| Yuvraj Singh scored a rapid 44
Gwalior: The Indian huddle was on view, and so was the camaraderie and aggression that made them such a dominant force in the World Cup.
The pain of losing the final at the Wanderers will linger but the Indians managed to restore some pride at the Captain Roop Singh Stadium on Sunday evening. It did not look to be so easy for the hosts till the mid-stages of the Australian innings until Zaheer Khan dealt the first blow.
The credit should also go to stand-in skipper Rahul Dravid, who brought back Zaheer after a disastrous four-over first spell in which he gave away 24 runs. Adam Gilchrist’s bails were knocked off as he tried to play across in the 25th over. That opened the floodgates as Anil Kumble, called back for his second spell, struck in consecutive overs from the other end.
Ricky Ponting misjudged the bounce and Matthew Hayden paid the penalty for coming down the track to the leg-spinner. Zaheer, too, got into the act once more as Andrew Symonds departed to a questionable leg-before decision from umpire K. Hariharan.
From 132 for no loss, the visitors had slipped to 141 for four. It did not seem possible for Australia to make amends after this despite the efforts of Damien Martyn and Michael Bevan. And that meant India were victors by 37 runs in the second match of the TVS Cup tri-series.
Everything was going well for Australia as Gilchrist cut loose and Hayden, having survived an easy stumping chance on 19, played the supporting role to perfection. The bowlers were carted around and it seemed as if the Sachin Tendulkar-V.V.S. Laxman partnership would be easily overshadowed.
The Indians searched for vital clues as the openers forged together a 132-run stand. Zaheer, always dangerous with the old ball, found some reverse swing and the unfamiliar Australian collapse unfolded. It only proved that the world champions are, too, susceptible to pressure.
Once Kumble was rested, Virender Sehwag made amends for his batting failure with a two-wicket haul. Martyn and Bevan proved to be easy preys against his turning deliveries.
That this was going to be a tall-scoring game was known even before Dravid had won the toss. The predictable bounce of the ball, coming onto the bat, and at an even pace, made the strokeplayer’s task that bit easier.
Sachin and Laxman produced the Diwali bonanza for the Sunday turnout with a flurry of strokes which could have put to shame the deafening sound of the firecrackers the marked the celebrations here last night. The 191-run stand for the second wicket laid a solid foundation for a daunting target.
As Sachin and Laxman blasted away, the Aussies were made to think of life after Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie. Ponting had set out to a plan and that involved attacking the Indians around the off stump with Nathan Bracken being told to exploit their weakness against angled deliveries from left-arm pacers.
What the visiting skipper had not bargained for was bowlers aiming for a sixth stump and giving the batsmen extra room for shots. Bracken is no Wasim Akram or Pedro Collins (who had troubled the maestro on numerous occasions during India’s tour of the Caribbean last year) and Sachin explained it to him in no uncertain term after Sehwag’s suicidal dismissal.
Not for a moment did the bowlers manage to create any impact on them as Sachin used his experience against an attack that lacked depth and variety. He toyed with Bracken and never let Andy Bichel settle into a line.
His 35th ODI hundred came off 109 balls and included nine boundaries and a six, off Ian Harvey. In between, he also became the highest scorer in day-night matches, surpassing Desmond Haynes’ tally of 4563.
He also put to rest the Doubting Thomases after his poor form in the Test series against New Zealand. He found his confidence, his feet, and destroyed an attack that deflated as swiftly as a pricked balloon.
The Aussies tried everything possible, even playing on the Master Blaster’s nerves. You can never keep the Aussies down in the mind games. As Sachin seemed dissatisfied with the movement behind the sight screen, Ponting kept complaining to the umpires about the time being lost. It only added to the pressure as Laxman exchanged a few words with the Ausssie skipper.
The disturbance was getting worse with the stadium holding people more than its capacity. At one point, an exasperated Sachin was forced to walk down to the pavilion end to stop people from moving behind the screen.
Laxman was content playing second fiddle at the outset, playing into the gaps, and rotating the strike. But once he settled down, he could not be stopped. He used his supple wrists to hit the ball pitched on off and middle past cover or beat mid-wicket with a flick, leaving bowlers and fielders scratching their heads.
His second hundred in one-dayers (102 off 134 balls, 9x4) ended with a brilliant throw from Andrew Symonds from mid-wicket.
In a superb move, Dravid kept himself back and pushed Yuvraj Singh and Ajit Agarkar ahead in the slog overs. Their late cameos helped the hosts near the 300-mark.