Disciplined Australia halt Indian juggernaut

The Report by Sidharth Monga

It is tough to imagine an Australian side of the old 3-0 down in a series after the dominant positions they got themselves into in the three preceding games. In failing to capitalise fully on a 231-run opening stand, they left themselves susceptible to a fourth such reversal, but better fielding than India and excellent bowling from their quicks made sure India’s ODI juggernaut was halted at nine wins in a row, still their longest streak.

David Warner scored a hundred in his 100th ODI, Aaron Finch biffed his way to 94 and to the top of the runs chart this series despite playing only two matches, but Australia managed just 102 runs in the last 15 overs, setting India 335. For a good part of the chase, India seemed on course to add to their record of five successful chases of 330 or more and Australia’s unwanted record of eight unsuccessful defences of 330 or more, but their fielders and bowlers redeemed themselves on a damp outfield where it couldn’t have been easy to grip the ball.

The moment of magic came from the captain Steven Smith, who has so far had an ordinary series in the field, dropping two catches in Chennai and one in Indore. Two of those were crucial. In Bengaluru, he led by example at point in a match where India let quite a few slip through on a bumpy outfield that is dangerous to dive on. While India seemed cautious diving, Smith threw himself at everything. One of those balls was a Virat Kohli cut with India’s two best ODI batsmen in the middle.

Smith flew to his left at point. All of a sudden what seemed like at least a single caused panic. Kohli returned, oblivious that Rohit Sharma – on a sublime 65 at that point – kept running. It should have been Rohit’s call anyway even though he would have been only just out had Smith hit the stumps at the striker’s end direct. Smith missed, but both the batsmen were at the same end, and Australia had enough time to run Rohit out. Kohli was in no position to sacrifice his wicket for the set batsman because he had run past the wicket.

To make it worse, Nathan Coulter-Nile returned to provide Kohli a replay of his Kolkata dismissal. Coulter-Nile went wide on the crease, bowled short of a length, asked Kohli to dab it to third man, but took the inside edge with the angle. India had slipped from 106 for 0 to 147 for 3, losing both half-centurions Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit. For the first time in a long time, India’s middle order was going to be tested with the asking rate a worry.

India responded by promoting Hardik Pandya again. Pandya responded with three sixes in a 40-ball innings, moving to No. 1 on the six-hitters’ list this year, in under half the balls faced by the No. 2 on that list, Eoin Morgan. Adam Zampa had his own back after the Chennai mauling and two sixes on the night when he got Pandya out in the 38th over. Zampa bowled well to Pandya, not giving him the length he could hit straight. Pandya responded well with a pulled six and another over extra cover, but finally the short ball from Zampa got Pandya at long-off.

It was, however, Pandya’s partner in that 78-run stand that seemed to be India’s man for the night. And afternoon. His low-arm action resembles a man bowling to under-10 kids in street cricket, but in international limited-overs cricket, India go to Kedar Jadhav only when all else has failed against big-hitting batsmen. As seen in the Champions Trophy, hardly ever does Jadhav’s unusual bowling fail. He came on to bowl in the 31st over with no wicket taken, with two of cricket’s biggest hitters looking to hit every ball big, and produced the wicket of Warner in a spell of 7-0-38-1.

Umesh Yadav then removed Finch and Smith to expose the softer underbelly of Australia’s batting. Three wickets fell for five runs, no boundary came in 50 balls, only 56 were in scored before the last five overs.

Umesh had in part been responsible for the rollicking start. Mohammed Shami and Umesh, playing ahead of the rested Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, provided full balls far too often on a pitch that seemed difficult if the pace was taken off with the length on the shorter side. Finch began the aggression, but Warner caught up soon and then left his opening partner far behind. Both took full toll of all of India’s specialist bowlers, including Axar Patel, replacing the rested left-arm wristspinner Kuldeep Yadav.

Then Jadhav happened, giving himself a chance when his turn to bat came. Every time the asking rate crept towards or beyond eight in that partnership with Pandya, Jadhav would keep finding a way to hit a boundary. He managed the same later with Manish Pandey, but the turn available meant Smith could bowl 15 overs of spin, which was a bonus especially with Marcus Stoinis injured.

Zampa began the 42nd over with a slight drizzle around. This was a crucial over because Australia’s three big quicks could bowl out after that over. To add to the drama, the drizzle was deemed hard enough to take the players off after one ball, with India two runs behind the DLS par score. Teams came back on, Zampa’s over went for 12, and Australia now had 75 to defend in eight overs of their three gun bowlers.

Pandey sent Coulter-Nile back with a six over midwicket in the 43rd over, but Kane Richardson began to chip away at India. The 44th over was perfect for Australia: a slower yorker from deep inside Richardson’s palm and five other singles meant India needed more than 10 an over in the last six.

Pat Cummins followed it with an eight-run over, and that Richardson slower ball – no change in arm speed or release – got Jadhav caught at long-off. Out came MS Dhoni with 49 required off 26. Despite his important hands of late, this was Dhoni’s test. Nobody has questioned Dhoni’s calm and acumen, which has shown in his recent efforts, but it is when quick runs are needed that Dhoni struggled of late. Especially after Pandey’s wicket early next over, it was all down to Dhoni.

Dhoni showed a new side, in that he didn’t take ones and twos to take the chase into the last over. He tried a big hit to almost every ball, managing to hit one six, but he played a damaging five dot balls before chopping on. The chase was over. Australia finally had smiles on their faces.

Australia 334 for 5 (Warner 124, Finch 94, Handscomb 43, Umesh 4-71) beat India 313 for 8 (Jadhav 67, Rohit 65, Rahane 53, Richardson 3-58) by 21 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details


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