Virat Kohli was disappointed. For all the intensity the India skipper brings to the field, he had let the ball slip between his legs at cover off the penultimate delivery of the 49th over. That misfield cost three runs. Two catches had been put down and misfields had already made things tougher for the struggling bowlers.
Perhaps more than Alex Carey’s shot that he let slip what had transpired three balls earlier left Kohli dismayed at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Friday.
Steve Smith had just reached his fastest ODI century—third fastest by an Australian—in 62 balls, having gone hammer and tongs at the bowling. It came after skipper Aaron Finch had overcome a nervy start with a solid 114 off 124 balls. And Glenn Maxwell’s 19-ball storm had resulted in 45 runs, catapulting Australia to 374/6 in 50 overs.
Till three weeks back, all three were struggling in IPL. It took them one match at home, the first cricket international since March to be played in front of fans, to shed the failures of T20s and embrace success in ODIs. A perfect shifting of gears to suit the format saw Australia go under six runs per over till the 36th over and yet score the third highest total ever against India in the format.
To have any chance of chasing down such a huge target, India had to go on attack mode early, but in a planned way. Instead, the top order, including Kohli, done in by the extra bounce Josh Hazlewood generated with his hit-the-deck bowling on a slow pitch. Shikhar Dhawan (74) and Hardik Pandya (90, his highest ODI score) put up a fight with a 128-run fifth wicket stand, but India still fell short by 66 runs.
Mayank Agarwal was the first to go as he attempted to hit a Hazlewood delivery that was dug in short. It took the top edge and Maxwell held an easy catch. Next up, Kohli was dropped on 1 by Adam Zampa, who grassed a simple chance.
There was a stunning flick for six against Pat Cummins. But Hazlewood ended what promised to develop into a great knock.
Kohli advanced to play a swivelling pull shot but the extra bounce Hazlewood had extracted prevented control and the mistimed effort was caught by Finch at midwicket. Shreyas Iyer’s technique against the short ball was tested straightaway by Hazlewood and the No.4 took his eyes off and the ball deflected off the bat held up defensively. It looped into a simple catch for wicketkeeper Alex Carey. With a ball left in the 10th over, India were down to 80/3.
Those dismissals took the life out of India’s chase after a great start provided by Mitchell Starc wayward 11-ball first over that fetched 20 runs. Still, it looked like they had an outside chance till Dhawan and Pandya were together. Both fell to Zampa’s leg-spin in the 39th over.
Though Pandya starred with the bat, his not being able to bowl since his back surgery hurt India. Playing with five bowlers, Kohli’s team lacked an extra option when the Australian batsmen steadily took control.
Finch, playing for Kohli’s Royal Challengers Bangalore in IPL, had struggled and was even dropped. “T20 can be tough. You can’t be at your best if you are trying to be aggressive at the start of the innings. You take risks early in the game,” Finch had rued going into this series.
Finch took no risks. Let let David Warner to be the aggressor as he weathered the Indian pace early on. Jasprit Bumrah and Navdeep Saini clocked over 140kmph consistently and Mohammed Shami troubled both on occasions with his excellent line. But this was 50-over cricket and they were in no hurry.
It took till the 28th over before Shami took Warner for the first wicket, but Finch was set. Joining him was Smith, who was more aggressive than Warner. Both went after leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal, who gave away 89 in 10 overs –most by an Indian spinner in ODIs.
To make matters worse, a leg before decision against Smith off Ravindra Jadeja was overturned by DRS. Smith upped the ante from the 37th over, when he hit the left-arm spinner for three fours. Australia’s run-rate zoomed from there. At the other end, Finch completed his 17th ODI century off 117 balls.
When Finch was removed by Bumrah in the 40th over, Australia were far from being done. Maxwell, rusty in IPL, played some improbable shots and the Indian bowlers had no answers.
Except Shami and Jadeja, the other three bowlers went for over seven runs per over. India had to persist with them due to the absence of a bowling all-rounder.
At the post match media conference, Pandya acknowledged it was for the team management to look into his inability to bowl. “I am still not game-ready as far as my bowling is concerned. I am bowling at the nets but am looking at a long-term goal. I am following a process. The World Cups are there so I don’t want to exhaust myself for any short-term gain,” Pandya said. He is said to be tweaking his bowling action post the surgery.
“That’s been the question (the sixth bowler). When I came into the squad, I had to work on my bowling skills. More than injury, the sixth bowler gives us an extra option. Maybe we need to pick from those (all-rounders) who have played for India. There is another in the Pandya family (Krunal).”