A Kohli-Bailey show

Virat Kohli is greeted by Shikhar Dhawan after the victory. Both the Indian batsmen got centuries.-K.R. DEEPAK

Both the batsmen displayed an ability to dictate proceedings even when tougher questions were posed by the bowlers, writes Priyansh.

Considering the doubts regarding the relevance of the India-Australia ODI series before it started, both teams did well to move the debate’s focus to other pertinent issues. The cricketing establishment’s sympathy towards bowlers was expressed in greater terms than before, even though nobody suggested concrete modifications.

In Nagpur, for only the third time in ODI cricket history, a 350-plus target was successfully achieved. When was it done last? Only a fortnight ago in Jaipur!

It’s a measure of the helplessness experienced by a cricket enthusiast that the discussion on the two new balls rule and lesser fielders allowed outside the 30-yard circle became tiresome. For all the disaffection caused by these changes, no review is supposed to be undertaken in the near future.

The problem is made to look worse by the bowlers’ inability to maintain a tight line and length. Their average skills were severely exposed throughout the series.

Yet, two batsmen stood out in Nagpur — Virat Kohli and George Bailey. Both displayed an ability to dictate proceedings even when tougher questions were posed by the bowlers.

The Australian skipper arrived at the crease in the 12th over, with his team having lost its openers. The score stood at 45, well below the desired run-rate. Yet, with a deft approach, Bailey rescued Australia like he has done many times in the recent past.

The Tasmanian’s ability to draw Australia out of trouble has evoked comparisons with a former state team-mate renowned for such brilliance. Bailey has forever regarded Michael Bevan as a mentor and, understandably, refuses to think of himself as a similar batsman.

“The main things I learnt from him were, one, you always had a plan and predominantly that revolved around his role. He didn’t get bogged too much in what he couldn’t control; he was very much focused on the things he could control. He had a very good plan in terms of how a game would unfold. He was so well prepared that he could take the time to look ahead, have a think about who was going to bowl at him, what they would need. And thirdly, I don’t think I ever saw him panic, I don’t think I ever saw him throw his wicket away with a rash shot. And that comes back to the planning again. He was always in a position to see his innings out. Trusted who he batted with. In a lot of his great innings that I remember for Australia, he quite often batted with the tail, he had quite a lot of success with Andy Bichel and guys like that because he trusted the way they would bat.

“I can regurgitate it but certainly I don’t feel like I am as calm as he was in the middle. Unfortunately, I am still prone to rash shots and rash decisions but it was excellent to play with him. It was a pretty influential time not only for me but for Tasmanian cricket.”

With Bailey apparently nearing selection for the Test side, he would hope his career in cricket’s longest-format doesn’t suffer the same fate as Bevan’s.

While the Australian skipper still needs to pass a few tests before he can be tagged world-class, no such doubts lurk over Kohli’s credentials. The Delhi lad’s numbers have created a rarely-witnessed hysteria, with many even daring to claim that he could best Sachin Tendulkar’s mind-boggling records.

While certain caution would be advisable while making such grand suggestions, there’s no doubting Kohli’s status as the best ODI batsman currently. Further evidence of his incredulous ability was on display in Nagpur.

After Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh were dismissed within the space of four deliveries in the 43rd over, India still required 61 off 43 balls with Kohli and M. S. Dhoni at the crease. Thereafter, Mitchell Johnson extracted a bit of reverse swing while his team-mates bowled closer to the off-stump.

The lack of width and greater number of length deliveries notwithstanding, Kohli’s assault retained its severity. As Bailey noted later, towards the end, the Australian bowlers made the 25-year-old “hit good balls for boundaries.” Considering India needed 35 off the last three overs to win, it was a minor surprise that Dhoni’s side eased home with three balls remaining. But then, Kohli was there, wasn’t he?

With the series tied 2-2, Australia sent Johnson back home to rest him for the Ashes. Seems all those doubts at the beginning were not misplaced, after all.

THE SCORES

Sixth ODI, Nagpur, October 30, 2013. India won by six wickets.

Australia: P. Hughes c Kohli b B. Kumar 13; A. Finch b Ashwin 20; S. Watson b Shami 102; G. Bailey c Kohli b Jadeja 156; G. Maxwell c B. Kumar b Ashwin 9; A. Voges (not out) 44; M. Johnson c Dhawan b Jadeja 0; B. Haddin (not out) 0; Extras (w-3, nb-3) 6. Total (for six wkts., in 50 overs) 350.

Fall of wickets: 1-30, 2-45, 3-213, 4-224, 5-344, 6-346.

India bowling: B. Kumar 8-0-42-1; Shami 8-1-66-1; Jadeja 10-0-68-2; Ashwin 10-0-64-2; Mishra 10-0-78-0; Kohli 2-0-15-0; Raina 2-0-17-0.

India: R. Sharma c Faulkner b Finch 79, S. Dhawan b Faulkner 100; V. Kohli (not out) 115; S. Raina c Haddin b Johnson 16; Yuvraj Singh b Johnson 0; M. Dhoni (not out) 25; Extras (lb-8, w-7, nb-1) 16. Total (for four wkts., in 49.3 overs) 351.

Fall of wickets: 1-178, 2-234, 3-290, 4-290.

Australia bowling: Johnson 10-0-72-2; McKay 7-0-47-0; Faulkner 9.3-0-73-1; Doherty 6-0-40-0; Watson 6-0-51-0; Maxwell 7-0-40-0; Finch 4-0-20-1.