Jamie Alter: Gambhir and Dhoni relied on temperance rather than bravado to deliver India victory.
"There were quite a few shots that we shouldn't have played," said MS Dhoni after helping India chase a target of 270 with two balls to spare, "and we need to work on that." On an evening in which several shots from India's batsmen would have left their captain frustrated, it was Dhoni who stamped his authority on the result with a restrained, calculated innings that consisted of just one boundary shot: a six down the ground reminiscent of his World Cup-winning shot in Mumbai last April.
That shot came after Dhoni had played 56 deliveries, and the nonchalant power packed into that six could serve as a lesson for Virender Sehwag, Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, each of whom fell to their own bravado. Amid the madness that surrounded their dismissals, Dhoni's application stood out. Dhoni, the modern day iceman in limited-overs cricket, refrained from any audacity until the final over.
At the WACA, against Sri Lanka, India's win came down to an unbeaten fifty partnership between Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin. Under lights at the Adelaide Oval, Dhoni ensured he was there until the end. Against Sri Lanka his silly attempt a pull shot had exposed the lower order, and it was apparent that he wasn't going to let that happen again.
Dhoni arrived in the 35th over and showed more patience than a dutiful husband in his first 34 balls as he scored 14. India manage just 18 off the batting Powerplay, and soon after Dhoni watched as Suresh Raina yorked himself for a 30-ball 38 and Jadeja slogged to deep midwicket for 12, the second wicket leaving India's requirement at 13 off eight balls. Until then he had hardly hit a ball in anger, never mind attempt to hit anything in the air.
But after a slow start, Dhoni opened his shoulders and timed his assault to perfection, striking the third ball of the final over, bowled by Clint McKay, for a big six and then following up with pull shots for two and three runs off the last two deliveries bowled. Dhoni is a proven chaser - he averages over 100 in 49 successful chases for India - but rarely have there been such restrained innings that have, at the last minute, succeeded in sealing tense chases. The calm demeanour for the first 55 deliveries of his unbeaten innings no doubt helped him judge the time to tee off against McKay, and on this day it all worked wonderfully for Dhoni.
Of course, this chase would not have been possible without the Man-of-the-Match Gautam Gambhir's well-paced 92. Like he did during the World Cup final, Gambhir controlled the chase after an early wicket and appeared unfazed by the dismissals of Kohli and Rohit. His driving was a treat and his footwork against spin a throwback to days when Gambhir regularly bossed slow bowlers.
Unlike Sehwag, Kohli and Rohit, he tempered his aggression to produce smart cricket shots that were the result of placement more than power. Gambhir did not hit down the ground or try to take on the quick bowlers, instead relying on his ability to nudge the ball around. It was unfortunate that he missed a century, when he was adjudged lbw to a ball that replays suggested had pitched outside leg stump.
Chasing a target of 270 for victory, India were forced to work hard for their win after slipping to 178 for 4, eventually winning by four wickets in nerve-wracking manner. This was the kind of win that can turn India's fortunes around in Australia. It was far from perfect but as Gambhir and then Dhoni showed, controlling one's aggression can often result in success.