Not a promising return to ODI cricket for India

Aaron Finch, Steve Smith and Glenn Maxwell were the heroes for Australia as India struggled to hit the deck running in its return to international cricket in the three-match ODI series Down Under.

Hardik Pandya (right) had an electric series as a batsman, but there were reasons to be worried about Virat Kohli despite his two fifties.   -  AP

When the clock struck 4.08pm at the Sydney Cricket Ground on November 27, the live action stopped for a moment. The players remembered Phillip Hughes, the former Australian opener who had died exactly six years ago after being hit by a bouncer in a domestic game.

There couldn’t have been a better day to start the high-profile One-Day International (ODI) series. The Australians, particularly Hughes’ close friend David Warner, derived strength from the emotional moment to power the home team to an unimaginable total — 374 for the loss of six wickets.

Mohammed Shami understood the balance between the fuller length and the good length better in the Sydney conditions to pick three wickets in the first ODI.   -  AP

 

The 156-run stand between Warner (69 off 76 balls) and captain Aaron Finch (114 off 124 balls) in the first ODI set the tone for the series. In the next game, the home team scored 389 for the loss of four wickets. Besides the openers, Steve Smith and Glenn Maxwell batted in their own sweet world after a long time to inflict further wounds. The Australians won back-to-back games in Sydney to clinch the trophy, while India had to settle for a consolation victory in Canberra to gain momentum.

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Avoiding a second whitewash in the calendar year — after losing 3-0 to New Zealand in February — was perhaps the only saving grace in India’s return to international cricket amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

What went wrong

The incisive bowlers, with Indian Premier League (IPL) heroics at the back of their minds, looked ordinary in Sydney. The strip didn’t offer much to the fast bowlers or spinners. There was hardly any movement, plus the bio-bubble fatigue — as most of the players had been part of the IPL in the United Arab Emirates — could have tired the mind. Social distancing, flights, hotels and quarantine in two different countries — within four months while on the job — are a tough ask.

IPL star Jasprit Bumrah had problems in finding the right length in the first two games. He went for 70-odd runs with just a wicket under his belt.

Top run-scorers

Aaron Finch: 249 runs

Steve Smith: 216 runs

Hardik Pandya: 210 runs

Virat Kohli: 173 runs

Glenn Maxwell: 167 runs

Top wicket-takers

Adam Zampa: 7

Josh Hazlewood: 6

Jasprit Bumrah: 4

Mohammed Shami: 4

Shardul Thakur: 3

Navdeep Saini, on his first tour of Australia, erred in length, too. He conceded 83 in the first game and 70 in the second with just the wicket of Marnus Labuschagne to his credit, and that too when the damage was already done.

Mohammed Shami understood the balance between the fuller length and the good length better in these conditions to pick three wickets in the first outing. But the bowlers leaked way too many runs for the batters to chase it down. Even the fielding under the lights was sloppy.

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Sparks from the batsmen

Despite the steep chase in the first two games, India had a few positives. Hardik Pandya, who is still not bowling in full tilt after a string of injuries last year, had an electric series as a batsman. The right-hander’s composure and shot execution actually came as a surprise. He wasn’t the usual reckless self; he was far more restrained and in control of the game. Pandya missed his maiden ODI ton by a whisker, but he registered his highest score of 92 not out in Canberra.

Mayank Agarwal had a chance to make it big, but he couldn’t convert his handsome starts. The Karnataka boy got trapped in the 20s in both the games before Shubman Gill walked in as a replacement.

It is still not clear why Tamil Nadu boy T. Natarajan wasn’t included in the starting XI from game one considering Navdeep Saini had complained of a back spasm.   -  Getty Images

 

Virat Kohli scored two fifties — 89 and 63 — but there are reasons to be worried. The Indian captain needs to study Josh Hazlewood a bit more before the day-night Test in Adelaide. The lanky right-arm pacer dismissed Kohli all three times in the ODIs, twice in similar fashion — caught at midwicket off a back-of-a-length delivery.

K. L. Rahul, who is slowly stepping into the shoes of Mahendra Singh Dhoni as a wicketkeeper-batsman, had a decent outing with five catches and a joint run-out effort with Kohli. Rahul’s 66-ball 76 had sparks of a great player in the making. He also won hearts by comforting newcomer Cameron Green with kind words from behind the stumps. The youngster was surprised by the niceties.

Canberra glory

The switch from Saini to T. Natarajan and Yuzvendra Chahal to Kuldeep Yadav reaped benefits on a neutral Canberra wicket. However, it is still not clear why Tamil Nadu boy Natarajan wasn’t included in the starting XI from game one considering Saini had complained of a back spasm.

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However, Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja scored half-centuries and added 150 runs for the sixth wicket to guide India to 302/5. Natarajan (2/70), Shardul Thakur (3/51) and Bumrah (2/43) restricted Australia to 289.

 

Results

November 27: Australia beat India by 66 runs

November 29: Australia beat India by 51 runs

December 1: India beat Australia by 13 runs

The Smith factor

Steve Smith really likes to bat. Even when the scoreboard read 372/5, the former Australia captain wasn’t happy to get out. He wanted to play those three balls. He always aims for that extra run and that’s precisely why his running between the wickets, the wristy flick and unorthodox drives fetched him two centuries and the Man of the Series award.

Smith took 62 balls to reach his hundred in both the games, the third fastest by an Australian in ODI cricket. This could well be his preparation to bat for longer hours in the Tests.