It was a rainy Friday in Sydney. While most of the Indians stayed put in their hotel rooms, some dared the showers to play dutiful husbands by taking their wives out shopping in the vicinity of the conveniently located InterContinental.
Some others, those not in the T20 squad and bound for India come Sunday, would have started packing their bags.
Just over a year ago, the Indian team had similarly landed in this historic city to face Australia in an ODI searching for their first win on tour. And this time around, the clouds were ominous, the weather was stormy and the match only lasted 16 overs with India reaching 69 for 2 before the a thunderstorm ended the game prematurely.
With Saturday expected to be an equally bad day in terms of the rain, chances are likely that the two teams spend more time in the changing rooms than they do on the Sydney Cricket Ground’s (SCG) lush outfield. Not that it would make any difference to the fate of the five-match series, which the hosts had sealed rather comprehensively in Melbourne itself.
But considering the way things have gone over the last two weeks, it’s Australia more than India who will rue not getting a chance to close out the series, especially with a 5-0 score-line within touching distance.
And understandably, the conversations during the routine pre-match press conference had little to do with the match itself. If anything it looked like both Virat Kohli and the media were trying their best to avoid it. After all, there aren’t too many questions that haven’t been answered already by Kohli & Co as they’ve gone down 4-0, especially off the field. The lengthy chat instead was focused more towards Kohli’s fondness for Australia, his success here, comparisons with Viv Richards and his role as the heir apparent to MS Dhoni in the ODI format.
“Australia is a country I like coming to. It has a very positive vibe; it’s very relaxed. We can be ourselves here. We can walk around and just have a normal life. That really helps you be in a very good mental space. No attention all the time, no pressure,” he said regarding his relationship with Australia.
But neither he nor the media could obviously avoid the state of the series forever. And the attention did turn briefly towards Saturday’s match.
As morale-crushing as the score-line must be on its own, what must really hurt Dhoni’s team is the fact that they haven’t really played all that miserably.
Good but not good enough
Their batsmen have done better than any of their predecessors ever managed to, in terms of consistency anyway, in the 50-over format Down Under. Thrice in four games they have comfortably gone past the 300-run mark. And once they have fallen short of that mark by four runs. Yet, they have been outplayed. There has been a lot of talk about the pitches, and how even the Australian bowlers haven’t quite made the kind of impact you expect of them on home soil. But the fact remains that it is India who have fallen short on all four occasions.
Kohli, who has gone past 50 in all four innings and has two centuries to boot, agreed that that as demoralizing as the losses have been, the worst part is the realisation that they haven’t really played all that badly, in his opinion anyway.
To his credit, he did try his best to sound upbeat and revealed that the visitors would be looking at the remaining matches—fifth ODI and three T20s—as the second half of a eight-match series.
“It hurts even more. If you’re not playing well, that’s a different story but when you’re playing good cricket, it hurts even more that you’re not able to cross the finish line. The morale is pretty similar to how we came initially. Everyone’s trying and still working hard. Because we know we’re playing good cricket and we’ve always believed in the four games that we can cross the line at any stage,” he said.
Generally when a team is so close to being clean-swept, the opinions about them would range from disappointment, shock to even utter disgust. But such has been the strange sequence of events so far that cricket followers in Australia, both local and Indian, are more puzzled as to how or how come Dhoni & Co don’t have a win to their name.
“Like I said, from here, we will try to see it as we have lost four matches and we need to win the remaining four. If we don’t differentiate between formats it will be better for us mentally – as long as we do well in tomorrow’s match. Then if we do well in the T20 matches, we’ll get a lot of confidence,” is how Kohli put it.
Some of Dhoni’s decisions, the one to drop R Ashwin after the second game in Brisbane in particular, have left many perplexed, though not for the first time in his illustrious captaincy career.
And he’s also gone on to openly hint that he doesn’t trust his all-rounders, despite giving both his greenhorns—Gurkeerat Singh Mann and Rishi Dhawan—chances in must-win matches.
But Kohli didn’t believe in criticizing his bowlers and rather felt that it was the Australian batsmen who deserved credit for chasing down totals with consummate ease.
“We need to give credit to the Australian batsmen also. They know their conditions pretty well; they know the grounds, the angles, everything. And they’ve worked out pretty well how to chase scores down and set us a big total like the last game as well. They’re world champions; they have a record streak of 18 wins at home which is amazing. They are a pretty difficult side to beat at home,” he said.
The rained-off encounter last January wasn’t the last occasion India and Australia met at the SCG in a 50-over contest however. That came in March 2015, when they took on each other in the World Cup semifinal. Like we know now, it was a rather one-sided contest that set up yet another crowning glory for the men in yellow.
And if the rain does relent, and the teams do get a chance at a full-game, you find it difficult to imagine this Indian team avoiding a repeat of that drubbing and the humiliation of a whitewash.
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