Huge challenge for Australia to win Nagpur Test (Roundup)

November 9th, 2008 - 8:04 pm ICT by IANS  

img src=”http://www.thaindian.com/newsportal/images/Harbhajan Singh/25826_2.jpg” hspace=”5″ vspace=”5″ alt=”Harbhajan Singh” title=”Harbhajan Singh” align=”right” Nagpur, Nov 9 (IANS) An important century-run stand between captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh helped India recover after a middle-order debacle in the second innings and set a victory target of 382 runs for Australia on the penultimate day of the final Test here Sunday.At close, Australia were 13 for no loss after Matthew Hayden (5) and Simon Katich (8) played out the 1.3 overs before they appealed against fading light at the Vidarbha Cricket Association (VCA) Stadium here Sunday evening.

After a good start by openers Virender Sehwag (92) and Murali Vijay (41) in the morning session, India’s middle-order faltered as the hosts slumped from 116/1 to 166/6 in the second innings by tea. But in the final session, Dhoni (55) and Harbhajan (52) sticthed an important 108-run partnership before India were all out for a challenging 295 in the second innings.

India completely dominated the first and the last sessions of the day but the second session went to Australia, who put the hosts on the back-foot by picking up six wickets in the space of just 50 runs.

But Australia lost the plot completely in the final session, when Dhoni and Harbhajan milked the slow bowlers for easy runs to steady the India innings. Australia captain Ricky Ponting’s decision to replace the fast bowlers, who wrecked havoc in the Indian middle-order, by slow bowlers to get on with the required over rate fell flat.

Ponting might escape the penalty for falling short of required over-rate but lost an opportunity to strangle the Indian batsman who were troubled by the reverse swing in the post-lunch session.

The spinners suffered at the hands of Dhoni and Harbhajan. Debutant off-spinner Jason Krejza might have a unforgettable debut with a match haul of 12 wickets but proved costly as he gave away 358 runs for his haul.

Dhoni controlled his aggression and but when offered width he launched himself violently on the spinners with sweeps and the fierce pull. His 81-ball stay came to an end with a smart catch at silly point by Mike Hussey off Krejza.

Harbhajan kept the fielders busy with his little nudges off the front foot. It was also his second half-century in the series and the fourth against Australia.

In the morning, India were strengthening their hold on the final Test with openers Sehwag and Vijay adding 116 runs for the first-wicket. Australia, trailing 0-1 in the series, face a must-win situation and were bowled out for 355 in their first innings in reply to India’s 441.

Sehwag made a bright start, driving the fifth ball of the day for a four. Both the batsmen accumulated runs safely with few audacious strokes coming from Sehwag every now and then.

Australian bowlers kept pitching the ball up but lacked the firepower for a breakthrough on the placid track.

It was a controlled innings from Sehwag, who ducked short deliveries but punished anything that drifted down his leg. He was severe on Australian pace-spearhead Brett Lee, who had to be removed from the attack after he conceded 24 runs from his first spell of five overs.

Lee was replaced by off-spinner Jason Krezja, who also suffered at the hands of Sehwag. The 30-year-old twice slog-swept Krejza for four, the second got him his half-century, 25 minutes before lunch.

Vijay, on the other hand, was cautious in his approach. He left the bouncers well and played some handsome strokes straight to the fielders. Vijay came heavily on Krejza, cutting the offie through point and gully for boundaries and even stepped out to whip a four over mid-on.

But the complexion of the game changed in the post-lunch session in a dramatic fashion.

A double-strike from Shane Watson and Lee removed both the openers and reduced India to 132/2. Rahul Dravid (3), who followed in next, continued his woeful form after he edged Watson to wicketkeeper Brad Haddin.

Minutes before tea, Krezja off successive deliveries removed V.V.S. Laxman (4) and Sourav Ganguly, for a golden duck in his last Test, to continue his fairytale debut.

To add more sugar to tea, Australia ran out Sachin Tendulkar (12) on the last ball of the session as India lost plenty of ground that they had gained in the first session. But Dhoni and Harbhajan regained it well in the last session of the day.

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