Fans who anticipated seeing Sachin Tendulkar score the 83 runs he needed to reach the figure of 17,000 50-over runs, would have been disappointed after their hero endured a rare failure. But MS Dhoni ensured there was to be no anti-climax in Nagpur yesterday by hitting a thrilling century as India levelled the seven-match series with a 99-run victory. If Dhoni had played better than he did yesterday in compiling an exquisitely-paced 124 off just 107 balls then few could remember when.
Boasting an average of nearly 70 in ODIs this year, the captain had been under pressure to promote himself up the order from No 5 to ensure he was afforded as many overs as possible to wield his sledgehammer of a bat. But Dhoni shrewdly kept himself in the middle-order, content to allow the vaunted top-four of Virender Sehwag, Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh to unfurl their array of strokes against the new ball on a belter of a pitch.
When Dhoni strode to the crease in the 16th over, India were already rattling along at more than six an over after Sehwag had blasted 40 off 31 balls. The breathtaking start allowed Dhoni the time to construct an innings and he shared in stands of 119 with Gambhir (76 off 80 balls) and then 136 with Suresh Raina (62 off 50 balls) as India posted 354 for seven, their highest total against Australia.
The running between the wickets was an early feature of Dhoni's innings but the latter stages was an exhibition of power hitting. The right-hander brought up his fifth ODI century by launching Shane Watson straight back over his head for a towering six and repeated the trick the next ball. Australia badly missed the partnership-breaking ability of Brett Lee, their injured strike bowler, and their performance in the field was summed by a rare dropped catch from Ricky Ponting.
Australia's hopes of a successful run chase were always going to hinge on Ponting, who has over 12,000 ODI runs to his name, but once he was trapped lbw for just 12 by a ball that nipped back from the impressive Praveen Kumar, the visitors were always up against it. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org