AS HE sauntered into the press conference area at the Gabba late on Friday, MS Dhoni whispered, “Ab toh 340 maarne hi padenge.” In many ways, his hopelessness and frustration was understandable. So was the basis behind his typically tongue-in-cheek comment. Twice in four days, his team had batted out of their skins and posted totals in excess of 300 in a country, where massive run-chases have never been in vogue. But twice in four days, the Australian batting line-up has coasted to victory, almost nonchalantly as if to say, “come on India, you need to do better than this.”
And for all the negative talk surrounding the lack of bite in India’s bowling, the games in Perth and Brisbane have in many ways been brazen illustrations of that famed Aussie ruthlessness, a characteristic trait that perhaps passes on from generation to generation and comes to the fore especially on home soil. It’s not just the fact that they have only lost seven wickets across two games while successfully mowing down targets of 310 and 309. If anything, apart from Barinder Sran’s new-ball burst at the WACA where he took out the openers, rarely have the visitors looked like dismissing an Australian batsman, forget having the upper-hand during the second half of the contest.
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Even in Perth, neither Steve Smith nor George Bailey ever looked to be batting under any duress, despite having come together with the score reading 20/2. Yes, the Indian bowlers maybe didn’t really put them under any pressure, despite the scenario, but the dramatic recovery was more an ode to the home team’s dominance, and how they never let the situation get to them.
At Brisbane, Australia were without David Warner — off on paternity leave — and their openers, Aaron Finch and Shaun Marsh started slowly. At the end of the first 10 overs, their score read 40/0, and the required-rate had climbed to close to 7-an-over. Sran in particular had beaten Finch’s bat on a few occasions.
The burly right-hander, who generally never hangs around for too long without showing off his naturally aggressive intent, had been kept quiet. He had only scored 22 off the 41 deliveries he had faced. But it still didn’t look like India had things going their way. It was more like Finch and Marsh were preferring to start off in cruise-mode and could step on the gas, if and when they chose to. They weren’t quite dictating terms, but it was just a matter of time before they would start doing just that. India were not keeping them under check, but they were instead being allowed to do so.
Batting with ease
Just like that without fuss, they started to get going. The next 10 overs saw Finch and Marsh put on 53 runs. And by the time they were separated, the duo had done almost half the job in half the overs, putting on 145 for the first wicket in one ball short of a full 25 overs. There were only two overs really where the Australians seemed overly keen on going after the bowling — Umesh Yadav was taken for 11 and 16 runs in his 2nd and 4th overs respectively. In his second, he started with a short and wide ball which Marsh hit for a four and two balls later, the opener tucked away a mis-directed slower-one to fine leg for another boundary.
Finch was the first to go, followed by Marsh. Both scored 71. This was only the left-hander’s third game in three years. Incidentally, the last six ODIs of his 47-match career have all come in the month of January, spread across three years. But he hardly looked like he was out of touch with the Australians’ canary yellow. The Indians didn’t make life difficult for him either with Ishant Sharma spraying the ball around in his first ODI for more than a year — dishing out four wides within his initial three overs.
Then in came Smith and Bailey, and the duo set off from where they had left off in Perth. Despite the Aussies never looking like being in a hurry, the highest the required rate increased to was 7.62. It was an indicator of how they controlled the chase. For once, India did the unthinkable by finding a way to get rid of the Australian captain, with Yadav clean-bowling him. But by then, Smith had hit four fours in reaching 46 off 47 deliveries. Bailey was in no mood to leave the carnage till too late. He kept finding the boundary repeatedly, and once even smacked Sran over the ropes for a six. Like most of the strokes he’s dished out against the Indian bowlers this series, they looked effortless. Even Glenn Maxwell only preferred to find the boundary on one occasion during his 25-ball stay in the middle, where he made an unbeaten 26 to see his team home. In some ways, he didn’t need to really look for more. Bailey eventually finished with 76 off 58 balls.
But it was Rohit Sharma who ended up with the man-of-the-match award for his second straight century in the series. This is not to take anything away from his feat, but India’s runs so far have come against a second-string Australian pace attack, whose collective experience before the series could be counted in fingers — Joel Paris and Scott Boland had never donned the yellow before. And at Brisbane, Kane Richardson came in for Josh Hazlewood, who despite being young has turned into a mainstay of the pace battery in recent months, to play only his ninth ODI. It was all-rounder John Hastings’ first match on home soil since February 2011.
On the other hand, India were bolstered by the return of Ishant. And except the impressive Sran, the rest of the bowling line-up that includes R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja along with Yadav has been India’s front-line attack for the last few years in the shorter format.
That the Australians have dominated them with utter disdain is a sign of why the world champions are the marauding force they are at home. It is still a cause of major concern for Dhoni. And as the series rolls into Melbourne, it’s no wonder that the hapless Indian skipper seems to have lost hope with his bowlers and instead is banking on his batsmen to go that extra mile, and put 340 on the board.
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