It is a question that has been haunting Indian fans for a while now: what happens if India lose their top three batsmen early?

The question has been asked over and over again because the top three have dominated world cricket for a while now and the rest of batting line-up, perhaps understandably, haven’t seemed like they are in the same class.

So when India were reduced to 95/3 in the first One-Day International against Australia in Hyderabad in a tricky run-chase, one part of skipper Virat Kohli must have actually been glad.

“At 99/3 [when India lost the fourth wicket], I was speaking to Ravi bhai, and I said this is good. These guys have to do it and they have to get us across the line,” said Kohli in the post-match ceremony.

And cross the finish line, they did.

Dhoni and Jadhav deliver

Things got a lot more difficult when Ambati Rayudu was dismissed on the same score. The pitch was giving the Australian bowlers some assistance — the pacers were extracting some disconcerting bounce while the spinners were getting turn.

In a way, this was India’s worst-case scenario. Yes, the pressure wasn’t the same as it would be during the World Cup, where each match will have context in the new format but this was just what India needed to find out where the middle-order is at.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s strike-rate has been discussed at length in recent times but give him a middling total to chase down along with a batsman who will stand with him and he is still untouchable.

Dhoni found an able ally in Kedar Jadhav, the Maharashtra batsman who finally seems to have put his injury troubles behind him.

Initially, the duo batted without taking much risk. They played smart cricket, taking singles and getting their eye in. Each time Jadhav felt the need to force the pace, the calm Dhoni would pull him back. The total wasn’t a big one and on a difficult wicket, this partnership was key.

Many of Australia’s batsmen got starts but failed to go on to make a big score and Dhoni wanted the Indian team to avoid exactly that scenario. So, as he almost always does, he took the smart way out.

Dhoni and Jadhav waited for the bad balls and then took full toll. Because the Aussies didn’t have a huge total on board every run that the partnership added only piled on the pressure.

The visitors do not have the most experienced bowling line-up and the Indian batsmen took advantage of that to take it deep and eventually win it.

Jadhav steps up

Dhoni and Kohli have shown themselves to the best chasers in world cricket and now, Jadhav is starting to earn a reputation too. While batting first, the right-hander has one 50+ score in 18 innings but he has six 50+ scores in as many innings while chasing.

The statistic shows that he is starting to become a batsman that Kohli and India can trust when the going gets tough. He seems to be unflappable under duress and has a healthy knack of finding the boundary from time to time.

Two statistics doing the rounds after the win show how Jadhav is acquiring a cult following of his own.

The first one put out by statistician Rajneesh Gupta shows that India win a lot more when Kedar Jadhav is part of the squad. India have won 44 ODIs out of the 55 in which Jadhav has been a part of the playing XI. The incredibly impressive 80% win record is the highest for any player in the format with 50-plus appearances.

The second maybe harder to attach any importance to but statistician Mohandas Menon put it out anyway: “When Kedar Jadhav bowls four or more overs in an ODI match... India won 18, Tie 1, Lost 2,” he tweeted.

Dhoni’s ODI form

On the other hand, Dhoni’s return to form in 2019 is more than welcome. In the new year, Dhoni’s scores in ODIs read like a dream: 51, 55*, 87*, 48*, 1, 59*.

Dhoni in 2019

Innings - 6
Runs - 301
NO - 4
HS - 87*
Average - 150.50
SR - 80.26
50s - 4

This was also the third occasion in the last six months when India have successfully chased down a 150+ target without any one from top three scoring 50-plus. They did it against Bangladesh in Dubai [223], against Australia at the MCG [231] and once again in this game [237].

There was good news for Kohli elsewhere as well. Mohammed Shami continues to bowl splendidly. So much so, that questions about him replacing Bhuvneshwar Kumar as India’s new-ball bowler might not be too far-fetching. He is working up a good pace and his variations are in top order as well. Kohli is loving what Shami is bringing to the table at the moment. Kuldeep Yadav was impressive yet again, while Ravindra Jadeja bowled with incredible control on a pitch that did not offer much. The bowling performance was so impressive that even Jasprit Bumrah’s rare off day (2/60 in 10 overs) did not matter at the end.

Yes, there will be some questions about Shikhar Dhawan’s scratchy form but if the middle order can continue to perform in such a manner, the Indian team will go into the World Cup with their biggest worry starting to melt away, one game at a time.