Australia’s tail wagged defiantly, and its spinners took six wickets between them as Steve Smith’s men beat India by 21 runs at the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai on Wednesday for their second ODI series win (2-1) in three recent attempts here.
This India vs Australia ODI in Chennai was a series decider only in name. In nature, India vs Australia in ODIs is something much grander. For the host, it was the final ODI until the tour of the West Indies in August. For Australia, it’s the last ODI until a tour of South Africa in late August. That added a significant frisson to tonight’s contest, especially with the ODI World Cup scheduled to start in India in October.
Given how the series had panned out so far, tonight’s match was not going to be decided by which team reached the higher peak but which best avoided the troughs.
Chasing 270, India was bowled out for 248. But the end belied a flying start. There was no swing with the new ball, so Mitchell Starc bowled good-length or short-of-a-good-length deliveries in his opening spell. When Starc erred too full in search of swing, Shubman Gill flicked him over midwicket, and Rohit Sharma lofted him over mid-off to knock off a dozen from the target.
India waltzed to 64 in nine overs when Sean Abbott earned a breakthrough against the run of play, with Rohit swivelling a pull straight to Starc at the deep mid-wicket fence. Virat Kohli walked in at 3 while Smith summoned Adam Zampa (4 for 45) in the eighth over, hoping to lure the Indians into making a mistake.
The move paid off when Zampa, in his third over, trapped Gill lbw with a full ball. It was given not out initially, but Smith sent it upstairs, and a lengthy review made way for an Aussie cheer and a brief hush at the ground. Zampa got the odd ball to turn and stuck to the line of the stumps.
His early success meant it didn’t take long for Ashton Agar (2 for 41) to be pressed into action, and he surprised KL Rahul, promoted to No. 4 ahead of Suryakumar Yadav, with his very first ball that turned sharply and bounced to catch the shoulder of his bat.
Kohli was content with knocking around the singles for a few overs even as Rahul struggled to get the ball past the 30-yard circle. Kohli took a calculated risk against Agar in the 18th over and pulled him over midwicket for four before going inside out over long-off for six. That would be India’s last boundary in more than eight overs before Rahul broke the shackles by hitting an overpitched ball from Zampa down the ground for four.
He then turned his attention to Starc, tonking him for a maximum and a four. But when Rahul looked like he was determined to accelerate, he mishit a Zampa googly and holed out. Shortly after, a calamitous mixup between Kohli and Axar Patel cost the latter his wicket.
Maybe, the dismissal was still playing on his mind when, after reaching his 50 off 61 balls with a single, Kohli looked more disgruntled at being turned down by Hardik Pandya for the second run than relieved at his 65th ODI fifty. It took him a few seconds, but Kohli eventually raised his bat and took in the applause from the fans.
He would add just four more to his score before getting caught off Agar’s bowling and when Suryakumar was clean bowled off the next ball — a third golden duck in a row — Australia had its tail up. Ravindra Jadeja safely defended the hat-trick ball towards cover.
Jadeja and Pandya were India’s last recognised batters and adopted a circumspect approach. But with Jadeja crawling to 17 off 30, Pandya had to try to hog strike and keep up with the asking rate. The pressure finally told when Pandya miscued a heave off Zampa and was caught with 52 still to get from 38 balls. Jadeja’s dismissal off Zampa was the final nail in the coffin. The Aussie bowlers were also backed by good catching and sharp ground fielding.
Earlier in the afternoon, the first 25 overs were heavyweight boxing that involved much sparring but few knockout punches. Travis Head and Mitchell Marsh, who opened despite the inclusion of David Warner, raced to 61 in the first PowerPlay after Australia won the toss and chose to bat.
The new ball pair of Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj bore the brunt, especially Siraj. He mixed his skidders and slower balls, but his lengths and lines were askew. After an early shellacking from Marsh, a slightly dejected Siraj walked back to his fielding position at third man and stole three glances at the giant replay screen to his right, playing Marsh’s boundary off his bowling.
India and Australia played the first ODI ever at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in 1987 and Geoff Marsh made 110 to help Australia win a World Cup thriller. Thirty-six years later, Geoff’s younger son, Mitchell, looked set to follow in his father’s footsteps when he racked up 23 from 15 with four fours and a six.
Both openers dismissed the full balls from Siraj and Shami and, save a few plays and misses, were equally aggressive when it was dropped short; using the best batting conditions on a wicket that was getting slower and more difficult for stroke-making as the match progressed. It became evident between overs 10 and 20 when the field spread and Pandya, in the company of Kuldeep Yadav and Jadeja, restricted the landslide of runs from the openers to a trickle with quick wickets.
The first to go was Head, who was caught at third man trying to waft at a wide, back-of-a-length ball from Pandya. Aussie skipper Smith was caught behind for a duck in Pandya’s next over and Mitchell was clean bowled for a run-a-ball 47, again off the same bowler. From 68-0, Australia fell to 85-3 as Pandya took 3 for 15 from 11 balls.
On a sultry afternoon, when the other bowlers operated in shorter bursts, Jadeja bowled his 10 in a row, giving a glowing exhibition of his fitness in front of 30,000 plus ‘home’ fans, who belted out vociferous “CSK!, CSK!” chants each time the Chennai Super Kings all-rounder bowled a dot or pulled off an athletic save. Jadeja gave 34 in his 10 but did not get a wicket. However, his parsimonious figures created pressure at one end, which helped Kuldeep and Pandya to strike.
With no boundaries coming between overs 14.2 and 20.2, Marnus Labuschagne and Warner, batting at 4 for the first time in ODIs, fell victim to the sudden rush of blood against Kuldeep, who saved his best for Alex Carey. He beat him in the air and off the pitch to hit the top of the off stump and finished with figures of 3 for 56.
Just seven balls earlier, Marcus Stoinis had frittered away a promising 58-run sixth-wicket stand with Carey when he played Axar across the line and top-edged to Gill in the deep. Some lusty blows from Australia’s tail — 63 were added by the last four — took the total to 269. In the end, it was more than enough.
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