MARCH 13, 2019
Brief Scorecard: Australia 272 for 9 (Khawaja 100, Handscomb 52, Bhuvneshwar 3-48) beat India 237 (Rohit 56, Zampa 3-46) by 35 runs
NEW DELHI – A decade ago Australia won an ODI series in India despite a surfeit of injuries. Numerous stronger sides have left empty handed since then, so it was with a great deal of satisfaction that Aaron Finch’s team sealed this victory from 0-2 down, the first time an Australian side had ever done so in 50-over matches, with a disciplined, determined and tactically astute defence of 272 in Delhi.
Being 0-2 down is something the Australians have become used to in more than one sense over the past year, missing the names of David Warner and Steven Smith from their team sheet as a result of the Newlands scandal.
But there was much to be savoured in winning a series over one of the World Cup fancies in the final assignment before the Smith and Warner bans expire at the end of this month. Their reintegration meeting in the UAE later this week will take place in the afterglow of a first series victory in seven attempts dating back to January 2017, at the same time inflicting India’s first home ODI defeat since 2015.
Tellingly, two of the men to stand up in the former leaders’ absence were those who were directly replacing them: Usman Khawaja gliding to a second century of the series to further press his case for World Cup inclusion, and Peter Handscomb providing more than useful support having been promoted to No. 3 after Shaun Marsh was dropped. Finch and the national team coach Justin Langer have spent some months feeling like they were short of viable options; now they find themselves spoiled for batting choice.
Equally the Australian effort with the ball and in the field showed an expanding tactical and technical repertoire, as Adam Zampa and Nathan Lyon combined artfully as spin bowlers on a slow, low Feroz Shah Kotla pitch, only a matter of weeks after it appeared that Langer and company had belatedly acknowledged the need to find wicket-taking spinners for the middle overs. Masterful too was Pat Cummins, giving barely anything away, while Marcus Stoinis returned from injury to enjoy his He-Man moment when coaxing an edge from Virat Kohli.
India had not lost any ODI series at home since going down 3-2 to South Africa in October 2015. That result arrived only a matter of months after Australia won the previous World Cup so was not considered a major reverse. However this defeat, on the cusp of the IPL, has left India with precious little time to iron out an increasing number of wrinkles. By contrast the Australians can now look forward to a further five matches against Pakistan.
India’s chase, and defeat from 2-0 up for the first time in history, opened more than a few questions for Kohli and the coach Ravi Shastri, not least team balance after only three specialist batsmen were selected. With Shikhar Dhawan and Kohli dismissed cheaply, Rohit Sharma seemed weighed down by the task before him, twice offering chances spurned off Zampa’s bowling before charging wildly to be well stumped by Alex Carey. MS Dhoni’s resting for the final two matches provided opportunities for others in India’s middle order, but they were far from taken.
All this was after Khawaja’s dismissal in the 33rd over of Australia’s own innings had seen the game change markedly. Jasprit Bumrah’s discipline and wickets shared among the rest meant that the team lost 6 for 54 in 77 balls just as they were looking to accelerate. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ravindra Jadeja were the chief wicket-takers for India, while Ashton Turner and Stoinis were irritated to have failed to go on from their starts. Jhye Richardson and Cummins put on a pesky 34 runs in 2.4 overs and ultimately ensured the Australians would be happy with their total.
Despite Australia’s record-breaking chase in Mohali, led by Turner, Finch chose to bat first and attempt to put scoreboard pressure on India, who also made a couple of changes, calling in Jadeja and Mohammed Shami while dropping Yuzvendra Chahal, KL Rahul and Ambati Rayudu.
Shami and Bhuvneshwar floated the ball full in the early overs in search of swing, but slipped obligingly into the driving zones of Khawaja and Finch as the tourists made a fluent start. Khawaja in particular was punishing on balls either too straight or too short, while Finch was for the most part content to bat in his partner’s slipstream. Neither batsman was overly troubled as they rattled to 76, and it took an excellent delivery from Jadeja, spinning past the outside edge of Finch’s bat and clattering off stump, to separate them.
Handscomb was quickly into stride however, maintaining the momentum from his Mohali innings by finding the boundary while rotating strike expertly with Khawaja, who was soon saluting his second century of the series. It was his third in international cricket since he returned from knee surgery with a hundred against Sri Lanka in Canberra last month.
At 175 for 1 with 17.1 overs left, a major score seemed likely, but when Khawaja picked out Kohli at cover, causing the Indian captain to hurl the ball into the turf as he released his frustration, the game began to shift in momentum.
The ball was ageing, the pitch slowing, and new entrants to the crease found the going harder. Glenn Maxwell shaped to hit Jadeja inside out but could not clear cover, Handscomb’s innings ended when he was surprised by extra lift from a Shami delivery he wanted to run down to third man, and Turner’s follow-up innings to Mohali ended when he miscued Kuldeep Yadav to long-on after he had lifted the left-arm wristspinner for six.
At the other end Stoinis soaked up 16 dot balls out of 27 faced before dragging Bhuvneshwar onto the stumps, but Richardson and Cummins were able to pull together a priceless stand in the closing overs to push Australia’s total past 270. From a point where Kohli’s men had looked likely to need to beat the previous record chase at the ground – 281 in 1982 – they were ultimately left with a target of more modest dimensions.
Much depended on how the hosts could start, and though there was a sprinkling of boundaries against the new ball, Cummins’ dismissal of Dhawan opened up the opportunity to hunt Kohli’s wicket while the ball was still new. Cummins and Richardson were unable to find a way through, but Stoinis, bowling across the seam and finding extra bounce, did the trick by finding a thin edge through to an exultant Carey.
Rishabh Pant threatened for a while, but was becalmed and then dismissed by Lyon’s offbreaks, prodding at a delivery that turned and bounced, offering a catch to Turner at slip. Vijay Shankar also made a start, only to sky Zampa to Khawaja at deep midwicket, and when Rohit was dropped off consecutive Zampa deliveries – first a thin edge through to Carey and then a catch by Maxwell at cover – Indian frustration was clear.
Zampa did not have to wait long to celebrate, for in his next over Rohit ran down the wicket, was beaten between bat and pad and clearly stumped by Carey after he had stayed admirably low with the ball. Ravindra Jadeja had not scored when he stretched forward and was beaten by a Zampa wrong’un with Carey again in position for a stumping, this time achieved by the barest of margins as the left-hander’s foot was deemed to be stuck on the line and not behind it.
That left India 132 for 6 and seemingly in quicksand. Bhuvneshwar and Kedar Jadhav got the equation down to 50 off 25 balls with a nifty union of 91 that brought the crowd to life and had Finch nervously drying the ball as late evening dew began to settle.
But Cummins returned to have Bhuvneshwar miscuing to mid-off, and the very next ball Jadhav was well pouched by a running Maxwell off Richardson, leaving Stoinis to complete formalities by knocking out Kuldeep’s middle stump. At the boundary’s edge Langer, so frazzled for much of the past 10 months, raised two arms in triumph.