The collective hush at the JSCA Stadium told the story. Adam Zampa bowled a googly and Virat Kohli tried to whip it through mid-wicket. But the ball skidded off the surface, went under his bat and hit the leg stump. As usual, Kohli was princely. He had completed his 41st ODI hundred and was batting on a completely different plane, compared to his teammates. He had started off that Zampa over with a brace of fours off the first two balls. The first one was a picture-perfect cover drive followed by a pull shot over mid-wicket. In the previous Zampa over, Kohli had had a sent the leggie a few metres over long-on despite being beaten in the air.
The follow-up adjustment was a masterclass. But Zampa has had the ability to bounce back, on a few occasions in this series. Moreover, the asking-rate was still hovering around eight runs per over and with support wearing thin, the India captain had to go for the big shots. Kohli’s 95-ball 123 was a work of art. For a change, though, a Kohli century couldn’t take India over the line. Australia won by 32 runs to keep the five-match series alive.
For a team that has become a serial winner, it would be preposterous to press the panic button after just one fairly narrow defeat. But in the grand scheme of things, with an eye to the World Cup, the team management is expected to take note of certain things. India won the ODI series in Australia and New Zealand mainly because of their bowling. In eight ODIs Down Under, only once did the bowlers allow the opponents to post a 300-plus total. In the ongoing home ODIs also, Australia had been restricted to 236/7 and 242 in Hyderabad and Nagpur respectively.
A rare off-day
Strangely, Jasprit Bumrah and company had a collective off day, save the final 10 overs during the Australian innings. The pitch was very good for batting and the Indian fielding didn’t help matters. Usman Khawaja was dropped on 17 by Shikhar Dhawan and he went on to score 104 off 113 balls. There will be the days, when the bowlers would struggle. If it happens in a knockout fixture at the World Cup, do this batting line-up, heavily reliant on the top three, have the collective wherewithal to make up for the odd under par bowling performance?
In 23 ODIs over the past 12-odd months, Kohli has scored 1,786 runs, including nine centuries, at an average of 99-plus. India have won 16 of those matches, with the skipper’s average crossing 100 in winning causes. Rohit Sharma, six centuries during this period, has scored at an average north of 57, while Shikhar Dhawan contributed with three centuries and a very decent average of 41-plus.
Both, however, are going through a mini form slump. Rohit has scored just two half-centuries in his last 10 international innings, while Dhawan’s batting once again seems to be going in a downward direction after his two half-tons in New Zealand.
The Rohit-Dhawan opening partnership so far has yielded four, zero and one in the first three matches respectively in this series. The result is that the India batting suddenly has become a virtual one-man show, with regards to the lead performer. Kedar Jadhav, MS Dhoni and Vijay Shankar have made serious contributions alright, but Kohli yet again has been doing the bulk of scoring—283 runs in three matches and two hundreds. Jadhav, No. 2 in the list, is way behind with 118 runs.This is something that India need to sort out before the World Cup.
On Friday, Dhawan hit a Jhye Richardson away-goer straight to Glenn Maxwell at point, while Rohit was dismissed by a Pat Cummins inswinger that didn’t bounce much. To be fair to Rohit, benefit of the doubt, even on the DRS, could have gone his way. Kohli was sublime from the very first ball. The way he opened the bat-face to hit an angling delivery from Cummins to the point boundary was extraordinary. At the other end, though, Ambati Rayudu oozed mediocrity.
He played away from his body. Then, as he tried to defend a Cummins delivery off the front foot, Rayudu got beaten for pace and was out bowled. Is he good enough for a World Cup No. 4 spot? The question has to be asked. At this rate, there’s every chance that the team management and the selectors’ patience will eventually run out.
Maybe, India missed a trick by not sending Vijay Shankar at No. 5. Dhoni came to a rousing reception instead. But putting emotions aside, Shankar, on the heels of his delightful knock under pressure in the last game at Nagpur, might have been a better choice.
At the same time, though, Dhoni no longer remains the finisher he used to be and of late he has played perfect second fiddle in several winning chases, when India had the leeway to gradually increase the tempo. Against a victory target of 314 and after losing their first three wickets for 27 runs during the chase, the team didn’t have much elbow room, asking-rate wise.
Jadhav shared an 88-run partnership for the fifth wicket with Kohli. The former’s contribution was 26. Shankar, too, played some good shots, but once Kohli was out, the game was done and dusted.
Earlier, Aaron Finch and Usman Khawaja laid the foundation of an Australian biggie with a 193-run opening stand. It was only the second occasion in the last one year that India had conceded a 150-run opening partnership. Hong Kong’s Nizakat Khan and Anshuman Rath had put on 174 at the Asia Cup in Dubai in September last year.
Finch found himself on the receiving end of a Hawk-Eye howler after scoring 93 off 99 balls. Khawaja went on to score his maiden ODI hundred, which gave him the Man of the Match award. India pulled things back in the last 10 overs, but the opening stand had always kept the visitors in ascendancy.
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