MELBOURNE – Master finisher Mahendra Singh Dhoni eased India to a seven-wicket victory to clinch their one-day international series against Australia in Melbourne on Friday.
The unflappable veteran wicket-keeper hit his third half-century of the three-game series to again prove the difference after his match-winning knock in the second encounter in Adelaide.
The 37-year-old wicket-keeper batsman kept his usual cool during an unbeaten 87 off 114 balls as India chased down Australia’s 230 with four balls to spare at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
It consummated a hugely successful tour of Australia, where Virat Kohli’s team also claimed an historic first-ever 2-1 Test series win Down Under.
“It’s been an amazing tour for us. We drew the T20 series, won the Test and the ODI series,” Kohli said.
“We are feeling confident and balanced as a side with the World Cup in mind.”
Dhoni was given tremendous support from Kedar Jadhav with a belligerent unbeaten 61 from 57 balls in a match-winning 121-run stand.
“I am happy to bat at any number,” said Man-of-the-Series Dhoni.
“The important thing is where the team needs me. I can’t say I can’t bat at number six after playing 14 years.”
India wrapped up the ODI series after losing the opening match in Sydney by 34 runs, before levelling with a six-wicket win in Adelaide to set up the decider in Melbourne.
Dhoni, a much-loved sporting hero back home, captained India to a World Cup win in 2011. He quit Tests in 2014, and stepped down as the limited-overs skipper three years later.
Kohli looked set for another big score before he was caught behind off Jhye Richardson for 46 off 62 balls in the 30th over, leaving his side at 113/3.
Dhoni and Jadhav took up where Kohli left off, guiding their team to a convincing victory.
India leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal earlier captured the best figures by any bowler in one-day cricket in Australia to restrict the home side to just 230.
Chahal, playing in his first match in the series after coming in for Test wrist-spinner Kuldeep Yadav, mesmerised the Australians with his 6/42.
“I enjoyed bowling for the first time in Australia (internationals). The ball was spinning a little bit, so I planned to bowl slow and vary my pace,” said Chahal, who was named as the Man of the Match.
Chahal shares the record with fellow Indian Ajit Agarkar, who claimed the same figures against Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 2004.
Only Peter Handscomb showed any appreciable fight for Australia with his 58 off 63 balls before he became one of Chahal’s victims.
It was an underwhelming batting performance by the Australians, who managed just 17 boundaries before they were bowled out with eight balls left.
“We took it down to the wire. When you give some great players a couple of chances, it always hurts,” Australia captain Aaron Finch said.
Australia’s openers again failed to get a start, and Alex Carey was out in the third over when he got a nick off Bhuvneshwar Kumar and was taken by Kohli at second slip for five.
His partner Finch followed six overs later again to Kumar trapped lbw for 14.
Shaun Marsh and Usman Khawaja steadied the innings, before Adelaide centurion Marsh was smartly stumped by Dhoni off a wide down the leg-side from Chahal for 39.
Khawaja followed three balls later when he got a thick leading edge and offered Chahal a return catch for 34.
Marcus Stoinis lasted 20 balls before he became Chahal’s third victim, caught at slip by Rohit Sharma for 10, leaving Australia rocking at 123/5 in the 30th over.
Glenn Maxwell hit a breezy 26 off 19 balls before Mohammed Shami enticed him to pull with a short-pitched delivery to Kumar sprinting in from the deep to take a diving catch.
Richardson played against the spin and chipped the ball to short midwicket where Jadhav took the chance for 16 giving Chahal his fourth wicket.
Handscomb was trapped plumb in front of his stumps by Chahal in the 46th over, and Australia’s innings rattled to a quick close.