India showed little improvement from their defeats in Perth and Brisbane, while Australia once again chased down a big total to win the third ODI at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) yesterday. By way of their three-wicket victory, the hosts have now taken an unassailable 3-0 lead in the VB series. This series defeat is now the third India have suffered since their commendable show in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015.
Glenn Maxwell was the hero for the home side, as it was his counter-attacking knock of 96 (83) that helped Australia get over the line in the 49th over. India had a chance when they dismissed Shaun Marsh for 62 (73) with the home side’s total at 167, needing a further 129 runs from the final 20 overs for victory. Despite having the ingredients of a topsy-turvy encounter, Australia were easily the better of the two sides, again.
Earlier in the day, Steve Smith had won the toss and put India in and under pressure, with the series on the line. India’s centurion from the first two ODIs was dismissed cheaply by Kane Richardson. Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli, though, stitched together a crucial 119-run stand for the second wicket, giving the Men in Blue a platform to post a competitive total on what was a slow pitch.
Kohli batted fluently and brought up his 24th ODI century, playing some truly exhilarating shots to get to the landmark. He was dismissed for 117 (117) with 22 balls of the Indian innings remaining. The Delhi right-hand batsman was also involved in another 100+ partnership with Ajinkya Rahane (50), providing a solid base for India ahead of the final 10 overs of their innings. MS Dhoni’s 23 (9) took India closer to the 300-run mark, albeit they felt short by five runs in the end.
Here’s what we learnt from India’s defeat in the Melbourne ODI…
Australia’s long batting lineup was the difference
Despite having put up 6-295 on the board, India needed to pick early wickets to trouble Australia. That, unfortunately, did not happen. Umesh Yadav and Barinder Sran started off poorly, spraying the new kookaburra ball all over the pitch and letting the Aussie openers – Aaron Finch and S Marsh – find their groove. At least one boundary was scored from the first four overs of the Australian innings, which, as a result, got off to ‘the’ perfect start.
As the innings wore on, the Indian bowlers resurrected their lines and lengths, but they left themselves with too much to do because of the poor start. Yadav picked up the wicket of Finch in the very first ball of his second spell, the eighth over of the Australian innings, to put the brakes on scoring. India, though, would have been reminded of the batsman to follow: Smith.
And that pattern continued right throughout the Aussie innings. Dismissal of Smith, by Ravindra Jadeja, brought George Bailey, who was the lynchpin to Australia’s victories in Perth and Brisbane, to the crease. Bailey did not do a lot of damage yesterday, before being dismissed by Jadeja. Maxwell was the batsman to come in next, and India just could not relax or feel that they were in an advantageous position.
Even after reducing Australia to 6-215 with the fall of Matthew Wade, India had to contend with James Faulkner walking in to join a settled and ominous-looking Maxwell. And this duo’s seventh wicket partnership of 80 (63) helped Australia inflict a morale-denting defeat on India, who, it has to be said, played better yesterday. The hosts, though, have had the X-factor throughout this series so far while India have not.
India played like individuals, not as a team
At least in the bowling department, which flattered to deceive again. One good over was not backed up at the other end, and Australia did not find themselves under any pressure, whatsoever, in what was still a formidable run-chase. The bowlers can lament the fact that they were not helped by the fielders, who offered the Australian batsmen with easy singles and twos. But the bowlers should have done better.
Someone like Yadav, who is on his third tour of Australia with the national side, lacked consistency and made the captain’s job inexplicably harder. As it turned out, Dhoni was never sure of what he was going to get from his bowlers. Jadeja bowled well, after two poor outings, dismissing Smith and Bailey with identical deliveries that pitched on middle-stump and turned away to trouble the duo.
As a batting lineup, you cannot complaint too much about the total India put up and how they went about posting 6-295. But, unlike Australia, they were overly reliant on the Rohit Sharmas and Kohlis, to get them to that magical 300+ total.
Dhawan occupied the crease and, despite not being at his fluent best during his knock of 68 (91), tried to help out Kohli by looking for boundaries every now and then, but Australia were not fazed by the southpaw’s presence in the middle. At No.4, Rahane continues looking to improve and play more aggressively, but the opposition, more often than not, is not intimidated with him in the middle.
Dhoni gave impetus to the Indian innings with his 9-ball 23, but did not quite get the support from the other end once Kohli was dismissed. Yes, Gurkeerat Singh Mann and Rishi Dhawan made their ODI debuts yesterday, and must have been overwhelmed by the occasion. And it would be unfair to criticize them. But the Indian skipper waged a lone battle after Kohli’s departure in the 47th over, with 22 balls of the innings still remaining.
To achieve a victory, India needed to play as a team when they batted and bowled. But they did not put Australia under enough pressure from both ends, and that proved to be their undoing in the end.
Integrating bits-and-pieces cricketers into the side did not work for India
The Indian team management’s decision to leave out Ravichandran Ashwin was understandable. The Tamilnadu off-spinner was ineffective in the first couple of ODIs, and the Australian batsmen had no problem picking him off. The biggest reason, I think, why he was left out was because five of Australia’s top six batsmen were right-handers. An off-spinner bowling on unresponsive pitches, to right-hand batsmen, can find it difficult to impose himself on the game. And Dhoni knows it more than anyone else.
The problem, though, for India was not leaving out Ashwin, but who to replace him with. They brought in Gurkeerat and R Dhawan, in place of Manish Pandey and Ashwin, hoping that they can lend versatility to the Indian lineup.
Gurkeerat can score quick runs with the bat and has played quite a few valuable innings for Kings XI Punjab in the Indian Premier League. He also can roll his arm over, and contribute a few overs to the side. R Dhawan, on the other hand, is a bowling all-rounder, who can be effective with the ball in conditions that assist swing and seam. He can bat a bit as well.
As it turned out, Gurkeerat and R Dhawan did not excel with the bat, or with the ball. Therefore, the pressure on the established members of the side only increased, contrasting to the intention of the changes. Now, this is not to say that the established members of the side failed because the newcomers did not perform.
But the team management, when they handed debuts to Gurkeerat and R Dhawan, would have hoped for better and substantial results. Gurkeerat scored 8 (7), walking in at No.6, while R Dhawan collected 3 (5). Even with the ball, India’s debutants yesterday conceded close to six runs-per-over in the 11 overs they bowled between them, giving away 60 runs in total. India could well have done with a wicket or two.
I think, it is important for Dhoni and the Indian team management to acknowledge the paucity of all-rounders and look to harness the potential of specialists in the side. It does not make sense to integrate all-rounders, or bits-and-pieces cricketers for the sake of it.
India did not lack the fight yesterday, but there was only a little improvement, especially in the bowling department, from their displays in Perth and Brisbane. The major positive and takeaway from the series so far has been the form of Rohit, Kohli and Rahane. India and Dhoni, though, should have discovered by now that you need the bowlers to complement the batsmen’s efforts. Putting up competitive totals on the board alone doesn’t cut it.