Continuing a recent spate of interesting ODI results, the Indians managed to find a way to excercise their strengths and keep the Aussies at bay, sneaking an 8 run win to keep the series alive at 2-1.
Almost like Dean Jones gasping for a bottle of water in the middle of his marathon knock at Chennai in 1987, the Indians were gasping for a chance to do what they do best - bat first and put runs on the board. The return of Ganguly was a useful addition even if it came at the cost of Gautam Gambhir, since it not only brought better statistical cushion to the Indian batting (Ganguly with an average of 41.83 as against Gambhir's 31.10, more relevant in the context of the team's batting average of 35.24), but it also brought together the opening pair of Sachin and Sourav. This proved crucial, as the opening stand of 91 (Sachin with 79 off 119, and Ganguly with 41 off 59) set the platform for the rest of batsmen to forge partnerships.
Most importantly, it meant that for the first time in the series, Dhoni (50* off 35) and Uthappa (30* off 18) were coming in at a point in the game where they had the license to go for the hits, and not have to worry about consolidating after the loss of early wickets. On a reasonably sluggish pitch, 291 was a par score, short of match-winning only because of the Australian batting might.
The trade off between Stuart Clark and Bracken proved to be a bit expensive for the Australians. Against the run of play and in sharp contrast to his recent ODI form, Bracken turned out to be the most expensive bowler for the Australians, conceding 78 off his 10 overs with only a sole wicket to show.
There are a couple of recurring problems the Australian batting line up is facing. It is important to note that these have taken the form of 'problems' only when the Australians had to face the pressure of chasing a reasonably steep total. Despite giving useful starts, Gilchrist hasn't gone on to convert his openings into the big, matchwinning, morale-crushing innings that he has delivered so often in the past. Symonds and Hayden have continued on a trend, first noticed in Brisbane in 2004 and then observed in the T20 WC semi-final, where they haven't gone on to finish a job they have started, getting out at crucial points in the game where the outcome of the match hinged on their staying at the crease.
Another interesting situation that this match threw up was a role-reversal between Uthappa and Dhoni on one hand and Clarke and Hodge on the other. Chasing a sizeable score, Michael Clarke and Brad Hodge came in facing a situation that the Indian middle order batsmen had faced in the past two games. Significantly for the Indians and for the rest of the series, they failed to fire.
The Indians have managed to find a foothold back in the series, and more importantly, a modus operandi to beat the Australians. Another win could help embolden them enough to fight for a win even if put to chase. Much will now depend on how quickly the Aussies who have been misfiring so far - Ponting, Hodge and to some extent, Gilchrist - find their range.