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Murali Kartik took six wickets for 27 runs and then scored an unbeaten 21 to steer India to a thrilling two-wicket victory over Australia in the seventh and final one-day international at the Wankhede stadium in Mumbai on Wednesday.
Kartik, who was later named man of the match, was involved in an unbroken stand of 52 for the ninth wicket with Zaheer, who was unbeaten on 31, as India chased down Australia's total of 193 with four overs to spare.
Robin Uthappa top-scored for India with a sparkling knock of 47 after the top order collapsed to a miserable 64 for 6 in the 19th over. He added 65 runs for the seventh wicket with Harbhajan Singh [Images] (19) as India fought back to register a consolation victory.
Earlier, left-arm spinner Kartik single-handedly destroyed the Australian middle order with a magical spell of six wickets for 27 runs in 10 overs.
Captain Ricky Ponting [Images] was the top-scorer with 57 as Australia were dismissed in 41.3 overs.
Australia won the seven-match series 4-2. The opening game in Bangalore was washed out.
Zaheer Khan [Images] gave India a dream start, striking with the first delivery of the match. Michael Clarke [Images] was trapped leg before wicket as he played a tentative shot.
However, Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist [Images], undeterred by the loss of an early wicket, went about their task of scoring runs at a decent rate. Ponting, in particular, made the most of the fielding restrictions, smashing R P Singh for three boundaries in the sixth over off the innings.
Gilchrist, on 2, got a reprieve when Robin Uthappa failed to hold on to a straightforward chance off Zaheer in the seventh over off the innings. R P Singh, meanwhile, struggled in his opening overs, conceding 29 off his first three, before giving way to Irfan Pathan [Images].
Gilchrist though could not capitalize on the let-off and fell for 19. He tried to slash Pathan over the off-side but the ball went to Harbhajan Singh, on the third man boundary, who completed a good, running catch.
Brad Hodge, under fire after a run of poor scores, started off in style with a boundary off Pathan as Australia reached 66 for 2 after 10 overs.
R P Singh came in for his second spell, replacing Zaheer, who bowled a brilliant first spell of 15 for 1 in five overs. He again came in for some punishment against Ponting and was hit for two more boundaries in his fourth over before giving way to Sourav Ganguly [Images].
After 15 overs, Australia were a comfortable 102 for 2, with Ponting looking in ominous touch on 44 from 51 deliveries, inclusive of seven boundaries.
The Indian seamers, who gave away as many 18 wides in the first 15 overs, were also responsible for Australia racing away.
The spin combo of Harbhajan Singh and Murali Kartik was introduced in the 16th over, with Australia on a strong 107 for 2. However, the two spinners spun a tight web around the Aussie batsmen and restricted the flow of runs.
Left-arm spinner Kartik brought India back into the match with a two-wicket burst in his second over. Brad Hodge was caught by Dinesh Karthik at first slip for a scratchy innings of 16.
India's joy doubled immediately as dangerman Andrew Symonds [Images] fell to the first delivery he faced. He tried to hit a short delivery from Kartik through the off-side, but played it uppishly and Tendulkar completed a good catch, diving forward in the covers.
Suddenly one good over had titled the balance of the match as Australia were reduced to 117 for 4 after 20 overs.
At the other end, Ponting kept holding fort. But he could not last long. He was caught behind off RP Singh. The UP pacer struggled since the start, but found much-needed relief in the form of Ponting's wicket for 57 in the 27th over.
For Kartik, the Wankhede stadium seems a lucky hunting ground. In the last match he played at the venue, a Test against Australia in November 2004, he took seven wickets on a crumbling pitch. Today too, he seemed on the top of his game as the Australians not only found it difficult to score, but also failed to read him.
India's fielding once again let them down. Zaheer dropped Brad Haddin (17) in the 31st over. The batsman tried to loft Harbhajan Singh over the mid-wicket boundary, but could not clear the fence and Zaheer dropped an easy chance after running to his left.
At the other end, Kartik was enjoying a dream spell. He flattened the Aussies with three wickets in his eighth over.
Haddin was trapped leg before wicket for 19 off the first ball of the 32nd over, failing to read the quicker delivery from Kartik. Two balls later Brad Hogg [Images] was caught at short fine leg off an inside edge and Brett Lee's [Images] wicket followed, caught at gully.
Three wickets in the 32nd over and Australia were reduced to 162 for 8. Kartik had single-handedly destroyed the Australian middle order and his bowling figures now read an impressive 5 for 17 in eight overs, including three maidens.
James Hopes made a quick 22 before he was bowled by the incoming delivery from Kartik in the 36th over.
Bracken was the last wicket to fall when he pulled RP Singh straight to Harbhajan Singh at the fine leg boundary.
Mitchell Johnson scored a few quick runs towards the end, hitting two boundaries and a six to remain unbeaten on 24 as Australia were bowled out for 193 in 41.3 overs.
It was the first time in the series that Australia failed so miserably against the Indian bowling attack, and it was all due to Kartik's superb spell.
The 32-year-old left-arm spinner, playing in his 34th ODI, finished with impressive figures of 6 for 27 in 10 overs. When he resumed bowling, Australia were a comfortable 108 for 2 after 17 overs, but he struck quite regularly in his 10-over spell to have them reduced to 177 for 9 after 36 overs by the time he finished his spell.
It was his best bowling figures in one-dayers, bettering the 3 for 36 he took against West Indies [Images] at Jodhpur in November 2002. Kartik's 6 for 27 are also the best bowling figures in an ODI at the Wankhede, bettering the 5 for 22 by Winston Benjamin against Sri Lanka [Images] in November 1993.
Zaheer also deserves special praise as he bowled a tight spell throughout, taking 1 for 22 in his nine overs.
The pitch is taking a lot of turn and it would be interesting to see how Australian spinner Brad Hogg performs on this pitch. So far, he has enjoyed the upper hand against the Indian batsmen and it would be interesting to see if he can better Kartik's effort.
Sachin Tendulkar [Images], playing for the possibly the last time in front of his home fans, will be keen to finish on the winning side.
The first over from Brett Lee made it clear how difficult it would be for the Indian batsmen on a track offering a bit of bounce and swing to the pacers. Lee bowled a couple of unplayable deliveries to Sourav Ganguly, who could only hang his bat out.
Ganguly's suffering ended in the second over of the innings, when he edged behind to wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist off Mitchell Johnson and was out for a duck.
Once again he had no clue to the out-swinger, which swung late and took the edge before the left-hander could realise what was happening.
Dinesh Karthik, who replaced Rahul Dravid [Images] for this match, could not do much either. He played a rather careless cut shot against Johnson in the fourth over, and could only edge it behind for 0.
Sachin Tendulkar gave his home fans something to cheer about with a couple of beautiful drives through the covers off Johnson. Even though batsmen at the other end were struggling, he seemed comfortable and was not bothered by the extra bounce.
He and Yuvraj Singh [Images] tried to restore the innings with some cautious batting as India reached 38 for 2 after 10 overs. But just when he seemed to have got his eye in, he threw his wicket away, playing at a wide delivery from Brett Lee and dragging it back to his stumps. He was bowled for 21 and India were reduced to 38 for 3 in the 11th over. Suddenly the target of 194 seemed like a huge mountain to climb.
Nathan Bracken [Images] got the important wicket of Yuvraj in the 14th over, when he forced the left-hander to edge behind for 15. The wickets were falling thick and fast and once again the Indian middle order failed to deliver when needed the most.
Bracken then reduced the Indian batting to shambles when he got the wicket of captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni [Images]. The right-hander fished at a wide out-swinging delivery only to give wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist his 400th catch in ODIs.
Irfan Pathan lasted just five deliveries before he became the third Indian batsmen to be dismissed without scoring. Once again Pathan, like a few of his team mates before him, played at a wide delivery and was caught at second slip off James Hopes.
With India reeling at 63 for 5 in the 18th over, it was not surprising that a few fans got ready to leave the stadium.
Robin Uthappa then counterattacked in fine style. The Karnataka youngster knew the only way to make a match out of this was to take the attack to the Aussies. He made the visitors take notice of his batsmanship with a couple of huge sixes against Bracken and Hopes to reach 30 as India posted 94 for 6 after 25 overs, needing another 100 from the remaining 25.
Uthappa and Harbhajan Singh set about repairing the damage as they put on 50 runs for the seventh wicket. Both batsmen played sensibly, taking the singles and twos, while dispatching the odd loose delivery for boundaries.
The runs were coming at a fair rate but then India lost the crucial wicket of Uthappa in the 32nd over. The right-hander made a brisk 47, hitting four boundaries and two sixes, before he fell leg before wicket to part time Michael Clarke.
And then four overs later Harbhajan fell, caught at first slip off Johnson for 19 as India slipped to 143 for 8.
Victory now seemed a formality for the World champions unless the tail-enders came up with something exceptional.
The dew on the outfield made it difficult for the Australian spinners. Murali Kartik and Zaheer Khan batted with a great sense of purpose and slowly but steadily inched towards the victory target.
They offered a straight bat to almost everything but also opened up their shoulders to loose deliveries or to over-pitched ones.
Kartik, who was the hero with the ball, was now doing his team great service with the bat. India reached 167 for 8 after 40 overs, needing another 27 runs in the last 10 overs but with just two wickets in hand.
It was Zaheer who took on the scoring mantle as he launched Brad Hogg over the cover region in the 41st over. He then followed it up with a cracking straight six off Lee in the next over to take India closer to victory.
Kartik enjoyed a slice of luck in the 43rd over when an edge off Bracken went between the wicketkeeper and Ponting at first slip for a valuable boundary.
Australia tried their best but could not prevent the ninth wicket pair from taking India to a thrilling victory. The match finished when Johnson bowled on Kartik's pads and the ball went to the boundary for four leg byes as the batsman attempted a fine flick.
Zaheer finished unbeaten on 31 from 43 deliveries (3 boundaries and 1 six), while Kartik was not out on 21 from 34 deliveries (3 boundaries) as India won by two wickets. They reached 195 for 8 in 46 overs to register a consolation victory as Australia took the series 4-2.
The unbroken ninth wicket partnership between Zaheer and Kartik fetched India 52 runs in 62 deliveries. At the halfway stage, it looked as if India was headed for another rout but the tailenders fought on bravely and their efforts must have surely embarrassed their top order colleagues.
In the end, the day well and truly belonged to Kartik. He again proved a thorn in Australia's flesh. His inclusion in the ODI squad was questioned, but today he justified the faith the selectors and captain had shown in him.
It sets up the stage perfectly for the one-off Twenty20 match to be played between the two teams at the CCI on October 20.
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