In this season’s summer of cricket, New Zealand was competitive whilst the West Indies was sadly mediocre at best. The Australian public and indeed the broadcasters, Channel 9, had billed the ODI series between India and Australia as the showpiece of the summer. The anticipation and expectations of a mouthwatering contest was high.
This was meant to be a clash between two titans of the game. Australia was the defending World Cup champions and number one ODI side in the world. India, who bowed out in the semi-finals of the 2015 World Cup against the host nation were the number two-ranked side.
However after the conclusion of the five-match ODI series, India narrowly averted a whitewash and barely clung on to their number two ranking. It should come as a major disappointment, but not altogether unexpected as India have struggled to taste success of late overseas.
India failed to capitalize on the key moments in the matches, whether with bat, ball or in the field. Scores of 309, 308, 295, 323 and 331 by the batting unit along with six centuries and seven fifties scored shouldn’t lead to series losses. The truth was that whilst they were impressive numbers, more had to be done. It was a case of India misreading the conditions, as past data would reveal these were more than competitive scores. Not this time around.
Steve Smith lamented the flatness of the wickets after the fifth and final ODI. “For me the most disappointing thing was the characteristics of our wickets. I thought they were pretty slow and benign and it was very difficult for the bowlers.” People are drawn into the game because of a contest between bat and ball. It was slightly disappointing that in this series, Australia served up flat tracks with little assistance for the bowlers. A more worrying sign is that this is a continuing trend in pitches in Australia for the past few seasons. In a series where 3159 runs were scored – the most in any bilateral series with five or less matches, the bowlers were always going to be up against it.
Despite that, the Australian bowlers did incredibly well. In the first two ODIs, India batted first and was set to post scores in excess of 350 runs, however was pegged back. Both bowling attacks were relatively inexperienced on the international scene, however Australia’s bowlers showed greater control and versatility often mixing up slower balls with fuller yorkers to good effect. India’s bowlers largely failed to apply consistent pressure on Australia’s batsmen and barring a few standout performers there were few positives.
Take Barinder Sran for instance, who looked good in his debut match in Perth with three wickets. However by the third match, he was cooked unable to take any further wickets. Ravi Ashwin, India’s leading test bowler in 2015 played the first two games with average performances. He then sat out the rest of the series. Arguably for a bowler of his quality, he may have been a potent force as the series wore on. But we will never know that. Gurkeerat Mann, in Ashwin’s absence bowled some off-spin, but looked more part-timer than all-rounder and went without a wicket in the series.
Rishi Dhawan genuinely came in with the all-rounder tag for this series but bowling military medium pace was never going to trouble the Australians. He was only able to take a single wicket from the three matches he played and must have learned that international cricket is a big step up from the domestic scene. Bhuvneshwar Kumar brought in for two matches sent down 17 wicket less overs as MS Dhoni searched for answers in the bowling front.
In the first ODI at Perth, India despite a total of 309 runs, could only add 128 runs between overs 25-45. Despite a late flourish and Rohit Sharma batting through the innings for a magnificent 171*, India were about 30 runs short. India nailed two early wickets with Sran getting the ball to move in the air. But that is where the positives on the field for India would stop. Australia were ahead of India’s comparative score from the 18th over of their innings and chased down the target of 310 runs by five wickets without breaking a sweat.
The 2ndODI mirrored the first in many ways. India again opted to bat first and scored exactly 128 runs between overs 25-45, just like they had done in the first match. However, India could only add 38 runs off the last five overs of the innings. Rohit Sharma’s 124 runs would go in vain as the Australians timed their chase to perfection winning with an over to spare by seven wickets. A combination of failing to lift the run rate whilst batting along with dropped catches and missed run outs meant India were 2-0 down. It was the small things that would hurt and haunt India as the series wore on.
The 3rd ODI in Melbourne saw India being put into bat by Steve Smith. On a wicket that offered a little more to the bowlers, India put up a total of 295 on the back of Virat Kohli’s imperious 117. India took their time initially, but piled on 88 runs in the last 10 overs and went into the field more confident than in their previous two matches. Australia lost 4/65 in the middle overs including a run-out and India, in a must-win match had a genuine chance to go for the kill. But it would be Glen Maxwell determined to stay till the end combining unorthodox innovative batting with intelligent stroke play in his knock of 96 runs that would seal a three wicket win to the hosts. Dhoni attributed the loss to India’s fielding saying the difference was the 15-20 runs that India cost themselves on the field.
Finally with the series already lost, India had an opportunity to chase in the 4th ODI in Canberra, but this was perhaps the most unexplainable heartbreaking loss. The Indian bowling was once again wayward, with Australia slamming 111 runs off the last 10 overs to finish up with 348 runs. Interestingly, they had scored 149 runs between overs 25-45, more than what India ought to have done in the first two ODIs. Bhuvneshwar Kumar who debuted for India a few years ago being able to genuinely swing the ball both ways has forgotten that art in pursuit of more pace. The result was being hit for 69 runs in just eight listless overs. Ishant Sharma picked up a four-wicket haul, but not before conceding 77 runs himself. Despite the fallacies in the bowling department, India had got themselves into a winning position with the bat. India were 1/277 needing just 72 runs to win off almost 13 overs and nine wickets in the shed. Dhawan and Kohli were both batting on centuries.
But that was just when the unexplainable happed. India discovered a new way to find defeat from the jaws of victory. The batsmen decided to play dominos and in a period of utterly inept batting lost 9 wickets for 46 runs to lose the game by 25 runs and still four balls to spare. With both centurions departing in the space of 10 deliveries, Dhoni’s wicket for a duck was a critical blow. Rishi Dhawan and Gurkeerat Mann lost their nerve trying to go for a big shot every ball. Rahane, batting lower down the order after receiving stiches in his hand for an earlier injury, gave catching practice to the slips. Ravindra Jadeja remained not out but strangely showed no intent to farm the strike being the most experienced player of the lower order. Umesh Yadav thought he was playing baseball and swung hard, but mostly only found air.
With the prospect of a series whitewash on the line, things finally clicked in the final ODI for India. By now, the consensus was that batting first anything less than 340 runs weren’t safe on these wickets. Australia batting first hit 330 runs, but critically only managed seven runs from the last two overs of their innings. Jaspit Bumrah, making his debut and bowling with an awkward action proved to be the pick of the bowlers conceding only 40 runs and taking two wickets when everyone else went the distance.
India would not repeat the mistake of the previous ODI whilst chasing this time. Rohit Sharma and Dhawan put on 123 runs for the 1st wicket, and though both openers missed out on their centuries – and Kohli had a rare failure, it was youngster Manish Pandey, playing only his 3rd ODI that soaked up the pressure and produced a master class. He came into bat at 2/134 but batted till the end scoring a match winning unbeaten 104*. There were several nervous moments in the final stages of the match. MS Dhoni played an important but scratchy knock unable to find any momentum. India needed 100 runs to win off 90 balls when Dhoni walked in. However, that would soon become 35 off the last 3 overs. Pressure was high and something had to give. With 13 runs off the last over, Dhoni as he had done so often in the past for India managed to biff a straight six over long off, but perished the very next ball. With six runs required to win, Pandey showed no signs of pressure and glided a four to the third man boundary bringing up his ton in the process. The match was sealed in the next ball and India had manufactured a record run chase.
It was a strong finish by India, but overall still a disappointing performance in the series. Rohit Sharma was named player of the series for hitting 441 runs at 110.25 (2 centuries, 1 fifty) and also hit the most sixes in the tournament (14).
Losing the key moments cost India
India were found wanting due to a combination of factors: misreading the conditions and failing to lift their run rate in critical positions of the innings whilst batting first, being unable to consistently bowl in the right areas with the ball and being found out at crunch moments on the field. The batting led by Rohit Sharma, Kohli and Dhawan wore a settled look and it was comforting that all these three found form. Their key takeaway would be to shoulder the responsibility of batting till the end, knowing India’s current inexperience in the middle order. That was exacerbated due to Dhoni’s lackluster return of only 86 runs in the five matches. He would be disappointed with that, and whilst a captain is only as good as his team, Dhoni’s time as ODI skipper may soon be coming to an end. He needs to find a way to ignite the spark – with himself and his team, and do it quickly.
Manish Pandey, a product of much lauded Karnataka Institute of Cricket Academy in Bangalore was the batting find for India this tour and showed class and temperament in a high quality knock under pressure. In the bowling, Sran showed glimpses of being a successful bowler, but Jaspit Bumrah with his unorthodox action impressed all with his ability to land the ball at the right areas and having more pace than batsmen would expect. That Pandey and Bumrah both starred in the final match augurs well for India.
With the World T20 being played in India starting in March, the attention now shifts to the three T20 internationals against Australia. India should have the right combination of youth and experience in the line-up bolstered by the return of Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Ashish Nehra and Harbhajan Singh. If India can take their learnings from the ODI series and execute a little better, it may well be a series to remember.
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.