Small totals can trick and test. However, India held its nerve, thriving on Yuvraj Singh’s luminous 78 and skipper M.S. Dhoni’s unbeaten 71, to defeat Australia by six wickets in the third One-Day International of the Hero Honda Cup series at the Ferozeshah Kotla Stadium here on Saturday night.
Chasing Australia’s 229 for five in 50 overs, India scored 230 for four in 48.2 overs to gain a 2-1 lead in the seven-match series.
The chase commenced with Sachin Tendulkar punching and whipping Mitchell Johnson for two fours. However, Virender Sehwag remained mute at his home ground and failed to counter Johnson’s delivery that crashed into his stumps. Tendulkar (32) continued to be in fine fettle before he fatally tested Johnson’s throwing ability from mid-off.
Soon India was in trouble when Gautam Gambhir played back and watched off-spinner Nathan Hauritz clip the off-stump. At 53 for three in 15.2 overs, skipper M.S. Dhoni (71 n.o., 95b, 6x4) and Yuvraj Singh (78, 96b, 8x4, 2x6) faced the onerous task of countering a sluggish pitch and a fired-up rival sniffing for a chance.
The duo shared a match-winning, 148-run fourth-wicket partnership off 173 balls.
Man-of-the-Match Yuvraj, who has just returned after recovering from a finger injury, had scored a 23 at Nagpur, high on the twin factors that manifest in his batting style — poise and power — before succumbing to Ben Hilfenhaus.
However, in a dig-the-trenches situation at the Kotla, Yuvraj dug deep and scored a psychological point when he swept Hauritz for four to keep the spin bogey at bay.
With Dhoni as a friendly co-passenger, Yuvraj loosened up. He worked the ball off his pads while the seamers searched for the yorker and then gifted sore-throats to ecstatic fans as he despatched Henriques and left-arm spinner Adam Voges for sixes that sailed through the haze.
And as Yuvraj flourished, Dhoni played a self-effacing innings in marked contrast to the 124 he scored at Nagpur.
In the final stretch, Yuvraj was dismissed by Henriques though the ball seemed to miss leg-stump but Dhoni ensured that there were no last-minute glitches as victory was achieved with 10 deliveries to spare.
Hussey stays firm
Earlier, Michael Hussey’s unbeaten 81 proved to be the cornerstone of a slow and steady Australian innings. Hussey’s innings (81 n.o., 82b, 3x4, 1x6) along with skipper Ricky Ponting’s 59 (92b, 4x4) helped the team brave past a mid-innings pause when the spinners held sway.
Australia began well after Ponting won the toss, opted to bat and returned as an opener, a promotion hastened by Tim Paine’s absence.
The Australian captain remained wary of the slow pitch in a patient knock that found relief in driving the seamers. Ponting also shared a 72-run first-wicket partnership with Shane Watson (41, 59b, 5x4).
Yuvraj triggered the first breach when his angled left-arm spin drew Watson forward and Dhoni whipped off the bails. Ponting and Hussey then constructed their 56-run second-wicket partnership off 89 deliveries before the visitor suffered a twin-blow.
A shuffling Ponting was rapped on the pads by left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja (two for 41) and in the next over, Suresh Raina prised out Cameron White, though the batsmen seemed unhappy in being adjudged caught behind.
Hussey, however, continued to play his eager-beaver innings, finding his first four off the 45th delivery he faced and glided Ishant for a single to usher in his third consecutive 50 of the series.
Hussey hoisted a massive six off Ashish Nehra in the final over as Australia finished with a total that lost its competitive edge when Yuvraj and Dhoni took flight under lights.