Humdinger of a contest

The victorious Indian team.-AP

India’s campaign in the tri-series was marked by exemplary team-spirit. They fought together, won together and underlined their triumph with a rousing victory lap with the National flag. S. Dinakar reports.

Making history is never easy. Behind India’s epic triumph at the ’Gabba lay buckets of sweat, much courage and a dash of inspiration.

This was a heady, emotional victory. The Indians converged in a heap after Piyush Chawla clung on to an offering at mid-wicket. Two deliveries remained in the humdinger and Australia was still nine runs short.

The final moments will be frozen in Indian cricket history. Bowler Irfan Pathan’s visage reflected relief and happiness. Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni stood silent for a few seconds, allowing the significance of the occasion to sink in. The youngsters leapt for joy. Sachin Tendulkar, given the nature of his celebration, was a young man, too.

For the Aussies, it was a painful defeat. James Hopes, who led a valiant fight-back, went down on his knees in anguish. Even as he walked out to congratulate the Indians, skipper Ricky Ponting fought hard to conceal disappointment.

“It was a team effort. Everyone contributed,” said Dhoni. India’s campaign in the tri-series was marked by exemplary team-spirit. They fought together, won together and underlined their triumph with a rousing victory lap with the National flag. The Indian supporters stayed back to hail their heroes. The Aussie fans gradually melted away.

“We let ourselves down. We should have made more runs. At No. 3, I need to take much of the blame,” said Ponting.

India nailed the best-of-three CB series finals 2-0. At the crunch they were not wanting in end-game skills.

The Indians also read the ’Gabba pitch well. Traditionally, the surfaces here have pace, bounce and movement for the quicker bowlers. Yet, the Indians reckoned that this pitch was essentially a flat deck. They retained leg-spinner Piyush Clawla when just about everyone expected a fourth paceman to be a part of the XI.

Perhaps, the injury to pace spearhead Ishant Sharma was in Dhoni’s mind when he opted again for Chawla. He could have still picked Munaf Patel, who bowled zestfully in the final league game against Sri Lanka in Hobart.

Harbhajan Singh and Piyush bowled well during the critical stages of the Aussie innings at the ’Gabba as the Indian ploy worked. The Indian decision to bat was in line with the selection of the XI. The ’Gabba, even during day/night games, is considered a “bowl first wicket,” but we once again return to the Indian think-tank’s reading of the surface.

Praveen Kumar (second from left) proved to be the hero once again for India. Here he is greeted by his team-mates after the dismissal of Ricky Ponting.-AP

Tendulkar and Robin Uthappa laid a solid platform with a 94-run opening stand. Tendulkar mixed classical strokeplay — a couple of his straight and cover drives were breath-taking — with shots of innovation. Uthappa’s effort was creditable since the dasher adopted resolute methods to suit the interests of the team. Crucially, Brett Lee’s first spell was seen through and the kookaburra ball was always going to do less subsequently.

Tendulkar, using his experience and intelligence, high left elbow and supple wrists, was just two strokes short of successive hundreds in the finals when he misread the length of a Michael Clarke delivery. The crowd rose as one to applaud the hero in what could be his last international appearance in Australia.

Left-arm paceman Nathan Bracken bowled beautifully, while Mitchell Johnson and Stuart Clark disappointed. Ponting was forced to switch to spinners — Clarke chipped in with his left-arm spin, Andrew Symonds prised out a dangerous looking Yuvraj. Australia was back in the hunt... or so it seemed.

The Indian innings lost momentum but skipper M. S. Dhoni, who had battled with the tail all through this campaign, once again slugged it out to take the total close to 260. This was still a combative score, perhaps a match-winning one.

Man of the Match Praveen Kumar struck with the new ball. His three-wicket burst put the Aussies on the mat under the lights. He moved the ball away from the left-handed Adam Gilchrist to find the edge. In his last international match, Gilchrist ‘walked.’ Using his wrist and shoulder effectively, Praveen was getting the ball to skid off the surface. The evening dew on the surface also helped the paceman. Both Ponting and Clarke misjudged the height of the short-pitched deliveries from Praveen in their attempt to pull the paceman.

Praveen changed his pace cleverly with an older ball to scalp four in the game. His run-up may appear innocuous but the paceman has a quick arm action and hits the bat faster than most batsmen expect. He also has a freakish ability to bowl different kinds of deliveries.

The turning point of the game arrived in the 26th over of the Australian innings. Matthew Hayden — reprieved early by Dhoni off Sreesanth — was batting with authority when he was run-out by the Yuvraj Singh-Harbhajan Singh combination. Moments later, a fluent Andrew Symonds was trapped leg-before by Harbhajan’s off-break.

Michael Hussey and Hopes kept the Aussie hopes alive. The left-handed Hussey was typically efficient. Dhoni held a difficult low catch to dismiss the southpaw off paceman Sreesanth. This was another key moment of the duel. Sreesanth bowled well at the death, so did a charged up Harbhajan. Pathan held his nerve. It was an Australian paceman who walked away with the ‘Player of the Tournament’ award though. Nathan Bracken achieves bounce and seam movement with the new ball. The lanky paceman gets the older ball to swing and has precision. He was outstanding right through.

THE SCORES

CB Series, 2nd final, Brisbane, March 4. India won by nine runs.

India: R. Uthappa c Hopes b Clark 30; S. Tendulkar c Ponting b Clarke 91; G. Gambhir c Johnson b Clarke 15; Yuvraj Singh c Hayden b Symonds 38; M. Dhoni c Clarke b Bracken 36; R. Sharma c Symonds b Clarke 2; I. Pathan b Bracken 12; Harbhajan Singh lbw b Lee 3; P. Kumar c Ponting b Bracken 7; Piyush Chawla (not out) 6; S. Sreesanth (not out) 1; Extras (lb-5, w-12) 17. Total (for nine wkts., in 50 overs) 258.

Fall of wickets: 1-94, 2-121, 3-175, 4-205, 5-209, 6-237, 7-240, 8-249, 9-255.

Australia bowling: Lee 10-0-58-1; Bracken 9-1-31-3; Clark 6-0-32-1; Johnson 6-0-33-0; Hopes 6-0-20-0; Clarke 10-0-52-3; Symonds 3-0-27-1.

Australia: A. Gilchrist c Dhoni b Kumar 2; M. Hayden (run out) 55; R. Ponting c Yuvraj b Kumar 1; M. Clarke b Kumar 17; A. Symonds lbw b Harbhajan 42; M. Hussey c Dhoni b Sreesanth 44; J. Hopes c Chawla b Pathan 63; B. Lee b Kumar 7; M. Johnson c Dhoni b Sreesanth 8; N. Bracken c Chawla b Pathan 1; S. Clark (not out) 0; Extras (lb-2, w-7) 9. Total (in 49.4 overs) 249.

Fall of wickets: 1-2, 2-8, 3-32, 4-121, 5-123, 6-199, 7-228, 8-238, 9-247.

India bowling: Kumar 10-2-46-4; Sreesanth 9-0-43-2; Pathan 8.4-0-54-2; Harbhajan 10-0-44-1; Chawla 9-0-45-0; Yuvraj 3-0-15-0.