Double centurion Sharma blasts India to series win

Bangalore, Nov 2 (IANS) Rohit Sharma re-wrote the record books and also authored personal bests en route to a magnificent 209 (158b, 12x4, 16x6) that carried India to a dramatic 57-run win against a fighting Australia and also helped them clinch the seven-match ODI series 3-2 here Saturday.

In a match of twists and turns, India, asked to bat first, notched up 383 for six with 101 runs coming in the last five overs during the rollicking 167-run partnership for the fifth wicket between Sharma and skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni (62, 38b, 7x4, 2x6).

In reply, the Australians, reeling at 211 for eight in the 31st over, waged a magnificent fightback with James Faulkner scoring 116 (73b, 11x4, 6x6) and taking the visitors agonizingly close to a dream win with a 115-run stand for the ninth wicket with Clint McKay (18) before both departed within a delivery of each other as they were all out for 326 in the 46th over.

India all but looked the gift horse in the mouth with some ordinary bowling that helped the Australians, chasing under tremendous pressure, to get within an ace of snatching a thrilling win in a match that saw 38 sixes.

The Australians were never quite in the hunt at the start as they lost wickets, including that of their top scorer and skipper George Bailey (4), at regular intervals though Glenn Maxwell (60, 22b, 3x4, 7x6), a limping Shane Watson (49, 22b, 2x4, 6x6) counter-attack but to little effect.

It was left to Faulkner and McKay to raise the Aussie hopes with a fighting partnership until both were dismissed in the space of two balls much to relief of the Indian team. McKay was bowled by left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja who came away with 3 for 73 and Faulkner hoisted Mohammad Shami (3 for 52).

The visitors, without their key seamer and leading wicket-taker Mitchell Johnson who returned home Friday to prepare for the forthcoming Ashes series, also lost all-rounder Shane Watson who left the field with a hamstring injury after bowling just five overs. In the event, the Aussie attack proved to be a fodder for the in-form Indian batsmen.

The story of the day was undoubtedly Sharma's thrilling innings that highlighted his return to form and maturing into a World-class batsman after a few seasons of inconsistent performances.

Timing the ball extremely well, Sharma switched gears and shrugged off a horrendous mix-up that led to the run out of Virat Kohli (0), India's top batsman in the current series with two centuries, to play an innings that underlined his class.

The 26-year old Sharma, while becoming only the third batsman behind Virender Sehwag (219 at Indore vs New Zealand in 2009) and Sachin Tendulkar (200 not out vs South Africa at Gwalior in 2010) to notch an ODI double century, completed 1,000 runs in a calendar year and also crossed 3,000 career runs in the 50-over format.

In the course of the memorable innings, Sharma slammed a World record 16 sixes, easing past Shane Watson's 15 that he hit against Bangladesh in 2011 at Mirpur.

Despite his splendid achievement, Sharma, who had notched an unbeaten 141 that carried India to win at Jaipur earlier in the series, was modest to point out that the small boundaries also played a part in his run blitz that totally floored the Aussies.

Earlier, Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan (60) provided just the start Indians wanted with their 112-run partnership, interrupted by a rain-break, before the Aussies picked up two quick wickets. Dhawan was trapped in front by left-arm spinner Xavier Doherty and in the next over, Kohli, sent back by Sharma, was run out.

The two dismissals did not stop Sharma's remorseless onslaught as along with Suresh Raina (28) added 72 runs in 9.4 overs for the third wicket before the Aussies came up another double strike.

Raina was caught plumb in front by Doherty and a while later, Yuvraj Singh (12) fell to a brilliant catch by wicket-keeper Brad Haddin off James Faulkner to leave India on 207 for four in the 34th over.

Thereafter, Sharma and Dhoni proceeded to dismantle the Aussie bowling after a spell of cautious play. If Sharma went from strength to strength to not only get to his second century of the series but later stepped on the accelerator to reach 200 in just 42 deliveries with Dhoni complimenting him at the other end with some fine shots.

Such was the Sharma-Dhoni onslaught that sixes and boundaries rained much to the delight of the sell-out Diwali crowd that was entertained to some big hitting not seen at the venue in recent times.

Sharma eventually fell in the last over, caught at square-leg and off the last ball, Dhoni was caught short of the crease, attempting a second run.

The Aussie chase moved in fits and starts, marked by a couple of bizarre dismissals, notably those of Bailey, who was too busy watching his partner completing second run while himself was stranded by a throw from non-striker's end to Dhoni who broke the stumps.

Thereafter, young Glenn Maxwell blasted a 22-ball 60 and a limping Watson (49 off 22) briefly sparked an Aussie fightback, but both fell attempting shots.

While Maxwell holed out in the deep, Watson was caught at short third-man when his square-cut saw the ball ricochet off Dhoni's knee and lob to Shami.

The two dismissals effectively put an end to the Aussie challenge though Faulker and McKay nearly pulled off a miraculous win.

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