuries. The absence of top guns Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag was not felt too badly. Even in the field, the visitors fought gallantly, but a missed stumping probably cost them the game in the end.
Yuvraj and Laxman made mincemeat of the world champions’ attack to add 213 for the fourth wicket. It was India’s best fourth wicket stand against Australia, surpassing the 109 between Sourav and Rahul Dravid in Melbourne in 1999.
Coming together after the departure of Dravid with India 80 for three in the 16th over, the pair played sensibly, accumulating runs before cutting loose towards the close with some dashing strokeplay.
Yuvraj, who came to the crease when Laxman was on 35, was more severe, displaying some imperious shots. His 122-ball knock, containing 16 fours and two towering sixes, later earned him the Man-of-the-Match award.
Laxman, on the other hand, took his time in compiling his fourth century — all against Australia — and faced 126 balls to reach the landmark. His 130-ball innings was studded with five boundaries.
Lee, who retained his place in the XI despite giving away 83 runs against India in the last match in Brisbane, justified Ponting’s faith in him by removing Sourav with a short delivery. The India captain was caught behind after making just one. Parthiv Patel played a cameo before being foxed by a slower ball from Jason Gillespie.
When Gilchrist caught Sourav, he became the first wicketkeeper to claim 300 dismissals in ODIs. At the end of the Indian innings, he had taken his tally to 302 from 177 matches.