Teenage fast bowler Ishant Sharma reinforced his status as one of the most exciting young talents in world cricket with a man-of-the-match performance to inspire his side to victory in a tri-series match against Australia in Melbourne on Sunday.
Set just 160 to win after Sharma rocked the Australians with four wickets, there were plenty of anxious moments for the young Indians with the bat when they lost three wickets for 13 runs to slump to 102-5 against tight bowling from the Australian seamers.
India had looked in control at 89-2, but when Sachin Tendulkar’s 400th one-day international innings ended on 44 and Yuvraj Singh’s woeful summer continued as he departed for three, the Australians had the scent of victory.
However, youngster Rohit Sharma (39 not out) and skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni (17 not out) weathered the storm with determined and composed batting that yielded an unbroken 58-run stand.
The result breathed new life into the tri-series and was just India’s second one-day win against the home side in 18 matches in Australia since 1986.
After winning the toss and electing to bat, the Australians made their second-lowest total ever batting first with only 159 in 43.1 overs.
Sharma overcame problems with his run-up and early punishment from opener Matthew Hayden to wreak havoc on the Australian top order, claiming 4-38 just a day after Virender Sehwag warned India were after Australia’s title as the world’s best team.
He should have had five wickets, with wicketkeeper Dhoni grassing a chance from tail-ender Nathan Bracken late in the Australian innings, and was well supported by Shanth Sreesanth, with 3-31, and Irfan Pathan (2-26).
The 19-year-old Sharma’s second over was a nightmare, conceding 18 runs as Hayden belted four boundaries, bowling two no-balls and losing his run-up.
But in a sign of his impressive composure under pressure, he bounced back to have a leaden-footed Hayden caught behind from the second ball of his next over.
Hayden (25 from 21 balls) didn’t move his feet at all as he attempted a lusty cover drive and only got a thick edge through to Dhoni.
Sharma then produced a superb rising delivery as Ricky Ponting’s form slump continued when he was caught at first slip by Sachin Tendulkar for just nine.
Ponting, who also struggled in the Test series against India apart from grafting out a century on a flat wicket in Adelaide, has just 18 runs in three innings in the tri-series at an average of six.
Sharma’s third victim was Andrew Symonds, the dangerous right-hander well caught for 14 off the outside edge by the diving Dhoni as he attempted to defend another rising delivery.
Australia were then in all sorts of trouble at 75-5.
A brilliant piece of work by Dhoni then removed the recalled Brad Haddin, stumped down the leg side off a Harbhajan Singh wide for five, from 31 balls, as India turned the screws and Australia slumped to 92-6.
Only Mike Hussey held the Australian innings together with an unbeaten 65, his 53-run stand with Brett Lee for the seventh wicket adding much needed respectability to the total.
Sharma wrapped up the innings when Dhoni completed his fifth dismissal of the innings to remove Stuart Clark. — AFP