| Robin Uthappa en route to his 47 in Mumbai on Wednesday
Mumbai: Three weeks ago, Murali Kartik was preparing for what could’ve been a long innings as an expert on Neo Sports.
On Wednesday night, the left-arm spinner won his second MoM award at the Wankhede — this time, in an ODI — and helped Team India pull off an astonishing two-wicket win over the world champions.
The Future Cup had already been pocketed by Australia, but 2-4 reads somewhat better than 1-5.
First, Kartik bowled splendidly to return record-scripting figures of six for 27 and, then, added an unseparated 52 with Zaheer Khan for the ninth-wicket to deny Australia another win.
Absolutely remarkable as the previous evening, after an injury to his right thumb, the 31-year-old had not even been sure of playing!
Kartik remained unbeaten on 21, but the bigger achievement was bagging half-a-dozen wickets on a surface which seamed and in conditions where the ball swung throughout.
In fact, Kartik’s figures are the best by any left-arm spinner in ODIs. “Really, I didn’t know that,” he told The Telegraph on returning to the team hotel. He added, with a hint of emotion: “I’d like to dedicate this performance to my father and wife...”
Clearly, among those rejoicing must be teammates at Middlesex, where he performed exceptionally in the summer.
Many in the stands had walked out at the fall of Irfan Pathan’s wicket (64 for six in the 19th over, chasing 194), but the tail achieved what the top-order couldn’t.
Robin Uthappa (47) and Harbhajan Singh put on 65 for the seventh-wicket and, after both were back in the dressing room, Zaheer (31 not out) and Kartik did what seemed impossible.
They didn’t succumb to anything unleashed by Ricky Ponting — including final bursts from Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson — and brought back memories of the fantastic 52-run (unbroken) partnership between Anil Kumble and Jawagal Srinath during the 1996 Titan Cup face-off against Australia.
That was at the Chinnaswamy in Bangalore.
At the Wankhede, there were many moments which stood out and one which definitely won’t be forgotten features Zaheer.
With the target getting near, there was a spat between him and Lee. The Australian, obviously, said something which upset Zaheer, who smashed the next ball for a straightfield six.
End of verbal exchanges.
Ponting, incidentally, acknowledged that he was “more disappointed” his team lost from a winning position. “Every loss disappoints, but I’m more disappointed that we lost from the position we were in... The same thing happened in Chandigarh...”
At the same time, the Australian captain “congratulated” his team for “winning in India, where winning a series isn’t ever easy.... We should be proud of what we achieved...”
Ponting added: “Because of the conditions, I’d thought 193 could be defended... But the series was terrific and it probably ended in a good way... Kartik bowled beautifully, giving just enough spin, and he was the difference...”
Dhoni, who ended up losing his debut series as captain, had much praise for Kartik (“bowled very well and had been eager to play despite the injury”) and Uthappa (“he has matured as a batsman and was consistently brilliant in the field”).
Asked if he’d expected such a close finish, Dhoni replied: “I’d thought we would win more comfortably... We didn’t start the series well, but were keen on ending on a positive note... Today, the intensity on the field never dropped...”
Talking generally, Dhoni said: “I’ve got to have confidence in the players, only then will they have confidence in me... International cricket is all about confidence... I want players who, if I ask them to, will stand in front of a truck...”
He more than indicated players would be “rotated” in the next series (versus Pakistan) in a big way. Before that, of course, is Saturday’s Twenty20 face-off against Ponting and Co.
The in-form Matthew Hayden, who missed the last two ODIs, will be available for that match at the CCI.
Footnote: Wednesday’s ODI may have been Sachin Tendulkar’s last India appearance at the Wankhede, which will soon be off cricket for renovation. He scored 21, but was given a standing ovation, much in contrast to the boos during the last Test here, versus England, in March 2006. Present, among others, were Sachin’s wife Anjali and son Arjun.