It’s a sign of the times that one can say a team was restricted despite them reaching 334, but that’s the reality of the day. It was also a fairly decent chase by India at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. The hosts lost by 21 runs to Australia and also let slip the opportunity of registering 10 consecutive ODI wins. Yet, for a long while during the chase, a calmness pervaded that was startling almost.
Not long back, even if India had chased this down, we as spectators would have been drawn into the intensity of the action. There would be doubts, nerves and the drama would have been almost energy-sapping. Even in the heady days of MS Dhoni the finisher, it would have been dragged right till the last over, and there would be a feeling of what would happen if he falls. More often than not, he finished the job of course but that tension would remain. It wasn’t tangible on Thursday until things went pear shaped right near the end.
The way Hardik Pandya and Kedar Jadhav constructed the chase must have pleased the team management. Pandya is showing himself to be a more thoughtful cricketer than it was generally perceived. Promoted to No.4, he showed that he had a plan. There wasn’t one shot in anger against any of the seamers. Not one instinctive attempt to hit out to prove any point. Instead, he did what he does well: took on the spinner Adam Zampa, and pushed and nurdled the seamers around for singles. His defense too was pretty tight.
And most importantly, he exuded a sense of control. Not long back, you could feel the nervous energy and his adrenalin would almost pop out but of late, he has got a better handle on himself. Till he was there in the middle, it seemed India was well in control of the chase.
Jadhav too played a fine hand. He is pretty self-aware about his game, and knows what to do in these conditions. It was a track where the ball had begun to hold up and cutters were in vogue, he started to walk down the track – just what a guy who has been brought up on a diet of tennis-ball cricket would do. He started to make his own length, put the bowlers off track, and he too was sailing along pretty smoothly until Zampa decided to intervene.
Zampa hadn’t had a good first couple of spells (41 from 5 overs) where he was collared and shoved around by Pandya but when he came back he stuck to his strengths.
He didn’t dart the ball flat, he didn’t try to slip in the front-of-hand straighter skidding ones that many leg spinners would have resorted at that stage. Instead, he still kept the ball up, flighting and turning. Match was in a balance when he came in the 36th over with India cantering along at 218 for 3. He started off giving just two runs in the first over, and then had Pandya holing out at long-off against a ball that turned slowly though it was a touch short. Again just 2 runs had come in that over.
Not that India’s chase went awry after Pandya’s exit. It still progressed pretty smoothly with Manish Pandey flowing along with Jadhav. In the end, Australian seamers who seemed almost reluctant to use the slower ones finally shrugged off that tentativeness and started to slip in the cutters at regular intervals. Kane Richardson and Pat Cummins in particular.
Unlike some other teams, the Australians don’t really use the fancy slower ones like knuckle balls and such, but rely on the old-fashioned cutters. As the frequency of the slower ones increased, the ball started to hold up even more on a wearing track and batting faults began to creep in. Jadhav miscued a slower one, Pandey failed to get any wood on an in-cutter, and Dhoni was left with too much to do.
That stumble in the final lap is what this team still needs to nail. Dhoni has shown that he can be a Michael Bevan at this stage in career, as he did in two of the recent games he won – push, prod, run the singles hard, throw in the odd boundaries, and take India home. When the run-rate spirals high, it seems he can’t do the heavy lifting like how he used to do before.
India’s ploy to rotate the players was understandable in the run up the world cup. The lack of match-time showed in Mohammad Shami, who was tentative at the start and took his time to build pace and find his radar, and in Umesh Yadav, who strayed every now and then in the opening spell. The Australian openers ran away to a great start and were further helped along by Axar Patel, who too had an under-par day with the ball. Yuzvendra Chahal, who has playing regularly, was effective and it was left to Kedar Jadhav, with his side-arm stuff, to restrict Australia to below 350.
Yadav and Shami bounced back in their second spells and it would be Axar’s future that would be under a cloud. Threatened not just by the likes of Ashwin or Jadeja, but there is also Krunal Pandya who could push his case in the coming future.
All in all, though, it was a game where the result wouldn’t have hurt or disappointed India. Australia needed this, though they still need to do something about the middle-order muddle, and India would see it as valuable game-time chase practice for the middle order.