India had just been overtaken by the Australians in the Perth chase, but nothing pointed to them being overawed by the result. The last time they’d sighted that canary yellow, they had suffered an embarrassing 95-run defeat, exiting from their World Cup defense, having gone down to a hugely superior side who would end eventual champions. Steve Smith might have carried on from where he left them that Thursday, last March, but the Indians were far from being humbled when they opened their one-day series campaign on the south-western coast ten months later.
When they returned to the dressing room for the evening meal, in fact, there weren’t too many glum faces, and Rohit Sharma was calm and composed later when he spoke of his unbeaten innings of 171 during his ‘selfie interview’ for the Indian board. It was evident from how R Ashwin wore a determined look during a long chat with team director Ravi Shastri on the WACA balcony and in how Rohit spoke of looking forward to the next game, that his poise held promise of an Australian summer where the Indians would not be mauled or mowed down. 0-1 they may well be this moment, but the larger contest was far from over even if the Aussies had cantered home in the 5-wicket win.
When the Indian team management would’ve gone back to the drawing board — as every team that’s finished second-best on the day must — most of the boxes might even have been ticked, even if a few pointers would be underlined and bold. India wouldn’t want to repeat the same mistakes in their second ODI at the Gabba on Friday. But they’ll look to Brisbane, carrying hope from their encouraging 300-plus score from the opener.
For, even if Indian fans had been a tad surprised at how Australia chased down a decent total of 309 with such ease, there was genuine delight in how Sharma scored those 171. Virat Kohli missed out on the three-figure-mark by nine runs and even the seamers looked good on the flat pitch.
India have always been a side that picks steam when the series progresses. At the same time, there are not many occasions when India has managed to score 300-plus runs in Australia. In the last one decade, India’s best score in Australia against the hosts has been their successful chase of 269 in 2012.
All cards not revealed
The long flight from Perth must have given Dhoni a chance to further draw the roadmap. There is a possibility of Ishant Sharma playing the second ODI but his fitness will be re-assessed at the practice session on Thursday. Dhoni had said post the first ODI that Ishant was available for selection but he didn’t want to take any chances, especially with four more ODI’s remaining. “There was also the chance that if he got hit again on the same finger, he could have missed the next four games. He was available, but it was better off to not play him and not to take that extra risk in this game,” he had said.
Ishant might not’ve played top tier one-day cricket in the last one year, but it has been a breakthrough season for the lanky pacer in Tests — this last one, gone by. He has played a lot of cricket in Australia — more than any other pacer on tour currently — and has finally figured the ideal length to bowl in Tests, where he not only can beat the bat but also take wickets. It is matter of time before that maturity and poise translate to limited overs cricket, and Dhoni will have much to look forward to when Ishant lines up alongside Yadav and Barinder Sran.
It will be interesting to see if Dhoni indeed chops and changes his side for the next game, adding one more part-time bowler. There are two all-rounders on the bench — Gurkeerat Singh Mann and Rishi Dhawan and Dhoni keeps hankering after bowling all-rounders. But it remains to be seen if any of them have won the captain’s confidence enough to be fielded right away in Australia. The next option available is left-arm spinner Axar Patel but with Ravindra Jadeja in the side, it will be interesting to see whether Dhoni plays with the extra bowler.
While Ashwin was taken apart initially, he is much too wily to not get out of that corner. In what has been an outstanding year for the offie, with the South Africans playing him gingerly throughout the last few months, he had seemed indestructible, and as such that spell was broken by the marauding Australians. Still, he would come back to claim two wickets in two overs and regain his self-assurance, pointing to adjustments he might quickly make despite the scattered reaction to the early onslaught.
All right noises in batting
Gabba might not be too different from Perth, as batsmen have enjoyed their share of glory here. With a long batting-line up, India will look to pile up more runs, quite pumped up after crossing the 300-mark. Ajinkya Rahane, easily India’s best batsman of 2015, and one who had a good World Cup and scored plentiful against the South Africans, is yet to bound off the blocks.
As things stand, no total is safe anymore. Cricket has changed, admits Dhoni, and a lot of credit goes to T20. “You can’t think that if you score lots of runs you’ll win the match,” he said, calling for a recalibration of the mind to adjust to newer targets.
“We had scored 400-plus against Sri Lanka in Rajkot and then won by one or two runs in the end. Cricket has changed quite a lot and with it, batsmen’s stroke-making ability has changed. The way they run and put pressure on fielders — if you are a slow fielder they make sure that they will push you if the ball comes to you. You also have good pitches now, and those lead to high-scoring games,” he said.
The good news for India is that Australian opener David Warner has gone on paternity leave. They might be bowling to Shaun Marsh, whose record against India is poor, though you can’t ignore that he’s coming off a rich vein of form. On the drawing board, the Indian team management will surely hope their batsmen keep the charge going, even as their two spinners Jadeja and Ashwin try to move on from the one bad opener, and come to the party at Brisbane.