It took India three efforts to change the 359-run curse on October 16, 2013. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the chase that ended up reversing a target that has always had a psychological impact of India against Australia.
The first 359
It was a clash between the two best teams of the tournament. Australia had won ten straight matches in the tournament while India had won nine — losing only to Australia. The most populated nation among the cricket-playing countries waited in front of the television sets to see whether India would regain the title after two decades or finish as the also-rans.
It all went wrong from the toss at New Wanderers. Sourav Ganguly won the toss and elected to bowl — perhaps due to the fact that India were skittled for 125 in the league match against the same side. It was a complete contrast to what Imran Khan had done in the final 11 years back despite being bowled out for 74 against England batting first in the league stage.
The bowling attack looked nervy, and Zaheer Khan started by conceding 15 runs in an over that consisted of two no-balls and six wides. Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist then tore into the Indian attack, reaching 80 in ten overs.
Harbhajan Singh then pulled things back a bit by removing both openers: after 20 overs Australia had reached 123 for two with two new batsmen — Ricky Ponting and Damien Martyn — at the crease. Ganguly had probably expected India to get back into the match if his bowlers could pull off a couple of quick wickets.
It all went wrong from there; Zaheer, the most successful bowler of the side, considered 67 in seven overs; Javagal Srinath’s ten went for 87; Ganguly turned to Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Dinesh Mongia, and Yuvraj Singh — but none of them could provide him with a breakthrough.
Hell broke loose thereafter. Ponting’s 140 took him 121 balls and Martyn’s 88 took 84. The score read 359 for two when the demoralised Indians walked out of the field.
The Indians, however, decided to go down all guns blazing. Tendulkar hit a boundary (devoid of any timing) before top-edging one off Glenn McGrath. Sehwag and Ganguly added a 54-ball 54, and there was even a ray of hope when rain stopped play. However, a billion hearts were broken when play eventually resumed, and Sehwag and Rahul Dravid’s efforts went in vain as India collapsed to 234.
Darren Lehmann finished the tournament, just as he had done four years back. India lost the match by 125 runs — exactly the same number of runs they had scored in the league match, which triggered humiliating ‘saving-an-innings-defeat’ comments.
The second 359
This time nobody expected India to win. They had beaten Australia only once in the tournament, and were trounced in the first final at MCG. In the second final at SCG they were at the receiving end of a Gilchrist-Hayden blitz after Ponting had decided to bat. The only consolation was perhaps the fact that Ponting — the demon from 2003 — had retired.
There was Martyn, though, as was Hayden. Hayden’s 126 took him 122 balls. Even after both of them fell in quick succession Andrew Symonds (39-ball 66) and Michael Clarke (20-ball 33 not out) added 99 in 47 balls, and Simon Katich provided the finishing touches as Australia finished on 359 for five.
Sehwag fell after a cameo, and India were still on track after 49 for two after 53 balls. Thereafter everything went downhill as India collapsed for 151. All four seamers — Jason Gillespie, Brett Lee, Brad Williams, and Ian Harvey — ended up picking two wickets apiece; India lost the match by 208 runs and conceded the trophy.
The third 359
Australia had gone up 1-0 in the series with a comprehensive victory in the first ODI. Here, too, Aaron Finch and Phil Hughes followed the trend set in the previous match, adding 74 for the first wicket. It was then that Shane Watson walked out and pressed on the accelerator.
Watson’s blitz eventually ended after a 53-ball 59; it seemed that India had managed to stop the onslaught, but George Bailey upped the tempo even further; the run-rate increased even more after Hughes fell for a solid 83. Bailey and Glenn Maxwell set out with a furious conviction, adding 86 in 51 balls.
Maxwell eventually fell for a 32-ball 53, while Bailey batted till the end, remaining unbeaten on a 50-ball 92. Australia finished on the same dreaded score of 359 — for five wickets. For only the second time in the history of ODI cricket had five batsmen registered fifties in an innings.
India had never chased over 300 successfully against Australia. In fact, other than South Africa’s iconic 435-run chase, no other team has chased as many in the history of ODIs. The good thing for India was the fact that other than Yuvraj Singh there was no survivor from the previous two 359s; Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma went for the target with a positive intent; Brad Haddin possibly ‘dropped the match’ missing a skier from Dhawan, and they marched on.
The pair added 176 in 157 balls before Dhawan edged one off James Faulkner for 95; nobody would have guessed that it would be the third-highest score of the innings. India needed 184 from 143 balls; it was achieved in 104 balls. Virat Kohli ended up scoring the fastest century by an Indian (in 52 balls) while Rohit remained unbeaten on 141.
The curse was lifted by the young brigade. Perhaps for good.
Australia 359 for 5 in 50 overs (George Bailey 92 not out, Phil Hughes 83, Shane Watson 59, Glenn Maxwell 53, Aaron Finch 50) lost to India 362 for 1 in 43.3 overs (Rohit Sharma 141*, Shikhar Dhawan 95, Virat Kohli 100*) by 9 wickets with 39 balls to spare.
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)