India have done it again. In three of their last four three-match ODI series, India lost the opening ODI but roared back to win the series. The first of these four series was against Australia in Australia last January and the Virat Kohli-led side has come back from behind again, this time at home.
The series-decider saw two high quality hundreds - Steve Smith’s 131 and Rohit Sharma’s 119 - albeit not at the same pace one would expect at Bengaluru’s Chinnaswamy stadium which was an attribute of the slowness of the pitch. The track got slower as the game progressed which virtually knocked out Australia’s greatest strength with the ball - the pacers.
Both, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins, failed to create the effect that was expected of them. Starc fed Rohit with the width an opening batsmen craves for while Cummins seemed far from his best. Cummins’ opening spell - none for 43 in five overs - was a shocker that let the Indian openers off the hook early in the innings, the last thing that Australia wanted after posting a par score of 286.
One can debate if the new ball could be given to Josh Hazlewood, who was playing his first ODI since November 2018, but still can exploit the corridor of uncertainty to trouble the Indian openers who have time and again been susceptible to lateral movement.
After a toothless opening burst by the new ball bowlers, Hazlewood did pull things back with a much better spell of none for 10 in five overs, although, without any wickets to his name.
Having managed only 52 runs in the first two ODIs, Rohit Sharma was in the mood to make up for his below par show and made it very clear by punishing every loose delivery by Starc and Cummins. A sumptuous flick off Cummins over square leg for six was one of the best strokes of the day. India scored 61 for no loss in the first 10 overs with KL Rahul enjoying the show from the best seat in the house.
Rahul fell to Ashton Agar in the 13th over as the spinners started to get grip but it only brought one of the most productive batting pairs in the modern-day ODI cricket - Virat Kohli alongside Rohit Sharma - into the frame. Rohit showed he enjoys series-deciders against Australia at Bengaluru as he carried on to score his 29th ODI hundred and eighth against the Aussies. This time, he did not ran Kohli out as the duo forged a partnership of 137-run stand for the second wicket off 145 balls. This might be one of their slower 100-plus stands but it was also one of the most important ones considering the circumstances and the quality of the opposition.
The only challenge their partnership possessed from the visitors was Kohli’s duel with his nemesis, Adam Zampa. An unperturbed Kohli was tested by Zampa who bowled courageously amidst India’s march towards the target. Although, the leg-spinner could not get Kohli this time but he did got his reward when he defeated Rohit in the air for 119.
The onus shifted to Kohli but Shreyas Iyer, in at four, did not stay back. He took the battle against Starc head on and added to the seamer’s miseries by smashing him in both halves of the ground. He added 68 off only 55 deliveries with Kohli further pressing India’s foot on the game.
Kohli missed his hundred, as he was dismissed for 89 by Hazlewood, but had ensured that India will cross the finish line with ease.
In the end, it came to down to the performance of the pacers on a slow track. Like Cummins and Starc, Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah also started in an awry manner but soon found their control. Bumrah had conceded 8 extras in his first two overs but ended with the most economical bowling figures in the games - none for 38 in 10 overs. The pressure inflicted by him helped Shami to pick four for 63.
Australia’s innings was a cat-and-mouse game between both the sides in hunt for momentum. India pegged back Australia by removing both their openers within the first 10 overs. Smith and Marnus Labuschagne brought them back with a 127-run stand. Australia promoted Starc to five in a desperate attempt to augment their run-rate, a right ploy that fell flat on his face when Starc was dismissed for a third ball duck, and once again highlighted the absence of an established finisher in their ranks.
However, Smith’s presence still kept Australia in hunt for a 300-plus total. The former skipper notched up his ninth ODI hundred, coincidentally, exactly three years after he scored his eighth - on January 19, 2017.
Watching five wickets fall in front of him during the course of his innings, Smith even took the mantle of pushing for impetus on himself. Having completed his hundred off 117 balls, he added 31 more to his innings off the next 14 deliveries before getting out. A wristy flick from outside the off-stump to collect six runs over square leg was the highlight of his innings.
In the end, Rohit’s 119 trumped Smith’s 131. The match was ended by a disdainful straight hit by Manish Pandey off Josh Hazlewood, further establishing India’s dominance in the game which kept getting firmer post Smith’s departure in the 48th over of Australia’s innings.