India is now officially ‘off the ropes’ after having posted a victory in style in the third ODI, just as a billion Indians had willed them to. But there was something more than just ‘pride’ that was at stake in this game, as was being proclaimed in various quarters.
It was the much more pressing need of restoring the Balance of the Series, from the demoralising defeats of the first two ODIs, and keeping it competitive and alive. A two- month series that seemed lost and done with by the third day itself, even before it was properly underway.
With this rousing, come – from – behind victory, that concern has now been adequately addressed and the series is back on level terms. And we can once again look forward to a sparkling competition in the games ahead.
Whoever bats well and puts runs on the Board will win, BCCI President Sourav Ganguly had said when asked how the tour and the series would go and it seems that the Aussies took him at his word. In the first two ODIs, they followed a simple game plan, executed to perfection, of batting first and putting up huge totals on the board, literally batting the opposition out of the match. This set the Indians back even before they’d had a chance to find their feet on the tour and left them demoralised.
Even though the two captains were on the same team in the IPL, a yawning gap seemed to have opened up between the sides by the end of the second ODI as India looked beaten and devastated, proving yet again that while IPL T20s may have intensity and top class players, an ODI with its 100 overs, not to speak of a Test Match, is a completely different ball game, when compared to performing in a ‘stateless’ T20.
As a team playing the longer 50 over format for the first time in over 8 months, India looked rusty on the field and unprepared for the different level of commitment that it called for. They were unable to adapt quickly like the Australians did, probably because of their home advantage and also perhaps, because of their 3 ODIs against England two months ago.
That Indian batsmen were still stuck in their T20 mindset was obvious when their luck changed with the toss in the third ODI and for the first time they had the luxury of setting a target instead of being under the pressure of a 390- run mountain to climb.
By the end of the 31st over, India were a familiar 153 for 5 with the top order back in the pavilion. All of them, except for skipper Kohli, who achieved a huge personal milestone of 12000 ODI runs in this game, threw away their wickets to totally avoidable, wishy washy shots that looked as if they were playing the slog overs of a T20 instead of the crucial middle overs of an ODI with 25 overs still to go.
Virat Kohli reached the milestone of 12000 ODI runs during the third and final match against Australia. Photo AP
This is perhaps not strange because in a T20 game, a bowler needs to bowl only 4 overs, usually in two 2- over spells and wicket taking is not a priority, while a batsman needs to bat for a maximum of 10-12 overs if he is in at the top of the order. And since there is hardly anyone in close catching positions to worry about when playing in the air, it often results in lazy footwork in matters of getting to the pitch of the ball and keeping it on the ground, or away from the catchers at slip, gully, short cover or short mid wicket encountered in the longer formats.
By contrast, a 50 over game involves a big mental adjustment in terms of bowling 10 overs in 2 or 3 spells calling for craft and finesse and an ability to take wickets, or in batting for 30-35 overs or more, in playing a match winning innings that needs to be crafted and paced differently at different stages.
It calls for a different mindset, different technique, different level of fitness and mental preparation. And therefore, T20 success does not necessarily translate into performance and match preparedness in the longer formats. That such transition is more difficult for visiting teams compared to a home team familiar with the conditions, was proved by India in the first 2 ODIs and in the first 25 overs of the 3rd one.
On the perfect batting pitches encountered so far on the tour, with no noticeable movement in the air or off the pitch to inconvenience the Australian batsmen with the new ball, the straight up and down 140/145 K medium pace of the Indian bowlers represented easy pickings for Aussie batsmen brought up on a diet of such bowling right from their early school days. The biggest problem for the visitors was their inability to pick up the early wickets that would peg the opposition back and keep up the pressure and the run rate under control.
Glenn Maxwell has played quickfire knocks and almost took the game away from India in the third ODI too. Photo AP
Australia won the toss and batted first in the first two games, playing perfectly paced innings in both ODIs, building big opening partnerships in quick time to lay the foundation, followed by steadily accelerating middle overs partnerships led by a dominant Steve Smith blazing away to superb back to back centuries in 66 and 64 balls respectively and ending with a Glenn Maxwell blitzkrieg unleashed in the last 10 overs!
In a perfect demonstration of how an ODI Innings needed to be built, the Australians did not lose wickets till the 40th over in both games, racing away to 264 for 1 in the first and 292 for 2 in the second, before cutting loose spectacularly in the last 10 overs which went for 110 and 114 runs respectively in the first two ODIs, effectively taking the match away from the visiting side.
All this changed in the third ODI, as India won the Toss and batted first. But wickets were lost to disappointingly careless shots and by the end of the 31st over the Indian innings was tottering at 152/5. This included the prized wicket of Virat Kohli, caught behind for 63, off a Hazelwood delivery that moved away just enough to take a fine outside edge.
And it was the Aussie spinners who did most of the damage as needless, missed sweep shots from the middle and off stumps resulted in plumb LBWs for the left armer Ashton Agar. And Shreyas Iyer, playing an expansive shot to Zampa without bothering to get to the pitch of the ball, only managed an outside edge to gully.
Pressure does different things to different people and with India seemingly staring at a small total and another humiliating defeat, Pandya and Jadeja suddenly seized the game by the scruff of its neck and pieced together an incredible unbeaten sixth wicket partnership of 150 in 109 balls that must surely go down as one of the most brilliant counterattacks under pressure in ODI history.
The two young men dug deep into their technical, tactical and psychological reserves in a stunning display as they sought to outdo each other and for the first time it was the Australian attack that seemed to be running out of ideas. They ensured that India crossed 300 in all the three games and put the Australian batsmen under pressure for the first time in the series.
And it showed, as Australia lost Labuschagne and Smith for 7 apiece as India’s new bowling attack tore into the Australian batting with enthusiasm. By the end of the 31 st over Australia were in exactly the same position as India, at 158/5, facing a 300 plus target and if it were not for Finch who scored almost half of those runs, they would have been in dire straits. Suddenly the invincible Aussies looked mortal once again.
And although there still remained a nascent Maxwell- Carey sixth wicket partnership to be snuffed out and a marauding Maxwell to be got rid of, this was achieved in style as a resurgent Bumrah fired in a 146Kmph yorker into the base of his stumps as he moved away from them once too often. And although the margin of victory was only 13 runs, the Indians constantly kept up the pressure and always looked like winning.
They now go into the familiar T20s where they might even be considered as favourites, with much of their confidence and match rhythm rediscovered. The team is now properly into the tour, physically and mentally and things can only get better from here on as the rustiness wears off and players get used to playing the longer formats again.
Most importantly, with this win, their self- belief in what they can do to the Aussies, has been fully restored.
And that, along with the pride, is a huge takeaway from this game.
(The writer, a retired Wing Commander and played Ranji Trophy for the Services team. Views are personal)