Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni shared a serene 148-run stand to help India win a battle of attrition on a sluggish track and take a 2-1 lead in Delhi. Australia would perhaps rue the fact that they had settled for 229 when they batted.
“A total of 220 should be a good score on this pitch,” Ponting had said after winning an important toss and Australia’s approach while batting reflected his mindset. They did pick up three top-order wickets to leave India wobbling at 53 for 3 but Yuvraj and Dhoni knew that if they can bat through till the end they would always get past the line without having to take any risks. The wicket was slow and not conducive to stroke making but it was not a treacherous spin track where you could lose wickets in a clutch.
At the half-way mark of the chase the game was in a stalemate with India in consolidation mode at 101 for 3 but slowly but surely, India pulled away courtesy Yuvraj and Dhoni. They batted with a sense of self-restraint at the start of their knocks as they tried to settle in on this track where, as Michael Hussey showed earlier with a fine unbeaten 81, batting does tend to get easier the more you spend time on it.
They mainly dealt in singles and twos initially before Yuvraj pressed down on the accelerator in the 34th over with the equation reading 94 from 17 overs. He collected a flicked six and hit a gorgeous extra-cover drive off Moises Henriques before he repeated the sequence next over with a bludgeoned six over long-on and a square driven boundary against Adam Vogues. The momentum completely shifted after that and Yuvraj went on to indulge himself with several peachy drives. There would have been a moment of apprehension when he fell 29 runs short of the target but Dhoni ensured there wouldn’t be any drama with couple of crunchy blows.
Australia had earlier tried their best to apply the squeeze in the middle overs of the chase with the spin-seam combo of Nathan Hauritz and Doug Bollinger. The fast-improving Hauritz slowed his pace and punctuated his offbreaks with the one that went on with the arm. Interestingly, Dhoni chose to play Hauritz off the back foot while Yuvraj pressed forward. Bollinger, who replaced Ben Hilfenhaus, bowled a nagging line and length to strangle the batsmen. He varied his angles, going round the stumps on occasions, and slipped in quite a few cutters.
Peter Siddle, too, was economical and Australia’s bowling, in the absence of Brett Lee and a quality spinner, was as tight as Ponting could hope for but perhaps they had erred with their conservative estimate of a good total on this sluggish track. Once they decided not to play specialist opener Shaun Marsh, and possessing a thin middle-order inexperienced in such conditions, they were going to depend heavily on Ricky Ponting, Hussey and Shane Watson to reach a competitive total. Their approach seemed to indicate they were wary that a collapse was never too far away on a demanding surface. Ponting, who opened only for the second time in his 327-ODI career in Tim Paine’s absence, and Watson didn’t try anything fancy during a sedate but solid start before Hussey took charge of seeing Australia through to the finish.
Hussey’s innings was tailored to the situation. You don’t usually remember a stand-out shot from a Hussey innings. What strikes you is his total self-awareness of his own game with its limitations. Today, was no different. He played numerous little dabs and nudges, cut and swept whenever he could, and never got ahead of himself at any stage. He did play a reverse sweep against Yuvraj but it wasn’t a shot of flamboyance but one that exploited the gap in the field. He only hit three more boundaries – the first was a result of a misfield, the second came in the 48th over when he finally heaved one across the line and the highlight was the last, when he charged out to clatter Ashish Nehra over long-on in the 50th over.
Before Hussey played his characteristic innings, Ponting and Watson played uncharacteristic knocks to give the innings a steady start. With swing out of the question, the Indian seamers tried to win lbw decisions by bowling as straight as possible and the spinners slowed their pace and kept to an off and middle stump line. Ponting began cautiously, taking care to get his bat in front of the pads, and dealt in singles. Watson too batted in a similar vein and just when he was beginning to cut loose, he fell to Yuvraj after he was beaten by flight and turn and dragged his back foot out of the crease. Hussey came to Australia’s rescue with an assured knock but it didn’t prove enough to stop India from going ahead in the series.