There is always a sense of heightened expectation ahead of an India-Australia series. The seven-match One-Day International (ODI) series in 2009 was no different. The first four matches lived up to expectations of a keenly-contested series, with Australia going on to win at Vadodara and Mohali, and India getting the better of their opponents at Nagpur and Delhi. The stage was perfect when the teams arrived at Hyderabad for the fifth match of the series.
Hyderabad’s Rajiv Gandhi Stadium was never a happy-hunting ground for the home team. In fact, India had earlier faced Australia at the same venue a couple of years ago in 2007, with the visitors clinching an impressive 47-run victory. Nevertheless, the Indians looked far more formidable than their opponents this time around, at least on paper. There was every chance India would break the jinx.
Sachin Tendulkar was just nine short of 17,000 ODI runs. That and the 2-2 scoreline between two quality teams ensured that there was a huge demand for tickets.
Australians post a mammoth total
A deafening roar greeted Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Ricky Ponting when they walked out for the toss. Ponting called it right and chose to bat, which meant that all the banners hailing Tendulkar’s 17,000 runs had to be tucked away for a good three and a half hours. The wait became all the more agonising, because the Indian bowlers failed to provide any cheer, as Shane Watson and Shaun Marsh put up an incredible 145-run opening stand. Watson fell just seven short of his century, but Ponting walked in at No 3 and ensured there was no break in momentum.
Even after Ponting’s dismissal, Marsh remained steady and kept the scoreboard ticking, thereby collecting a well-deserved century. Later, Cameron White and Michael Hussey scored at a brisk pace to amass a hundred runs in the last 10 overs, helping Australia reach a mammoth 350 for four in the allotted 50 overs.
All five Australian batsmen on view finished with a strike-rate of over hundred as they took complete advantage of India’s fragile bowling line-up. The Hyderabad crowd were in a state of shock. Yet, none left their seats, for they believed that the man who’d been delivering for them since the last 20 years and on the verge of a gigantic landmark, could still wave his magic wand.
An unforgettable knock
The decibel levels reached a crescendo when Tendulkar came out to open the innings with Virender Sehwag. The much-awaited moment came off the final ball of the fifth over when Tendulkar steered Ben Hilfenhaus past the square-leg to reach 17,000 runs. The spectators went into frenzy, but the man remained unfazed, focused on the enormity of the task at hand. Sehwag was good company at the other end, racing to a speedy 38 before succumbing in characteristic fashion.
Gautam Gambhir didn’t last long, managing to score just eight. Yuvraj Singh walked in to fill the breach. India had played two ODIs prior to this one at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium, and Yuvraj scored hundred in both. However, he wasn’t lucky the third time around, scoring just nine. Skipper Dhoni, too, failed. Nevertheless, Tendulkar continued to toy around with the Australian bowlers, and his Wagon Wheel was a symbol of uniformity.
When Suresh Raina came in to bat at No 6, India needed a further 188 runs in 26.3 overs. What followed next stunned the Australians. Tendulkar looked unstoppable, bludgeoning every bowler in vintage fashion. Spinner Nathan Hauritz was taken to the cleaners as the maestro stepped out of his crease and sent the ball flying twice over the ropes. He eventually reached the three-figure mark in just 81 balls, to send the crowd into delirium. At the other end, Raina was flawless.
India soon reached 254 in 38 overs, with Tendulkar and Raina still going strong. The target now looked well within reach, though India had just specialist batsman in the pavilion – Ravindra Jadeja. It was imperative for India that Tendulkar and Raina carried on. Tendulkar unfurled a few unorthodox shots. Ponting clearly looked worried. When Tendulkar reached 150, one saw tears of joy in the eyes of a few at the stadium; they felt blessed to witness something spectacular.
The final overs
India were now cruising at 299 for four, with 52 runs required off 45 balls and six wickets in hand; a cakewalk for India, one would assume. But Watson struck twice in the 43rd, dismissing Raina and Harbhajan Singh caught behind. Tendulkar was there, and that’s what mattered for the Indian fans. Jadeja proved to be an ally, racing to a swift 24 off just 17 deliveries.
Indian cricket fan
The scoreboard now read 332 for six in 47 overs – India requiring 19 in 18 deliveries to pull off a remarkable victory. Sadly for the home team and its fans, Tendulkar trying to paddle-scoop debutant Clint McKay and ended up giving a regulation catch to Hauritz. There was pin-drop silence at the stadium for a moment. But the stunned spectators recovered to give the maestro a standing ovation. They’d witnessed one of Sachin Tendulkar’s greatest knocks, that which would become a part of his folklore. The maestro’s epic of 175 off 141 balls was embedded with 19 fours and four sixes and spanned all but two overs of the Indian reply.
Nonetheless, India were tantalisingly close to the total, and it looked as though the hosts would romp home to victory with a few balls to spare. But within a span of six balls, Jadeja and Ashish Nehra fell to worsen the situation for India. It was now up to Praveen Kumar and Munaf Patel –not the ideal batsman for the situation – to score eight off the last over.
Three runs came of the first three balls. Five were needed to win in the final three deliveries, when two batsmen set off for a double. But Hauritz – who’d had a rough night thus far – sent in a perfect throw to the ‘keeper, to run out Praveen. India fell three short of the total. Though Marsh had scored a hundred, Watson a near hundred and the two gave Australia the platform for victory with an opening wicket stand of 145, it was Tendulkar’s effort in a losing cause that was given the Man of the Match award – a rare honour for a player of a team that ended up on the defeated side. The honour was special, as was the innings. But it was no consolation for Tendulkar, who was heart-broken to see his side lose.
The crowd, whose emotional graph represented a sinusoidal wave throughout the duration of the match, were left shell-shocked. They’d seen something spectacular, and an Indian win would have been an icing on the cake, but that wasn’t to be. Nevertheless, they left the stadium hugely satisfied, having witnessed a knock that will be etched in their memories.
Brief scores: Australia 350 for four in 50 overs (Shane Watson 93, Shaun Marsh 112, Ricky Ponting 45, Craig White 57, Mike Hussey 31 not out; Praveen Kumar 2-68) bt India 347 in 49.4 overs (Virender Sehwag 38, Sachin Tendulkar 175, Suresh Raina 49; Clint McKay 3-59, Shane Watson 3-47)