Kolkata, Sep 21 (IANS) Skipper Virat Kohli played a fabulous knock but fell eight short of a well deserved century as India put up a challenging score of 252 against Australia on a tricky two paced Eden Gardens track in the second One-day International (ODI) here on Thursday.
With the last Indian batsman Yuzvendra Chahal (1) getting run out on the last ball of the innings, the hosts have set the visitors an asking rate of 5.06 to square the series.
It could prove to be a tough task for the Aussies, who have found it difficult to negotiate the oppressively humid conditions through the afternoon, and with the two Indian wrist spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Chahal likely to get assistance from the wicket.
Kohli (92 from 107 balls; 8*4) built the Indian innings by stitching together a 102-run second wicket partnership with Ajnkya Rahane (55 from 64 7*4) and later a 55-run stand for the fourth wicket in the company of Kedar Jadhav.
The Indian captain seemed hungry for a big score after his duck in Chennai, and was the master of his surroundings throughout his stay at the wicket. He played responsibly, mixed caution with the right dose of aggression, and let loose some exquisite strokes that earned applause from the half filled stands.
Opting to bat first, the two Indian openers Rahane and Rohit Sharma at times were put in a spot of bother against the bouncing balls, as the wicket provided some carry to the Aussie pacers in the initial few overs.
Pacer Nathan Coulter-Nile saw the end of Rohit (7) in the sixth over, when the Mumbaikar went for a drive, but played too early and the bowler took the ballooning catch spectacularly despite being off-balance.
This brought Rahane and Kohli together, and the duo went about their job of consolidating the Indian innings under the tough conditions — with the heat and energy sapping humidity causing discomfort to the players, especially the visitors. Several Aussies picked up cramps and the support staff frequently had to make use of ice towels and supply fluids to keep them going.
The bulk of the runs came from the off side, a major reason being the Aussie bowlers maintaining a consistent on or outside the off stump line. That also gave the spectators some beautiful moments, with Rahane executing some classy cover drives. In fact, all his seven boundaries were sweetly timed, and rocketed past the off side fielders.
India reached 100 in 19.5 overs with Kohli picking up a boundary past third man, before he completed his 45th ODI half-century in the 22nd over with a single.
The 111-ball stand ended the very next ball. Rahane played to deep cover, and turned for a second run, but found himself short of the crease despite a desperate full-length dive when Matthew Wade ripped off the bails following a Hilton Cartwright throw.
At the halfway stage of the innings, India were 124/2. But that became 131/3 a little later, with Manish Pandey (3) departing cheaply.
Jadhav (24 from 24; 2*4, 1*6) went for his shots that included an audacious paddle sweep, and the only six of the innings over backward point. But he left soon after, attempting to cut a full-length stuff from Coulter-Nile.
There was more disappointment in store for the motley crowd, as Coulter-Nile got one seaming back, and Kohli tried to play it to third man, in the process inside edging on to his leg stump. India were 197/5.
Eight balls later, the in-form Mahendra Singh Dhoni (5) drove Kane Richardson early and Steve Smith took a diving catch.
With three key batsmen getting out within a space of 18 runs, it seemed India might lose their way.
But Hardik Pandya and Bhuvneshwar Kumar — each getting 20 — stretched the innings.
Coulter-Nile (3/51) and Richardson (3/55) were the most successful Australian bowlers. Richardson was in fact on a hat-trick towards the end by picking up Kumar and Pandya off successive balls — spread over two overs.
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