India gifted Australia victory in the first match of the VB triangular one-day series at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Friday after Ajit Agarkar claimed six wickets to help restrict Australia to 288 all out.
From 257 for the loss of four wickets, the Indians collapsed to 270 all out as the pressure got to them. The visitors needed 32 runs off 26 balls but amazingly crumbled.
Andrew Symonds received the man-of-the-match award for his brilliant all-round performance. He scored 88 off 102 balls and picked the vital wickets of Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman.
After the euphoria of the batsmen-dominated Test series, it was time to shift to even higher gears in the one-dayers. The series also involves Zimbabwe, who will play Australia in Sydney on Sunday.
Australia rested fast bowler Brett Lee and decided to go in with Andy Bichel instead. While India included Lakshmipathy Balaji, Yuvraj Singh and Sanjay Bangar in their playing eleven.
Australia won the toss and elected to give their batsman first use of the MCG wicket on a sunny day. And Adam Gilchrist did not disappoint.
The wicket-keeper/batsman averaged just 16 in the Test series and one would have expected him to suffer a few nerves. But in the one-day version of the game there are few batsmen who are more adept at destroying the opposition bowling more than him.
He was off to a quick start as usual -- hitting over the in-field in an obvious attempt to disturb the rhythm of the bowlers. Rahul Dravid, playing as wicket-keeper, made a crucial mistake in the fifth over when he dropped a difficult chance of Gilchrist.
Irfan Pathan was the bowler. The 19-year-old left-arm paceman had been getting the ball to swing and this one pitched right in line with the off-stump and continued to leave the batsman. The ball took a thickish edge and went to the left of Dravid, who failed to hold on.
Luckily, it was not a very costly mistake. A few overs later, Agarkar struck for the Indians. A slower ball deceived Gilchrist as he tried to hit across the line and holed out to Irfan Pathan, at deep backward square leg, who took a good diving catch. (59-1)
But the Aussies continued to score at a very quick pace. At the 10-over mark, they were 68 for 1. And things were already looking grim for the Indians.
But Agarkar, whose performance was very lacklustre after the Adelaide Test victory, claimed two more wickets to add to his earlier scalp.
Hayden (20) went for the extravagant cover drive but played it in the air. Yuvraj, at point, timed his jump to perfection and took a good catch. (70-2)
With the very next delivery, Agarkar's short-pitched ball surprised Damien Martyn and he skied the attempted hook to Balaji, at fine leg, where he took an easy catch. Agarkar was on a hat-trick, but Ponting played out the next ball safely. (70-3)
Balaji replaced Pathan in the attack. Playing only his second one-day international, he bowled a good line outside the off-stump and, more importantly, got the ball to move in the air and off the wicket.
The second ball after the drinks break saw Ponting (18) chip a attempted on-drive to Balaji.(89-4).
Michael Clarke was sent out ahead of Michael Bevan. The highly-rated youngster has an average of over 60 and his style of play reminds one a lot of Ponting. Always eager to get off the mark, he started off with an uppish four through the covers.
Symonds, at the other end, had struggled against Balaji initially, but that gave way to some powerful strokes. A six over long-off and a four through covers got him going. With four wickets down one would have expected Australia to consolidate and that usually means a few quiet overs. But it was not the case with this pair at the wicket. Runs continued to come at a very good rate. Australia reached a healthy 178 for 4 after 30 overs.
The duo ran their singles well but took their chances against the loose deliveries. They never really allowed any bowler to settle and while these two were at the wicket, Ganguly looked short of ideas and the hosts seemed to be heading for a 300-plus total.
Kumble had bowled well but had been picked off by the Aussie batsman. One shot -- a pulled six off only a marginally short Kumble delivery was the shot of the morning. But the leg-spinner got his own back. In the 39th over, Clarke (63 off 66 balls with six fours and a six), going for a lofted shot over midwicket, holed out to Laxman in the deep. (232-5)
The partnership had guided Australia to a position of great strength and a 300-plus total seemed to be there for the taking.
Michael Bevan was in next. But a clever bowling change by Ganguly proved to be his undoing. Virender Sehwag was introduced into the attack and the off-spinner kept Bevan on strike for the first five balls of the over. A frustrated Bevan tried to go for the big shot off the last ball and hit it straight to Ganguly.
After 40 overs, Australia were 233 for 6 but the dangerous Symonds was still at the wicket. The tail could give him good support and this is where Agarkar struck some telling blows for his skipper to end up with career-best bowling figures.
The seamer claimed the wickets of Symonds (88 off 102 balls), Harvey (28 off 24 balls) and Brad Williams (0) in quick succession to bring the Aussie innings to an abrupt end.
It was surprising to see Symonds bat before Clarke and Bevan, but he played a responsible knock to repay the faith Ponting has in him. The Indians did well to restrict the Aussies to 288 all out.
The Indians needed luck on their side if they were to get anywhere near the big Australian total.
The cool weather and floodlights aided the Aussie bowlers in their efforts and the Indian openers, Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag, had quite a struggle on hand.
Jason Gillespie was desperately unlucky not to get a wicket in the early going. He bowled a good line and length and varied his pace too. But the openers rode their luck.
Miscued shots, wild swings, edges and numerous plays and misses were the order of the first ten overs, but India maintained a decent run-rate during the early going, all thanks to Tendulkar.
The 13th over, the last of Gillespie's first spell (7-0-32-0), was a perfect example of how things were going. A top edged six behind the wicket-keeper's head was followed by a superbly timed four. Just like that, 14 runs had come off the over.
Sehwag was strangely subdued, looking to play out the first hour before taking on the bowlers. After 15 overs, India were 81.
Sehwag's (35 off 59 balls, 3 x 4) luck ran out just after India reached 100 in the 18th over. A wild swing off Harvey saw him play on to his stumps. (103-1)
But the Indians had managed to do what they had initially set out to do: not give the Aussies the early advantage by losing quick wickets.
Ganguly was in next and almost immediately got into the groove. He and Tendulkar continued to consolidate the good start. Hitting the odd boundary, they mostly play good, sensible cricket.
But Ponting plucked a one-handed catch out of nowhere to send Tendulkar back to the pavilion. A short delivery from Symonds seemed to be heading for the boundary but the Aussie skipper timed his jump to perfection.
Tendulkar scored 63 (8x4, 1x6) in a scratchy innings that did not do his genius's reputation full justice. But considering the conditions it was made under, it was a vital knock for the Indians.(144-2)
Ganguly was ready to take on the bowlers. Without doubt, he is one of India's best cricketers in One-Day Internationals. His improvisations show that he is always ready to take on the bowlers.
He was given a life on 24 by Hayden, at first slip, after Brad Williams was brought back into the attack in a bid to break the partnership with Laxman, who came in at the fall of Tendulkar.
Ganguly survived and went on to play a crucial knock for the Indians that guided them to the threshold of victory.
But it was Symonds who eventually got the breakthrough for Ponting. Laxman (16) tried to turn a straight delivery to the off-side but got a leading edge to Clarke, in the covers. (168-3)
Dravid (16) batted very well and put on 27 runs at a good rate with Ganguly before holing out to Harvey off Clarke. The ball rushed to him and the batsman failed connect very well. (195 - 4)
Yuvraj Singh walked in and almost immediately put the Aussies on the back foot. Well-judged singles and crisply hit boundaries followed and it seemed as if India might even coast to victory.
But the fall of Yuvraj's wicket changed all that. The Indians crumbled thereafter. Ganguly departed on the same score, attempting a suicidal single and from 257 for four, the Indians collapsed to 270 all out.
Ganguly's (82) wicket was vital. It was the last ball of the over, Bangar had just come in and it would have made more sense to keep the strike. The skipper was irritated after his dismissal, but it was he who made the call for the non-existent single and only he should shoulder the blame.
The Indians have the ability to be brilliant one day and downright ordinary the other. Not one of the last five batsmen scored more than five runs. The last six wickets went down for just 13 runs as India fell short of the target by 18 runs.
But more than anything, the several mis-fields during the Australian batting came back to haunt the Indians. They caught well, but conceded way too many two's where only a single existed. Each run added up and eventually proved to be too much to chase.
It was an exciting game but the pressure of the situation proved too much to handle and the fragile Indian tail showed it's true colours once again.