We witnessed a classic at Vadodara. It was a slugfest and it wasn't over till the last ball. India kept bobbing their head above the water till the gushing Australian torrent eventually drowned them by four runs. To use a cliché, cricket was the winner on Sunday.
Nobody had expected India's revival. When Australia opted for batting powerplay in the 43rd over, a score in excess of 300 runs looked a certainty. Yet only 33 runs accrued in the next five overs. Ishant Sharma had two wickets and a maiden in the 50th over!
It was as if India had suddenly woken up from slumber. The revival was pretty much a recurrent theme in India innings. For every unexpected dismissal, there was a counter-attack from the fresh entrant to the crease. Virender Sehwag was true to his moth-to-flame self; Sachin Tendulkar was plotted into spooning a catch to short extra cover but there were still heroes aplenty in the ranks.
In hindsight, the batting powerplay in the 35th over hit India hard. Mitchell Johnson, who went for plenty, got Gautam Gambhir with his first and then fooled Suresh Raina with a slower delivery. And to think the left-arm paceman at one stage looked a liability with a grimace on his face everytime he strained his painful ankle in the field. But then the unexpected are the very soul of a classic.
Nobody could have been prepared though for what Harbhajan Singh and Praveen Kumar did in the middle during those tumultuous nine-odd overs. An 84-run stand, with nine fours and four sixes between them, had the Australians run ragged. Twenty runs in the penultimate over leaving only nine for the last over, made India favourites.
The classic, it seemed, produced its final twist. But everyone looked hopeful even when a heroic Harbhajan Singh was dismissed off the second ball in the final over. That even Ashish Nehra was expected to hit a six off the final ball, shows the extent to which India had inspired hope.
I hope Praveen Kumar doesn’t curse himself for taking a single off the penultimate ball. A six off the final delivery wasn’t beyond him but he had already done enough to have the entire nation up on its feet in a celebratory mood. Indeed, this was a kind of defeat which would leave the victors somewhat deflated. India will have to field better if they have to push Australia.