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4th ODI: India’s quicks fix Aussies

Youngsters Ishant and Rohit Sharma play key roles as India romp home with plenty to spare, reports Atreyo Mukhopadhyay.Full scorecard | Pics
By atreyo.x@gmail.com | Hindustan Times, Melbourne
UPDATED ON FEB 11, 2008 01:44 AM IST

On a day India became the team to have played maximum ODIs — 675, overtaking Pakistan's 674 — it was important they came up with a good performance. A win was the need of the hour also because of their claim that Australia were scared of them. And with the race on for a finals berth, a win on Sunday was going to be a perfect push in their drive towards the destination.

When Australia chose to bat on a flat surface in bright and sunny conditions, it seemed India would be staring at a big chase. That they eventually raised hopes of bagging a bonus point and then crawled to the target tells the story. The bowlers surpassed expectations but the same couldn’t be said of the batsmen. This win, thus evoked mixed feelings with joy overpowering angst in the end because it was a win, that too against Australia.

There would be murmurs still that a rare chance to beat Australia with an additional point — that would have been India’s had they reached the target in 40 overs — was lost and this will become louder if, just if, India narrowly miss the finals. But that shouldn’t be a concern at this stage because it was imperative for them to get rid of a mental block.

Saying that Australia are beatable and actually beating them is as different as rain is from sunshine, and for a team coming off a whole lot of talk on the exclusion of seniors and other controversies before that, this was a massive win. The chase wasn’t entirely convincing, but the way the bowlers charged in was a sight Indians are not known to display very often.

With Sreesanth and Ishant Sharma sharing the new ball, India had a pair of fast bowlers, not medium-pacers, having a go at the batsmen. Both were steaming in at over 140 kmph, there were many nicks as well and two of them saw the back of the openers. Matthew Hayden was out off an outside edge and Adam Gilchrist was unlucky to be adjudged leg-before.

Hayden’s wicket was huge because he was doing all the scoring. The run rate was high as long as he was there and after him, it was a story of struggle. The vaunted batting line-up looked shaky against sustained pressure from both ends and the fall of wickets meant that the going got slow from steady.

Harbhajan Singh made most of this situation and completely tied up the batsmen. He was bowling slower than he has in recent times, and this planted doubts in the batsmen. His contribution was crucial because it helped India maintain the pressure.

Chances of an unlikely fight-back were snuffed out by Sreesanth and Irfan Pathan in their later spells and, despite Michael Hussey’s best efforts, victory for India with a bonus point was a strong possibility at the break. It looked very much on the cards even after they lost two early wickets

Brett Lee was hurling thunderbolts at over 150 kmph, but Sachin Tendulkar softened him up with three fours in an over and at 82 for two after 20, India looked set to achieve what not many had expected them to before the match. It was here that fears of batting frailties came true. At 102 for five, fans flying the Tricolour might have had a few butterflies in the stomach.

The situation demanded Rohit Sharma and M.S. Dhoni to forget about the bonus. After some struggle, the former provided some flourish in the end. The muted celebrations showed how hard they had to work. It was good for India because they needed to come through this testing period to be better prepared for the tougher tests ahead. If anything, this perseverance was perhaps a bonus of sorts.

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