Australia showed just why they have been so successful in ODIs in India, and just why India’s usual template of chasing anything their profligate bowlers concede often comes short against the visitors. Their batsmen powered their side over 300 on a slow and, at times, uneven pitch. Their fast bowlers then extracted appreciable bite from the same pitch and used the short ball intelligently to finish the contest by the end of the batting Powerplay. Tellingly, India have never successfully chased 300-plus against Australia, and this was their 11th failed attempt, this time against a side lacking several first-choice players.
The only time India looked relatively comfortable was during the 71-run third-wicket partnership between Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina, who was promoted to No 4 ahead of Yuvraj Singh. Shikhar Dhawan had gone early and Rohit Sharma had given away yet another start. The asking-rate was above seven an over, but the duo was keeping up with it. Raina has never hidden his ambition of batting up the order, but that will have to be backed by a curbing of his urge to go for the glory swipe over midwicket, a stroke that serves him well while finishing an innings. He’d seemed to have weathered the inevitable early short-ball test to motor to 39 before he tried the shot against James Faulkner and mishit to third man. India were 137 for 2 when Raina fell; they would crumble to 232.
Mitchell Johnson hadn’t played the Rajkot T20 in which India chased 200-plus. He took the first new ball tonight and delivered a searing spell of extreme pace, hitting speeds over 150kph regularly. He also took the key wicket of Yuvraj, the architect of the Rajkot win who came in at Raina’s fall, setting him up with a couple of full deliveries before squaring him up with a shortish one and inducing a poke to the wicketkeeper.
Kohli looked the most solid of the India batsmen and made the most runs for his side, playing with his usual limited-overs solidity. As he went past fifty, Kohli seemed to be hitting the cruise mode that he gets in during big chases. His defence was as sure as his driving, but even he was set up smartly, this time by Shane Watson. Three successive short balls – the last of which Kohli went to pull and missed – were followed by a good length delivery. Kohli played across the line and was trapped in front.
Ravindra Jadeja had raced through his overs to deliver a miserly analysis of 10-0-35-1, but faced with varied fast bowling under pressure, he again came across as a limited batsman. A mistimed slog to mid-on ended his misery.
MS Dhoni, who had hung on grimly for a while, got the ball of the match from Clint McKay that pitched on good length and straightened past his defensive jab to uproot off stump. India were 196 for 7, and the Pune crowd had started exiting the stadium.
They had come to see their batsmen dominate, but it was the opposition’s that had set the tone in the afternoon. Australia captain George Bailey built on a century opening stand even as wickets fell around him, and his lower order finished strongly.
Overwhelmingly favouring the on side, Bailey was always on the lookout for singles and twos and also quick to pull, sweep and cut, especially against the spinners. He held the innings together, but became the seventh man to fall with the score on 264 in the 47th over. Just when it seemed Australia had lost all their steam, the lower order looted 38 off India’s seamers in the last three overs to push their side over the 300-mark.
Before their captain, Aaron Finch and Hughes took their time to get in and then accelerated to leave India looking flat. Finch, after his 89 in Rajkot, was looking in control with another powerful half-century before he mishit Yuvraj to long-off.
Finch played the cut intelligently given the lack of pace, preferring placement over power and often punishing Ishant Sharma either side of point. Hughes crunched several fours through the covers. Australia were galloping now but the breakthrough came for India immediately after the first drinks break, when Hughes nudged Jadeja to leg slip to fall for 47. Watson strode in and mishit his fourth delivery straight to long-on, but Bailey took over, providing his fast bowlers enough margin to do their job.
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