Melbourne: Former India skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni has once again proved the critics wrong by establishing himself as a master of close finish when he belted an 87 not out to complete a hat trick of half centuries to help the men-in-blue clinch the third ODI by 7 wickets and a historic 2-1 bilateral series win over Australia at the MCG here on Friday.
Criticised for a sluggish knock in the first ODI, which India lost by 34 runs in Sydney, the Ranchi stumper’s half century in the second game in Adelaide was instrumental in helping the tourists level the series with a 6-wicket verdict.
At the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Friday, the master chaser jogged memories of his vintage self when he anchored the 231-run chase with a defiant unbeaten 87 off 114 balls, laced with six hits to the fence.
Promoted to No.4, Dhoni first raised a strong 54-run third wicket stand with skipper Virat Kohli (46) and thereafter took India home with an unbeaten 121-run stand with Kedar Jadhav (61 not out).
After the departure of the in-form opening duo of Rohit Sharma (9) and Shikhar Dhawan (23) with the Indian scoreboard ticking 59/2, Kohli and Dhoni laid the foundation for the chase.
Fresh from a century in the second ODI at Adelaide, Kohli looked set for another trademark chase but after facing 62 balls and striking three fours, the India captain was caught behind off Jhye Richardson.
With India still needing 118 runs for a win, Dhoni carried on in the company of new man Jadhav and the highlight of their fourth wicket partnership was stealing the odd singles and converting them into twos.
Dhoni, who was dropped first ball by Glenn Maxwell at backward point, made the most of the life as he battled cramps to eventually get to a hat-trick of half-centuries this series.
With the tourists needing 66 off the last 10 overs, Dhoni and Jadhav, who also got to a hardworking half-century, ensured there were no hiccups and went about their business as usual to eventually guide the team home.
Interestingly, Dhoni, who earned the Man-of-the-series award, also completed 1000 ODI runs in Australia on Friday.
Earlier, Australia’s vulnerability to quality leg-spin was exposed by Yuzvendra Chahal, who returned with his second overseas fifer to help India restrict the hosts for a meagre 230.
Playing his first match of the series, Chahal wreaked havoc in the Australian line-up, returning a career-best 6/42 as the home batsmen seemed to have no clue about playing the leggie.
After pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar got rid of the openers — Aaron Finch (14) and Alex Carey (5) — and reduced the hosts to 27/2, Chahal ripped through the middle order, taking the crucial wickets of the in-form Shaun Marsh (39) and Usman Khawaja (34) in his very first over.
The leggie then returned to remove all-rounder Marcus Stoinis (10) before ending a stiff 45-run seventh wicket stand between top-scorer Peter Handscomb (58) and Jhye Richardson (16).
His sixth victim was his opposite number in the Aussie camp Adam Zampa (3) even as Australia’s innings ended by the 49th over.
Australia 230 (Peter Handscomb 58, Shaun Marsh 39, Usman Khawaja 34; Yuzvendra Chahal 6/42, Bhuvneshwar Kumar 2/28) lose to India (Mahendra Singh Dhoni 87 not out, Kedar Jadhav 61 not out, Virat Kohli 46; Jhye Richardson 1/27) by 7 wickets.