Dhoni steers India to a crushing win

NAGPUR: Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni smashed a blistering century as India whipped injury-hit Australia by 99 runs to level their seven-match one-day series 1-1 today.

Dhoni hit 124 off 107 balls and Gautam Gambhir and Suresh Raina chipped in with half-centuries as India, sent in to bat, accumulated their highest one-day total against Australia -- 354-7 from 50 overs. In reply, the world champions, who won the first match by four runs in Vadodara on Sunday, were bowled out for 255 in the day-night international, with left-hander Michael Hussey top-scoring with 53.

Indian seamer Praveen Kumar took two wickets in his first spell before young left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja polished off the middle order with figures of 3-35. Some 40,000 home fans cheered lustily as Dhoni put on 119 for the fourth wicket with Gambhir (76) and a swashbuckling 136 from 93 balls for the fifth with Suresh Raina, who made 62. Enjoying perfect batting conditions at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium, the hosts plundered 108 runs in the final 10 overs, overtaking their previous best against Australia of 315 all out in Bangalore in 2001.

Dhoni reached his century by smashing Shane Watson for a straight six, and celebrated the landmark with another six off the next ball in the same area. The aggressive Indian captain was one of three batsmen to be dismissed in the 50th over, but not before he had taken nine boundaries and three sixes off the truncated Australian attack.

The tourists, already without one-day regulars Michael Clarke, Brad Haddin and Nathan Bracken for the series, were further depleted by injuries to paceman Brett Lee and all-rounder James Hopes. However, left-arm fast bowler Mitchell Johnson was declared fit from an ankle sprain and claimed the important wicket of Virender Sehwag in the 11th over, caught at mid-off attempting a big hit. Sehwag smashed a typically robust 40 off 31 balls to give India the momentum after veteran batsman Sachin Tendulkar was removed by Peter Siddle in the fourth over.

Australia's chase of the mammoth total faltered after India removed the first three batsmen, including skipper Ricky Ponting, by the 11th over to make it 45-3. Wickets fell at regular intervals to hand India an important win ahead of the third match, in New Delhi on Saturday.

For the second match in a row, two Indian umpires took charge in the middle after the International Cricket Council-appointed Mark Benson of England failed to recover from a viral infection.