By Nikhil Bapat
Nagpur, Mar 5 (PTI) Indian bowlers delivered in a heart-stopping climax to fashion a narrow eight-run victory against Australia in the second ODI after skipper Virat Kohli conjured up a resolute hundred in testing conditions, here Tuesday.
All-rounder Vijay Shankar scalped the last two Australian batsmen in the final over in which Australia needed to score 11 runs for a series-levelling win. Shankar had played a good hand with bat as well, scoring quick 46 runs in India’s total of 250.
Handing the ball to medium pacer Shankar at the make-or-break situation was a bold decision by skipper Kohli, who had the option of employing Kedar Jadhav as well.
Chasing 251, Australia were 240 for eight when Shankar got rid of dangerous Marcus Stoinis (52) in the very first ball of the 50th over and castled Adam Zampa in the third ball to trigger celebrations in the Indian camp.
Before that, pacer Jasprit Bumrah (2/19), who is ever-reliable in death overs, dismissed Nathan Coulter-Nile and Pat Cummins in space of three balls in the 46th over and conceded just one run in the 48th over, playing a crucial role in India’s win after the spinners had choked the Australians in the middle overs.
It was Stoinis who had kept the visitors in hunt as he resisted the unrelenting Indian attack with aplomb and added 47-runs for the sixth wicket with Alex Carey (22).
Kohli’s 40th ODI century steered India to a competitive 250 after a middle-order collapse on a dry surface at the VCA stadium but it proved to be just enough in the end as India earned the win with just three balls to spare.
It was India’s 500th win in the ODI format. The first victory had come in 1975 against East Africa under then captain S Venkatraghvan.
India now lead the five-match series 2-0 with third match slated for Friday in Ranchi.
The Indian skipper was in good touch and played some delightful drives whenever the ball was pitched up. In conditions which tested the fitness of each and every player, Kohli struck only 10 boundaries and ran a lot of singles and twos in his 116-run knock.
He was at the crease till the start of the 48th over, facing 120 balls in an innings which will rank among one of his top ODI knocks in recent times.
Australia were off to a fluent start with openers Aaron Finch (37) and Usman Khawaja (38) adding 83 runs at a decent pace but the spinners led by Chinaman Kuldeep Yadav (3/54) not only put the brakes on run-rate but also hurt the visitors by taking wickets intermittently.
Kuldeep broke the opening stand by trapping Finch and later sent back dangerous Glenn Maxwell (4) and Carey while Jadhav and Jadeja accounted for Khawaja and Shaun Marsh respectively.
Stoinis and Carey took the Aussie chase deep with their dogged batting but Kuldeep turned the tide in India’s favour by dismissing the latter.
After the first innings, it was clear that spinners will shape the outcome of the match and Kuldeep along with Ravindra Jadeja and Kedar Jadhav did strangulate the Australian innings.
Between overs 13 and 33 the Indian bowlers conceded just one boundary.
Kuldeep, who was the most impressive bowler on show, was taken to cleaners by the two Aussies who creamed off 15 runs in the 43rd over to ease some pressure.
The two batsmen showed tremendous grit under pressure but Kuldeep provided the much-needed breakthrough by castling Carey, who dragged it on his stumps.
Earlier, Kohli steadily build the Indian innings even as he saw the fall of colleagues Shikhar Dhawan (21) and Ambati Rayudu (18).
Dhawan looked in good touch as he too hit some crushing boundaries before being trapped by part-timer Maxwell.
Rayudu struggled to rotate strike as the ball was not coming on to the bat and was eventually adjudged leg before off Lyon.
Kohli got a good ally in Vijay Shankar (46 off 41) with whom he added 81 runs for the fourth wicket but the latter was unfortunately run out when he backed up too far at the non-striker’s end to a Kohli straight drive.
Leg-spinner Adam Zampa then got rid of Kedar Jadhav (11) and M S Dhoni (0) off successive balls but Kohli held one end up.
He completed his hundred by cutting one from Nathan Coulter-Nile to the square boundary.
The innings approaching the end, acceleration was required but Ravindra Jadeja could only manage 21 off 40 balls and was soon removed by Cummins. Kohli was finally dismissed while trying to pull Pat Cummins.
Kuldeep Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah too perished in a jiffy and India could not even bat for full 50 overs.
India: 250 all out in 48.2 overs (Virat Kohli 116; Pat Cummins 4/29).
Australia: 242 all out in 49.3 overs (Marcus Stoinis 52; Kuldeep Yadav 3/54).
By Nikhil Bapat