Ishant Sharma ensured that MS Dhoni’s ton was in a losing cause.
MOHALI: Ishant Sharma snatched defeat from the jaws of victory as Australia robbed India by four wickets at the PCA Stadium on Thursday night to go into a 2-1 lead in the seven-game series. Stumbling in their pursuit of a challenging 304-run target, Australia looked out for the count when they collapsed to a stage where 44 were needed in 18 balls. This is when Ishant began his eighth over and in the space of six deliveries, and with a lot of help from James Faulkner, turned the match on its head by leaking four sixes and a boundary.
But if the lanky Delhi once-fast bowler was the definitive villain, Faulkner was the quintessential hero, one who overcame a crappy phase of his own to turn it on when it mattered.
The Aussie all-rounder smashed 30 in that fateful Ishant over and then slammed another six off Vinay Kumar in the final over to decide the game, with three balls remaining. Faulkner ended with a breathtaking 29-ball 64* (6×6, 2×4), but could very easily have been the antihero for his side at the halfway mark when MS Dhoni took 21 from his last over to drive India past 300.
The first essay was all about Dhoni’s perfectly-paced unbeaten 139. The Indian skipper entered the arena on 76/4 and looked like he was cramping as he went for his first run. That was about all the trouble he encountered in rescuing India from 154/6 in 32 overs to the healthy 303 they finally amassed.
Dhoni figured in two vital partnerships (72 with Kohli, 76 with Ashwin) and corrected his dismal strike rate (he took 77 balls to reach his half-century) with trademark butchery at the ‘death’. His high swirler dropped by counterpart Bailey in the penultimate over, Dhoni went on to smash 35 runs in the balls remaining.
The bouncer spelled the end of most Indian batsmen. Much was expected of Shikhar Dhawan (8) at the site of his scintillating Test debut, but the southpaw fell jabbing Clint McKay to the wicketkeeper in the second over. Rohit Sharma (11) was done in by a Shane Watson rapid riser, while Suresh Raina (17) and local hero Yuvraj Singh (0) went to successive Mitchell Johnson short deliveries, the crowd silenced by a scoreboard that read 76/4 in the 14th over.
Kohli and Dhoni came together for 72 runs for the fourth wicket. For a change, the Delhi lad remained aground and laced his 73-ball 68 with nine hits to the fence, but no sixes. He was caught behind trying to hoick off-spinner Glenn Maxwell, and soon after Johnson picked up his third when another bouncer proved too good for Jadeja (2).
Chasing yet another target north of 300, Australia grafted 68 without losing a wicket. But from the moment Phil Hughes (22) fell to Vinay Kumar, the chase looked ill-fated. Aaron Finch (38) and Watson (11) fell to questionable leg-before decisions off Ishant and Jadeja respectively, and skipper Bailey (43) was trapped by Vinay in the first over of his second spell. Maxwell’s unfortunate run-out in the 37th over only made it worse. But Adam Voges (76*) played the holding role long enough for Faulkner to save Australia the day.