Carrying on the momentum they gained from the Harbhajan-Praveen partnership during the first ODI, India put up a near flawless performance at Nagpur They won by 99 runs to the level the series 1-1, heading into Delhi. Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni was the standout performer for the Indians, stroking a marvellous 124. Further, there were crucial contributions from the other members of the XI too, making it an excellent team effort. Gautam Gambhir continued his good form with a fluent 76 while Suresh Raina relieved some of the pressure on him, making a whirlwind 62.
In the bowling department as well India had their heroes. Praveen Kumar made up for his shabby showing at Vadodara by bowling a probing first spell, claiming two wickets. Ishant Sharma showed further signs of improvement by picking up a couple of scalps and bowling economically, whereas part-timer Ravindra Jadeja ended up being the surprise package, bagging three Australian wickets.
On the other hand, the only thing which went right for Ricky Ponting was winning the toss. But, in hindsight, he would dearly have wanted to lose it. Punter’s decision to bowl first on a batting beauty, keeping in mind the dew factor, backfired and that too in a big way. Australia did manage to strike early when Peter Siddle got Sachin Tendulkar to edge one behind the wickets. But what followed was a fascinating and expected counterattack by Virender Sehwag and Gambhir. The Aussies smelt blood when Sehwag fell for 40, going for one of his big hits and Yuvraj Singh’s promising knock was cut short by Ben Hilfenhaus’ excellent reflex catch. That however only turned out to be the beginning of a long struggle for the Australians.
Dhoni and Gambhir joined forces to decimate the already depleted Aussies. Runs flowed with ease on a pitch that figuratively read ‘bowlers’ graveyard’. Pace spearhead Brett Lee was sorely missed and in his absence even the others were less effective. Siddle was by far the best of the bowlers, pitching the ball more often in the block hole than the others. Conversely, Mitchell Johnson’s expensive figures looked slightly better only because of the couple of wickets he picked up in the last over. That too was thanks too some splendid glovework from Tim Paine. Nathan Hauritz kept things tight but went wicketless, while Shane Watson, whom Ponting reposed faith in despite him 20-run over in the last match, was smashed for plenty yet again.
Even so, nothing can be taken away from M S Dhoni, who paced his innings to perfection. Following the unfortunate run-out of Gambhir, he and Raina steadied the innings before going on an all-out attack in the slog overs. Dhoni brought up his hundred launching a six straight down the ground, off a struggling Johnson. At the other end, Raina kept swinging his bat at everything and, luckily for India, there were more hits than misses. Both were eventually dismissed in the final over, but by then India posted a colossal 354/7.
For Australia to get anywhere close, an outstanding start was needed. Praveen ensured it never came. His inswinging deliveries accounted for Paine and Ponting while Ishant sent back Waston with a rising delivery as the Aussies stumbled to 45/3 and the game was all but decided, barring a miracle. Michael Hussey and Cameron White put on a steadying partnership. However, it was far from enough. White fell to Harbhajan for 23 in an attempt to accelerate the scoring. Hussey went on to top score for his side with a patient 53, before he ended up becoming one of Jadeja’s three victims. The left-hander was beaten in flight by the left-arm spinner and clean bowled. Later, Shaun Marsh was stumped by a long distance and Adam Voges fell going for a slog to give Jadeja his best one-day return in his short international career.
It was a thoroughly comprehensive win for the home side and one that should set up the series nicely, with scores level and everything to play for.
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