In recent times, India just cannot seem to defeat Australia in Australia. The trend started on India’s tour of Australia in 2014/15 and it continued on Sunday, 17 January, at the MCG with the home side winning by 3 wickets and an over to spare chasing a target of 296.
It was a must-win game for India in front of 47,638 spectators with much of the lower level in a sea of blue. However, the script for India was almost exactly the same as it had been for the previous two matches; bat first, put a total of around 300 only to see that chased down by Australia in clinical fashion.
It was the third loss in a row for India in this series and captain MS Dhoni, who recently dyed his hair black, may see it go back to grey before the tour is up.
India produced their best cricket of the 2015 Cricket World Cup at the MCG against South Africa. In that match, India played out of their skins and out-fielded their opponents. That wasn’t the case on Sunday with Dhoni attributing India’s inconsistent fielding as a key reason for the loss.
He may be running out of excuses because whilst the batsmen on paper have big scores to their names, they squandered golden opportunities in all three matches to bat Australia out of the contest.
Here, Rohit Sharma perished early in a rare failure against his favourite opponents. Shikhar Dhawan searching for form was understandably circumspect but showed the willingness to be patient and work for his runs. Virat Kohli however looked in imperious form becoming the quickest batsman to reach 7000 runs in just 161 innings, which was 58 fewer than his idol Sachin Tendulkar.
Dhawan found Kane Richardson difficult to put away early only scoring 10 runs off the 21 deliveries he faced of him. At one stage he was 16 off 33 deliveries before going on to score a further 52 runs off 58 balls. Dhawan eventually perished for a patient 68 after exposing his leg stump to Hastings, who finished with four scalps. Searching for form, this innings would have given the southpaw some much-needed confidence.
Kohli, on the other hand, was severe on all the quicks meting out special treatment to Boland. The bowler was hit for 40 runs off the 28 deliveries he bowled to Kohli unable to settle into any kind of rhythm. Kohli had missed out on a century at Perth. But he was not going to make the same mistake in this match. He brought up his 24th ODI century off 105 deliveries. He leapt in the air visibly pumped up amidst deafening applause from the crowd. But he would fall 17 runs later, just as he looked good for many more.
Rahane once again played well for his 50, whilst Dhoni turned back the clock with some lusty blows towards the end of the innings with his nineball 23. Despite that, India had once again started their push to lift the run rate too late. Only after the 34th over did India’s run rate nudge past five an over. India hit 88 runs off the last 10 overs, but still fell five runs short of 300.
Australia on the other hand never looked like breaking a sweat in the run chase. They reached 50 inside 8 overs and brought up the 100 in the 16th over. Fumbles in the field hurt India, whether it was Ishant Sharma at deep cover or Dhawan on the boundary. In light of this, Kohli’s electric efforts on the field were an obvious standout.
Dhoni had left out Ashwin from Sunday’s crucial fixture, a decision he may have later regretted after opting for the inexperience of Gurkeerat Mann. Ravindra Jadeja made an immediate impact after being introduced in the 18th over. A ball that gripped and turned saw the in form Steve Smith edge to Rahane at first slip for 41.
However, the runs continued to flow with alarming ease. Bailey was greeted with four fielders out on the boundary with Mann bowling allowing him to easily turn singles. At the other end, Shaun Marsh scored his second consecutive half-century with minimal fuss. It was Jadeja who once again kept India in the contest as he removed Bailey with a stumping for 23.
Australia had been ahead of India in terms of runs since the 2nd over of the innings. The introduction of Ishant Sharma in the 30thover saw Marsh edge a delivery to Dhoni to depart for 63 runs. The Aussies were 4/167 at this stage with India a real chance of getting back into the contest and stifling the chase.
Despite India picking up 4/65 between overs 26 to 38, a determined Glen Maxwell kept the scoreboard ticking over and the longer he was out in the middle, the less likely India coming up with a win. He combined well with James Faulkner and put India under considerable pressure in the field. Later both Faulker and Maxwell would clear the field with ease toying with the bowling with victory in sight.
It is not often you say calm and Glen Maxwell in the same sentence. However, that is exactly the kind of innings under pressure that he played on Sunday night. Coming in at a critical stage of the match and seeing wickets fall around him, Maxwell put away his usual manic stroke play to show enough respect and maturity to play each ball on its merit.
It was an intelligent innings where he used the MCG’s vast expanses to his advantage, dissecting the field in artistic fashion even as he ran the Indians ragged. “I know my [hitting] zones [and] who we are going to target,” Maxwell would say later.
Maxwell had hit a towering 6 off Umesh Yadav 15 rows back over long on to enter into the 90s and followed it up with another boundary. Perhaps, this was his first real sign of impatience. Dhoni played into Maxwell’s ego by bringing all the fielders in with Australia requiring 1 run off 9 deliveries to win. Maxwell took the bait as he top edged a ball straight in the air attempting to launch it into orbit. He was caught at mid-off by Dhawan and was dismissed but not before making 96 runs off 83 deliveries in what was ultimately a match winning series deciding knock.
Maxwell would recount his dismissal after the game, “I just wanted to hit it over the infield, didn’t care where it went,” going on to say that he doesn’t play for personal milestones. Australia will be pleased with Maxwell’s development into a player who is prepared to curb his natural instincts and be there to see the side to victory.
Melbourne had come in numbers to support team India. However, despite the large fanatical following, countless chants and numerous dholis at the ground, it was the Australians that danced to victory. It was their 17thconsecutive win in ODIs at home and India was once again just not good enough.
With the series gone and only two more matches remaining, India will only be playing for pride now. Here is hoping the fans are not disappointed yet again.
The writer is founder of Infinity Cricket, a leading cricket organisation. He is passionate about the sport and its development. He founded Infinity Cricket in 2010 with a vision of ‘Connecting people through Cricket.’ Infinity Cricket organizes Australia’s premier ‘open’ T20 cricket events at the grassroots level and also has a range of cricket equipment & sporting apparel. Navneet is also a knowledgeable cricket writer.