Dhoni gets cracking

Mahendra Singh Dhoni... a hundred after 36 matches.-PICS: K. R. DEEPAK

The Indians batted with assurance and with their captain leading from the front, the match was perhaps already pocketed during the dinner break as Ponting’s men craned their necks and stared at a mammoth target. Over to K.C. Vijaya Kumar.

It was a long wait for Mahendra Singh Dhoni. The Indian captain had last scored a One- Day International hundred against Hong Kong during the Asia Cup in Karachi in June 2008. And after 36 matches, Dhoni whipped up an innings of initial peace and late mayhem to enable India post a 99-run victory over Ricky Ponting’s men in the second ODI of the Hero Honda Cup series at Nagpur’s Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium on October 28.

The Indian skipper’s fifth ODI hundred gifted force and momentum to his team as the ‘Men in Blue’ came back strongly to level the series at 1-1. Dhoni’s 124 (107b, 9x4, 3x6) that pegged itself on the humble single in its conception stage, later evolved into an exhibition of brute force as he along with Gautam Gambhir (76, 80b, 6x4) and Suresh Raina (62, 50b, 6x4, 1x6) dismantled the Australian attack.

India scored 354 for seven in 50 overs and left Australia playing a futile catch-up game all through the night. Australia scored 255 in 48.3 overs with just Michael Hussey (53, 60b, 6x4) offering some resistance while a clutch of lower-order batsmen stoked some flickering embers that died down against an inflationary required run-rate.

Later Ricky Ponting said: “Dhoni played a very good innings.” The Indian captain meanwhile praised his partners — Gambhir and Raina — as the team’s batting, back in the familiar home environs of flat tracks and boisterous crowds, has commenced the process of expressing itself.

The match began with perhaps an ironic sliver of luck blessing Dhoni’s endeavour to stop the Aussies in their tracks. He lost the toss. Ponting, meanwhile, opted to field fearing the dew factor might play havoc with his bowlers later in the night. Later Dhoni said: “Even I would have fielded first if we had won the toss!”

In retrospect it was a good toss to lose as the Indians batted with assurance and with their captain leading from the front, the match was perhaps already pocketed during the dinner break as Ponting’s men craned their necks and stared at a mammoth target.

The Australian campaign was undermined by a string of injuries in the lead-up to the match. Brett Lee pulled out with a sore elbow, James Hopes nursed a niggle and though Mitchell Johnson managed to be fit in time for the match, the visitor’s bowling attack failed to enforce pressure on the Indians.

Ben Hilfenhaus was despatched for two fours in the opening over by Virender Sehwag (40, 31b, 6x4, 1x6), who played a cameo while Tendulkar failed to resist playing the fatal drive to Peter Siddle’s angled delivery. Sehwag, meanwhile, ignored the verbal barbs from Johnson and hoisted the left-arm seamer for six before he miscued his lofted shot and the speedster spread his arms skywards in delight.

Yuvraj Singh (23), coming back after a finger-injury, was slipping on his fluent garb when Hilfenhaus plucked a low return catch on his follow-through and the Indian innings paused a bit at 97 for three in 15.1 overs.

Dhoni walked in, twirled his bat merrily, had a quick word with Gambhir at the non-striker’s end and before he could get a feel of things around him, was struck on his helmet by Hilfenhaus. “I went blank,” admitted Dhoni. “It was a good ball and it is not the first time I have got hit,” he said. However he buckled down immediately and made the Australians pay dearly for the rest of the evening.

Ravindra Jadeja... incisive left-arm spin.-

Gambhir, who scored his second consecutive fifty of the series, punched Siddle for four and picked his spots, bisecting the in-field against the seamers and charging down to unsettle off-spinner Nathan Hauritz. Dhoni and Gambhir shared a 119-run fourth-wicket partnership off 113 deliveries as they milked the singles and maintained a steady trot. “When I went in, we had a good run-rate and Gambhir and I knew that we just had to take singles, may be even score just five runs an over to set a nice base,” Dhoni said.

The partnership ended when Dhoni’s ungainly checked drive off Siddle ballooned over the bowler and as Gambhir ran for a non-existent run, Hauritz threw down the stumps. Meanwhile, the Indian captain scored his first fifty off 55 balls inclusive of just three fours before he slotted in the fifth gear with Suresh Raina for company in a 136-run fifth-wicket partnership off 96 deliveries.

Dhoni needed just another 39 balls to race to his hundred as he clubbed a few straight down the ground, struck a six off Hilfenhaus and then waded into Shane Watson with two sixes as the runs came in a torrent.

Raina too found his voice with a few lusty strikes and the duo ensured that India was in control during the batting Power Play (overs 40 to 44), scoring 47 runs besides notching 108 runs in the last 10 overs. Dhoni and Raina were dismissed in the last over, but by then the Indian total had acquired a distinct swagger.

The chase proved to be a mirage for the Aussies as Tim Paine, Watson and Ponting were back in the pavilion with just 45 runs on the board. Praveen Kumar castled Paine and trapped Ponting leg before wicket, while Ishant Sharma surprised Watson with extra bounce.

Hussey, meanwhile, punched and cut Harbhajan Singh for three fours as the off-spinner struggled for rhythm and loop. Hussey’s second fifty in the series was the lone counter-punch but it was a case of too little, too late. The Indian bowlers meanwhile thrived with left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja (three for 35) hitting the high-note of rattling Hussey’s timber.

THE SCORES

Second ODI, Nagpur, October 27. India won by 99 runs.

India: V. Sehwag c Hilfenhaus b Johnson 40, S. Tendulkar c White b Siddle 4, G. Gambhir (run out) 76, Yuvraj Singh c & b Hilfenhaus 23, M. S. Dhoni c Paine b Johnson 124, S. Raina c Paine b Johnson 62, Harbhajan Singh (not out) 1, Praveen Kumar (run out) 1. Extras (b-1, lb-6, w-14, nb-2): 23. Total (for seven wickets in 50 overs): 354.

Fall of wickets: 1-21, 2-67, 3-97, 4-216, 5-352, 6-353, 7-354.

Australia bowling: Hilfenhaus 10-0-83-1, Siddle 10-0-55-1, Johnson 10-0-75-3, Hauritz 10-0-54-0, Voges 5-0-33-0, Watson 5-0-47-0.

Australia: S. Watson c Tendulkar b Ishant 19, T. Paine b Praveen 8, R. Ponting lbw b Praveen 12, C. White c Raina b Harbhajan 23, M. Hussey b Jadeja 53, A. Voges b Jadeja 36, S. Marsh st. Dhoni b Jadeja 21, M. Johnson b Nehra 21, N. Hauritz (not out) 30, P. Siddle c Dhoni b Ishant 3, B. Hilfenhaus (run out) 16. Extras (lb-5, w-8): 13. Total (all out in 48.3 overs): 255.

Fall of wickets: 1-20, 2-41, 3-45, 4-93, 5-140, 6-180, 7-194, 8-223, 9-230.

India bowling: Praveen 8-1-37-2, Nehra 7-0-40-1, Ishant 8-0-34-2, Harbhajan 10-0-62-1, Yuvraj 8-0-39-0, Jadeja 6.3-0-35-3, Raina 1-0-3-0.