A tame end

In fine form... Australia’s Steve Smith continued to torment the Indians, scoring a century in the semifinal.-AP

Ajinkya Rahane added 70 runs for the fifth wicket in M. S. Dhoni’s company. Dhoni made a valiant 65, striking a couple of fantastic sixes, but it was already too late, reports Shreedutta Chidananda.

India’s reign as world champion ended after a thumping 95-run loss to Australia in the semifinals in Sydney. Australia won the toss and posted a mammoth total of 328 before India sank to 233 all out. Steve Smith, India’s scourge during the Test series, was at it again, making a superb century. He added 182 runs in a second wicket stand with Aaron Finch.

Then there were contributions all the way down to number nine in Australia’s deep batting order, as the total soared out of reach. India’s response began sensibly, as the openers took the team to 76 without loss. Thereafter, however, four wickets fell for the addition of just 32 runs in 62 balls. There was no recovering from that stage.

Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan had jittery starts, edging behind early on. Rohit’s edge fell just short of Shane Watson at second slip while Dhawan was dropped on five by Brad Haddin. Dhawan went on the offensive, hammering a flurry of boundaries off James Faulkner. India needed a big opening stand if it was to make a serious attempt on the target. Dhawan, however, got carried away and charged down the pitch to Josh Hazlewood, his aerial drive landing straight in the hands of the deep cover fielder.

Virat Kohli was India’s big hope but Hazlewood bowled a fine maiden over to him. Kohli’s response in the next over was predictable; he tried to pull Mitchell Johnson from outside the off-stump and got a top edge. Haddin settled under it and swallowed India’s dreams.

Rohit pulled Johnson for six before a seriously fast in-swinger cut him in half. He got an inside edge and was bowled. Ajinkya Rahane’s stay at the crease was tortured, but he battled to make 44 runs. He added 70 runs for the fifth wicket in M. S. Dhoni’s company. Dhoni made a valiant 65, striking a couple of fantastic sixes, but it was already too late.

He was asked if he had delayed his assault a little too much. “It's a difficult one because as I said, our lower order, they have not really been able to contribute, so if you start too early and if you lose a wicket, it's nothing really left in the game. You get out for 150 maybe. So you have to take that risk at the right time. Maybe it was a bit too late, but if mine and Ajinkya’s partnership wouldn’t have come at that time, we would have packed up for 140 or 150 runs,” he said.

India’s fast bowling, excellent throughout the tournament, failed to make early inroads and then leaked runs at the death. David Warner fell cheaply, but Smith and Finch carried on. Finch — struggling for form — did not hit every ball out of the middle but hung on stodgily.

It was Smith, though, who impressed the most. He pushed the ball into gaps, pushed ones and twos and generally did not let the bowlers settle down. He took the attack to India, hammering Umesh Yadav for four fours in an over. He was eventually dismissed for 105 (93 balls). India pulled things back thereafter but Australia's batting depth meant the flow of runs was never truly throttled.

“I can’t speak highly enough for the way he’s batting at the moment,” Clarke said of Smith later. “He’s showing his class. But most importantly, I think the one thing I’ve learnt through my career is getting into good form and scoring runs is a fantastic feeling, but still, to go to training the next day to work on your game, to try and become better, is one of the hardest things to do in this game, but that’s what makes you a great player, and that’s what I’ve been really proud with Smitty with. He’s still training extremely hard, still getting there early, still doing the work even though he’s batting so well, and I can’t say I’m surprised he’s getting the results he’s getting.

“He’s earned it, and I think there’s no doubt there’s a long, long way to go in his career, there’s a lot more runs to score, but he’s certainly leading the way at the moment. He’s standing up and he’s certainly made the most of the opportunity he’s got at No. 3 in One-Day cricket. He’s been ready for a while, it was just about getting that chance, and Test cricket is no different. He’s ready for that, as well, if he gets the opportunity.”

Dhoni admitted the target was within reach but felt his fast bowlers ought to have done better to restrict Australia. “I knew the wicket will get slightly better in the second half,” he said. “When we lost the toss, I was a bit worried where I thought maybe the spinners wouldn’t get as much purchase, but I felt Jadeja and Ashwin, both of them, they bowled well.

And in hindsight the good thing was we got a bit of reverse swing going, so I felt our fast bowlers could have slightly better because I knew in the second half there wouldn’t be much of a reverse swing. That’s the only reason I felt our fast bowlers could have done slightly better. But once we came back into the game and restricted them to 327, I felt it was a good score. Yes, there was pressure, but at the same time it needed some good batting and good partnership, so it was a gettable score, but it needed some really hard work to get the runs on the board.”