3rd ODI: India walk away with trophy, lessons as team fails to register clean sweep against Aussies
Indian players celebrate after winning the three-match series against Australia, at Saurashtra Cricket Association in Rajkot. Photo: X/ICC

3rd ODI: India walk away with trophy, lessons as team fails to register clean sweep against Aussies

India, which lost the 3rd ODI but won the series, unlike Australia didn’t quite have the same spectacular positives to take away from Rajkot. But the series put the entire squad in a great frame of mind ahead of the World Cup.

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It’s astonishing that in 12 series dating back 39 years, there has been no clean sweep in Australia-India One-Day International cricket. This hasn’t always been a showdown between equals – Australia lead the head-to-head 83-56 – but even at their most dominant, neither side has been able to completely lord over the opposition.

India went into Wednesday’s final ODI in Rajkot well placed to correct that anomaly and make it 13th time lucky. A combination of factors prevented them from registering the first whitewash in bilateral contests between the sides, Australia’s consolation 66-run win the second time in a fortnight that India have conceded a ‘dead rubber’, following defeat to Bangladesh in the inconsequential Asia Cup Super Four game in Colombo on September 15.

Like on that occasion, India rang in the changes this time too at the SCA Stadium. Due to various reasons, they made six changes to the XI that secured the series in Indore on Sunday night. While they did welcome back big guns Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Jasprit Bumrah and Kuldeep Yadav, India were a batsman light with Ishan Kishan falling ill overnight and had only 12 fit players to choose from.

Culture of oneness

Four players from the Saurashtra state side were roped in to help out with drinks and, if need be, to act as substitute fielders. It must have been a great experience for Dharmendrasinh Jadeja, Prerak Mankad, Vishwaraj Jadeja and Harvik Desai to be a part of the Indian dugout temporarily, and their night was made even sweeter when Rohit and KL Rahul handed over the series-winning trophy to this quartet ahead of the obligatory group photograph. It was testament to the culture of oneness and spirit coursing through the Indian set-up, which had manifested itself a few minutes earlier when Rohit insisted that Rahul, who led the team in his absence in the first two ODIs, receive the trophy from Niranjan Shah, the former secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India.

India will need every ounce of their togetherness and the one-for-all, all-for-one ideology over the next seven and a half weeks if they are to last the distance at the World Cup. Australia will only reluctantly embrace bragging rights when the teams front up in Chennai on October 8 for the opening World Cup fixture for both outfits, though it is undeniable that they had more gains from Rajkot than their counterparts.

Strongest attack by Aussies

The Aussies were welcoming back Mitchell Starc and Glenn Maxwell, two crucial cogs in their wheel, after long injury layoffs, and must have been delighted at how the duo shaped up. Starc looked in excellent rhythm even if he went for 53 in his seven overs, and while Maxwell didn’t crank it up with the willow, he reiterated his importance with an exceptional spell of off-spin bowling on his way to career-best figures of four for 40.

For the first time in a long while, Australia put out their strongest pace attack, Starc joining Josh Hazlewood, the world’s second-ranked ODI bowler, and skipper Pat Cummins. They were put under pressure early on by Rohit and Kohli but bounced back well and will now target the two official World Cup warm-up games to apply finishing preparatory touches. Their top-order batting too was on song with each of David Warner, Mitchell Marsh, Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne making attractive half-centuries. Travis Head’s untimely forearm fracture is likely to facilitate Labuschagne’s late entry into the final squad of 15 and catapult Marsh to the top of the batting tree to partner Warner.

Lessons for India

So much for Australia. India didn’t quite have the same spectacular positives to take away from Rajkot, but this series has put the entire squad in a great frame of mind. Beyond the uncertainty over Axar Patel’s availability, there are few problem areas that will concern Rohit and head coach Rahul Dravid. Shreyas Iyer’s reintegration was complete with another pleasing cameo, and India’s belief that R Ashwin still has what it takes in 50-over cricket was reinforced over the first two games when the off-spinner bowled as if he hadn’t been away from ODI cricket for 20 months. If persistence with the injured Axar is deemed a gamble of sorts India don’t want to punt on, Ashwin will step into the breach with aplomb, even if he may not offer the same batting firepower or the fielding brilliance of the left-arm spinner.

Illnesses apart, India also had the worse of the deal. Cummins won a significant toss in the heat of Rajkot, when the surface was at its best. Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj were taken for plenty by Warner and Marsh; the ball came nicely on to the bat and sped off it equally smoothly and boundaries came in a torrent. On that track at that stage, there was absolutely no margin for error; indeed, even good deliveries were dispatched with summary disdain. In all, Australia smacked 39 fours and eight sixes, an appropriate reflection of the conditions even if India did pull things back in the final fifth of the Aussie innings. But in that silver lining was a message too – India’s chase would be daunting not only because the target was 353.

In the second half, the pitch became more challenging to bat on. It slowed up considerably and quickly sizing things up, Australia’s bowlers used cutters galore and ensured they gave the batsmen no pace. After a rollicking start from Rohit, India were stymied in the middle overs as the ball got softer. Maxwell bowled with intelligence, cramping the batsmen for room, adopting a middle-and-leg line and packing the on-side. All of that resulted in the Indian innings containing just 19 fours and 11 sixes (three more than the Aussies). Especially given that they were missing one specialist batsman – Washington Sundar opened the innings to artificially extend the line-up and ensure no one batted out of position – the changed dynamics of the playing surface didn’t help India’s cause one bit.

There was a lesson in it for India, though. How will they tackle bowlers who attempt to emulate the Maxwell method? Sunil Gavaskar spoke of the need to employ the reverse-sweep more often against that line of attack. That’s something to ponder over for a line-up that usually doesn’t go down that route, with perhaps the exception of Iyer.

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