Pitch no hitch for India

An elated Yuvraj and a disconsolate Ponting.-PICS: PTI

On a slow, slow pitch, Yuvraj Singh and Mahendra Singh Dhoni played the waiting game to perfection. K. C. Vijaya Kumar reports.

It was all about pitching it right as the cricket conveyor belt moved to Delhi for the third One-Day International of the Hero Honda Cup series on October 31. The Feroz Shah Kotla square, with its drab shade of grey, strangely was the cynosure of all eyes as batsmen were tempted to meet fortune-tellers and captains — M.S. Dhoni and Ricky Ponting — wondered about the toss and the ramifications of choice.

The apprehensions were understandable, as the relaid pitch had stumped batsmen with its low bounce and sluggish nature during the Champions League matches with even Gautam Gambhir, the Delhi Daredevils’ skipper, slamming the turf. During the eight Champions League matches, 104 wickets had tumbled and it was a statistic that clouded pre-match judgements. “Looks like even a score of 220 could be challenging on this pitch,” said Dhoni, prior to the match.

Perhaps Ricky Ponting felt the same way too as he won the toss, opted to bat and Australia scored 229 for five in 50 overs. “May be we should have scored 250 after the way we started,” Ponting said. Later in the night, India cruised to 230 for four in 48.2 overs to register a six-wicket victory and go 2-1 up in the seven-match series as Yuvraj Singh’s 78 and Dhoni’s unbeaten 71 provided value and entertainment to the 40,000 plus crowd.

Sachin Tendulkar’s two fours off Mitchell Johnson in the first over did set a nice tempo though Virender Sehwag remained sedate. Johnson disturbed the timber as Sehwag was beaten all ends up and as his home crowd slipped into shocked silence, another famous son of Delhi — Gautam Gambhir — walked out.

Tendulkar (32) seemed at ease and was set for more when he patted Moises Henriques to mid-off and ran hard. But he embraced despair as Johnson knocked down the stumps. Meanwhile Gambhir, who had spent a large part of the day resting inside the dressing room after a Ponting pull rammed in to his helmet, remained circumspect and was rattled as off-spinner Nathan Hauritz nudged his off-stump with one that spun and swerved past the bat.

At 53 for three in 15.2 overs with the pitch giving hints of a breakdown, the stage was set for the ‘Yuvi and Dhoni’ show. “It was perhaps the slowest pitch I have ever batted on,” Yuvraj said. The southpaw buckled down and gauged the pitch before sweeping Hauritz for four to gain an edge in the battle against spin while Dhoni wisely opted to play second-fiddle.

Yuvraj (78, 96b, 8x4, 2x6) played an innings that was initially anchored in defence and the stolen single before he expressed himself with his potent mix of timing and disdain. Dhoni (71 n.o., 95b, 6x4) meanwhile treated it as a fresh day and showed no signs of a hangover from the 124 he had scored in Nagpur in the second ODI. He kept tapping the ball to the fielder in the deep while sauntering across for a run as his 148-run fourth-wicket partnership off 173 balls with Yuvraj, gained momentum.

Dhoni finishes the job and comes back with Raina, leaving the Australians behind.-

Yuvraj soon shifted gears, flicking the ball off his pads as the seamers strayed onto his legs. Soon he was targeting the arc between mid-wicket and long-on with sixes off Henriques and left-arm spinner Adam Voges hastening India’s progress to victory. “We tried everything, swapped bowlers around but the Indians batted well in much more difficult conditions than us as the wicket had got worse in the night. The dew affected our bowlers and Hauritz was frustrated that he could not grip the ball,” Ponting said.

Eventually Henriques dismissed Yuvraj but Dhoni promptly shed his dull cloak and swatted a few fours to keep needless anxiety at bay in the final stretch. Victory was secured and later Yuvraj said: “Dhoni and I wanted to settle down before playing shots off loose deliveries. It helped that we were chasing 230 and not 250 because we had the advantage of taking time to settle down.”

Earlier Michael Hussey’s unbeaten 81 (82b, 3x4, 1x6) along with skipper Ricky Ponting’s 59 (92b, 4x4) helped Australia post a challenging score which however lost its edge later in the night. Ponting stepped in as an opener after Tim Paine returned home with a broken finger and the captain played a steady innings, eschewing risks on a slow pitch with low bounce.

Ponting drove Ishant Sharma straight down the ground for a delectable four and also enjoyed watching Shane Watson (41, 59b, 5x4) display a semblance of form that was missing in the earlier matches. The openers shared a 72-run partnership but when ‘Man of the Match’ Yuvraj got Watson stumped, India winged its way back in the middle overs as the spinners — with Harbhajan Singh re-discovering a tight line outside the off-stump — troubled the batsmen.

Ponting and Hussey chipped in with a 56-run second-wicket partnership off 89 deliveries. However the visitor struggled for propulsion as left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja trapped a shuffling Ponting and Suresh Raina scalped Cameron White.

Hussey however played his part, notching his third consecutive 50 of the series in a remarkable innings that was high on resilience and strong running between the wickets before he pulled and lofted towards the end. Hussey carted a huge six off Ashish Nehra in the final over but it proved to be a night when India could not be denied.

THE SCORES

Third ODI, New Delhi, October 31. India won by six wickets.

Australia: S. Watson st. Dhoni b Yuvraj 41, R. Ponting lbw b Jadeja 59, M. Hussey (not out) 81, C. White c Dhoni b Raina 0, Adam Voges c Praveen b Harbhajan 17, M. Henriques b Jadeja 12, M. Johnson (not out) 9. Extras (b-4, lb-3, w-3): 10. Total (for five wickets in 50 overs): 229.

Fall of wickets: 1-72, 2-128, 3-129, 4-172, 5-200.

India bowling: Praveen 5-1-16-0, Nehra 9-0-51-0, Ishant 5-0-24-0, Jadeja 9-1-41-2, Harbhajan 10-0-37-1, Yuvraj 8-0-30-1, Raina 4-0-23-1.

India: V. Sehwag b Johnson 11, S. Tendulkar (run out) 32, G. Gambhir b Hauritz 6, Yuvraj Singh lbw b Henriques 78, M. S. Dhoni (not out) 71, S. Raina (not out) 9. Extras (b-4, lb-4, w-14, nb-1): 23. Total (for four wickets in 48.2 overs): 230.

Fall of wickets: 1-37, 2-51, 3-53, 4-201.

Australia bowling: Johnson 9.2-2-43-1, Siddle 10-0-41-0, Bollinger 10-0-26-0, Henriques 8-0-51-1, Hauritz 10-0-48-1, Voges 1-0-13-0.