India are donning the retro jersey from the 1990s for this series. In many areas of their game today, they played like the Indian team of the early 90s.
Asked to field first, the bowling was toothless throughout the innings which resulted in a mammoth score of 374 for Australia. In reply, a major chunk of the top-order was subverted by some pin-point short-pitched bowling. Not to forget, the fielding was pretty poor too. Although, it remains to be the only facet where Australia matched them as there was a string of drop catches and misfields through the entirety of the contest.
Ultimately, Australia secured a rather easy 66-run victory to kick start their international summer. The margin of victory, was narrowed down by a rousing 128-run stand between Shikhar Dhawan and Hardik Pandya, is a little indication of the quality of cricket the two sides played today.
The early ominous signs
Losing the toss, India were asked to bowl first. As it is always the case at the Sydney Cricket Ground, there was little help for the new-ball bowlers. Mohammed Shami did shape the first ball away from David Warner but that was as much as the ball swung. Indian bowlers did try to trap Finch on his Achilles Heel - the incoming delivery - but the Australian skipper was up to the task.
Once Warner and Finch got their eye in, a big partnership was on the cards. However, the pair turned India’s wait for a wicket into a desperate vigil, extending their opening stand to the 28th over. By then, Virat Kohli had tried all his options without anyone laying an impact. Yuzvendra Chahal was taken for 29 runs in his five overs.
Shami was the only bowler to have ceased the flow of runs. In the end, he broke the opening stand as well. Warner, the more aggressive of the two, edged a yorker-length delivery while trying to run it down to third man. The on-field umpire initially adjudged it not out but the edge was caught on DRS.
However, it was only a minor setback with the pair having posted 156 runs for the first wicket.
Finch, Smith, Maxwell back in touch
Australia only went from strength to strength from there on. Every new batsman in the middle overshadowed the one who was already scoring for fun.
Few days ago, Steve Smith stated that he has found the fluency back in his batting. Today, he showcased it in full flow. It took him only 14 balls and a DRS call in his favor to turn the tables. Finch was on 73 at the time of Smith’s arrival but he took a backseat to let Smith do his thing. The two added 108 runs from 73 balls. Finch completed a fine hundred - the 17th of his ODI career. Australia added 95 runs between overs 31 and 40 marking the beginning of the acceleration. Finch was out to the last ball of the 40th over for 114 off 124 balls.
This was time for Glenn Maxwell to display The Big Show and let Smith take a breather. He pummelled 45 from only 19 deliveries with three sixes - the first of which came off a switch-hit against Chahal on the eighth ball of his innings. Smith fed him with strike and they deflated India adding 57 runs from 25 balls.
Once Maxwell departed - in the 45th over - Smith came back to his elements. He scored 24 off the last 15 balls of his innings, completing his hundred in the process, the third-fastest in the history of Australian cricket.
Only for the second time in ODIs since 2018, India leaked over 100 runs in the death overs. Finch, Smith and Maxwell left their ordinary IPL form behind to escalate Australia to 374. Together, they nullified the Indian spinners to milk them for 118 runs from 90 deliveries against them.
Walking out with a colossal target in front of them, the Indian openers - Shikhar Dhawan and Mayank Agarwal - took India off to a quickfire start. Receiving some help from Mitchell Starc whose wayward first over produced 20 runs, the pair brought up their 50-run stand in just 4.1 overs.
However, Mayank went for too many shots and Josh Hazlewood was quick to adjust. While Mayank made room to hit Hazlewood over the off-side, the pacer pitched the ball short and into the batsmen’s body limiting his bat swing. Maxwell, at extra-cover, accepted the catching opportunity.
Kohli struck a couple of crisp boundaries in the next over to keep India in the hunt. He also received a life when Adam Zampa dropped him at fine leg off a mistimed pull shot against Pat Cummins earlier in the same over.
But the Indian skipper could not make it count. Charging Hazlewood down the track in the 10th over, Kohli found his opposite number, Finch at short midwicket. In the same over, Hazlewood bounced out Shreyas Iyer who fended at the ball awkwardly, giving catching practice to Alex Carey. Known to be a bowler of seam and swing, Hazlewood bounced out three of India’s top four batsmen.
Zampa soon joined the party, although, with an innocuous full-toss which KL Rahul drove straight to cover.
The silver lining
The chances of a India’s win were down to 5 per cent (according to Criclytics) when Hardik Pandya walked in to bat. Watching three top-order batsmen lose their wickets to short-pitched bowling did not perturb him and Pandya scored his first boundary with a smacking pull shot off the sixth ball of his innings. Post that, he deposited Zampa twice into the stands, forcing him out of the attack.
Finch replaced Zampa with the part-time offspin of Glenn Maxwell which also received the same treatment - 18 runs from the over (23rd of the innings). Pandya also brought up 1,000 ODI runs with his 31-ball fifty in the same over. Dhawan continued to show solidity at the other end.
Their partnership kept India ahead of the concurrent Australia score which meant India were not completely out of it for as long as both of them could continue. The pair mixed caution with calculative risks. Dhawan was helped by Zampa and Cummins adding to the never-ending list of drop catches. The two continued until Zampa was re-introduced to the attack.
It was a forced move. Marcus Stoinis was filling in the fifth bowler’s role economically but had to leave the field due to a niggle. This left Finch no option but to take the punt of putting the legspinner against Pandya once again.
On the contrary, Dhawan went down the track to the third ball of Zampa’s comeback over, perishing for 74 off 86 balls. In Dhawan’s absence, Pandya tried to bat till the end but ultimately gave in to the asking rate, picking a flatter delivery from Zampa to break the shackles. He was caught in the deep and the game was done and dusted by the time India’s death overs began.