The welcome at the crease was short and scary. Ben Hilfenhaus fired a bouncer and M.S. Dhoni was struck behind on his helmet. That was the lone moment of discomfort for the Indian captain as he smiled past the threat and with a cool head marched to his fifth One Day International hundred.

Dhoni’s 124 (107b, 9x4, 3x6) along with Gautam Gambhir (76, 80b, 6x4) and Suresh Raina’s (62, 50b, 6x4, 1x6) stellar efforts, guided India to 354 for seven in 50 overs and paved the way for a 99-run victory over Australia in the second ODI of the Hero Honda Cup series at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium here on Wednesday night.

Australia scored 255 in 48.3 overs. The victory helped India draw level with Australia at 1-1 in the seven-match series. The teams will now face-off at Delhi in the third ODI on Saturday.

Early strikes

Ricky Ponting’s men needed a strong start while chasing India’s imposing score but Praveen Kumar castled Tim Paine (8). Shane Watson (19) too failed to last long as Ishant Sharma’s first delivery with its mix of pace and bounce surprised the opener and Sachin Tendulkar crouched low at first slip to pocket the catch.

Soon Praveen beat an on-the-move Ponting (12), who shuffled forward and found the ball thudding into his pad. Michael Hussey (53, 60b, 6x4) and Cameron White (23) then shared a 48-run fourth-wicket partnership that just about delayed Australia’s free-fall.

Hussey strung three consecutive fours through the off-side against Harbhajan Singh and eased into his second consecutive 50 of the series. However with left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja (three for 35) turning one sharply past Hussey’s defences, the contest was over as the Indian bowlers, enthused by the big total, struck in tandem though Harbhajan struggled.

Industrious ally

Earlier ‘Man of the Match’ Dhoni found an industrious ally in Gambhir, who scored his second consecutive 50 of the series to top up his earlier effort at Vadodara on Sunday. The duo’s 119-run fourth-wicket partnership spread over 113 deliveries, provided a strong backbone to the Indian innings after Virender Sehwag (40, 31b, 6x4, 1x6), Tendulkar (4) and Yuvraj Singh (23) were back in the pavilion with the score reading 97 for three in 15.1 overs.

Before Dhoni unfurled his powerful shots, Gambhir whetted his appetite with a straight-driven four off Peter Siddle. Gambhir flicked the seamers and danced down to off-spinner Nathan Hauritz to hit over the in-field as Dhoni bided his time.

The pocketed their runs with stealth before the alliance was broken in a moment that almost cost Dhoni’s wicket though it was Gambhir who got dismissed. Dhoni’s checked drive off Siddle just missed the outstretched palms of the seamer while Gambhir charged down from the non-strikers end and Hauritz slammed down the stumps.

Shifting gears

Raina then came in at 216 for four in 33.6 overs with Dhoni busy shifting gears. Dhoni and Raina teamed up in a 136-run fifth-wicket partnership lasting 96 balls as India scored 47 runs in the batting Power Play (overs 40 to 44) and thumped 108 runs in the last 10 overs.

The Indian captain scored his first fifty off 55 balls and the next came in just 39 balls as he waded into the seamers with clubbed hits and the odd tennis forehand style shot. Dhoni struck a six off Hilfenhaus and then hammered successive sixes off Watson to reach his hundred and nearly took off the all-rounders head with a straight swipe.

Raina too took flight, pulling Mitchell Johnson and pock-marking the mid-wicket fence. Dhoni and Raina were out in the last over but by then Ponting’s men were gasping for breath.

Scores:

India: V. Sehwag c Hilfenhaus b Johnson 40 (31b, 6x4, 1x6), S. Tendulkar c White b Siddle 4 (8b, 1x4), G. Gambhir (run out) 76 (80b, 6x4), Yuvraj Singh c & b Hilfenhaus 23 (24b, 2x4, 1x6), M.S. Dhoni c Paine b Johnson 124 (107b, 9x4, 3x6), S. Raina c Paine b Johnson 62 (50b, 6x4, 1x6), Harbhajan Singh (not out) 1 (1b), Paveen Kumar (run out) 1 (1b). Extras (b-1, lb-6, w-14, nb-2): 23. Total (for seven wickets in 50 overs): 354.

Fall of wickets: 1-21 (Tendulkar), 2-67 (Sehwag), 3-97 (Yuvraj), 4-216(Gambhir), 5-352 (Dhoni), 6-353 (Raina), 7-354 (Praveen).

Power Plays: One (Overs 1-10): 67/1; Bowling (12-16): 35/1; Batting (40-44): 47/0.

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 (26b, 3x4), T. Paine b Praveen 8 (14b, 1x4), R. Ponting lbw b Praveen 12 (16b, 2x4), C. White c Raina b Harbhajan 23 (42b, 3x4), M. Hussey b Jadeja 53 (60b, 6x4), A. Voges b Jadeja 36 (44b, 1x4), S. Marsh st Dhoni b Jadeja 21 (21b, 1x4, 1x6), M. Johnson b Nehra 21 (19b, 2x4, 1x6), N. Hauritz (not out) 30 (32b, 3x4), P. Siddle c Dhoni b Ishant 3 (5b), B. Hilfenhaus (run out) 16 (12b, 2x4). Extras (lb-5, w-8): 13. Total (all out in 48.3 overs): 255.

Fall of wickets: 1-20 (Paine), 2-41 (Watson), 3-45 (Ponting), 4-93 (White), 5-140 (Hussey), 6-180 (Marsh), 7-194 (Voges), 8-223 (Johnson), 9-230 (Siddle), 10-255 (Hilfenhaus).

Power Plays: One (Overs 1-10): 45/2; Bowling (Overs 11-15): 23/1; Batting (35-39): 41/2.

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.

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