At the end of the India’s third ODI – and third straight loss, that’s the series, thank you very much – against Australia, commentator and former fast bowler Wasim Akram questioned whether holding back your fast bowlers for the end was a valid strategy. His argument: since the asking rate for Australia, who were chasing just 296, never rose to troubling levels, there was no pressure at the end that the quickies could have put on the batsmen.
ODI batting in the past decade-and-a-half has followed the predictable model of an early onslaught, followed by quiet consolidation in the middle, and a grandstand finish. Bowling captains inevitably followed suit by starting with pace bowlers in the hope of breakthroughs, getting through the middle overs quickly with the spinners with containment in mind, and bringing the fast bowlers back at the death to either limit the damage or choke the chase.
However, with the onset of T20 cricket, innovative strokeplay and a more attacking mindset in batsmen, the so-called slog overs are a thing of the past, with the game being played at a more even pace throughout the innings.
So it should have been clear to India’s captain MS Dhoni that Australia were always going to win if they were given the chance to bat 50 overs. Wickets were the need of the hour, and Dhoni misread the situation when Australia were five wickets down with 15 overs to go, but with a required run rate of around six. That was his opportunity, but he ignored it.
A need to change something, anything
Although Rishi Dhawan and Gurkeerat Singh Mann were handed their debuts, there is a feeling that the Indian lineup needs more than a little tweaking. The team needs a better balance between batsmen and bowlers, which needs decisive leadership.
Remember Brendon McCullum’s captaincy in the 2015 World Cup? The Kiwi skipper very frequently opted to bowl his two most trusted and deadly bowlers out as early as the thirtieth over of the innings, thus putting relentless pressure on opposition batsmen from the very start.
Sure, it’s a double-edged sword which could also allow the opposition to accumulate a lot of runs if they see primary strike bowlers out. But cricket as a game is ever-changing, and today’s heresy soon turns into tomorrow’s orthodoxy.
New day, old story
There was an incredible sense of déjà vu at the end of the match as Australia won yet another match quite comfortably, while Indian batsmen had squandered the chance to put up an above-par total to test the Aussie batting.
The main culprit in the early overs was Dhawan, who took far too much time to get into his stride, bringing up his 50 from 76 balls and ultimately ending up with 68 off 91 balls. It was the first failure for Rohit Sharma after back-to-back centuries, but Virat Kohli continued his superb run with the bat, notching up his 24th ODI century with a run-a-ball 117.
Kohli also became the fastest man in ODI history to reach 7000 runs, getting there in just 161 innings. He was supported by Rahane and Dhoni who made 50 and 23 respectively. But none of this was enough.
On their part, the Australian fast bowlers beautifully at the death and India, as Dhoni pointed out in the post-match conference, were 15-20 runs short. But whose fault was that? They just should have timed their assault on the bowling better, and you have to wonder what the captain’s instructions were.
In reply, the hosts lost Finch early but their momentum continued with a 64-run partnership between Shaun Marsh and the dangerous looking Steve Smith. Just when it seemed like Smith would notch up another big score, the Indians got his prized wicket, Rahane catching him smartly off Jadeja’s bowling.
And for the first time in this series, it so happened neither Smith nor Bailey would bail Australia out when the latter was smartly stumped by Dhoni. India could smell their chance.
Then up stepped Maxwell, who has been maligned in the past for getting out while playing expansive strokes or for unnecessary dismissals early on in his innings.
It has been reported that Maxwell hates the nick Big Show but he did seem intent on proving that he could play the long innings as well. He played a calculated one, getting to 50 on a run-a-ball basis, while getting the odd boundary every over.
While Australia suffered minor hiccups in the middle with the dismissal of both the Marshes and Wade, by the time Maxwell got out, Australia had levelled the scores with eight balls and three wickets remaining.
Maxwell received the man-of-the-match for his 83-ball 96, another Indian ton went in vain, and Australian took an unassailable 3-0 series lead, operating in a fashion similar to the previous two games in this series.
It was practically a scripted match.
India (295/6, 50 overs) lost to Australia (296/7, 48.5 overs) by 3 wickets.