New Delhi, March 13 (IANS) Australias score of 272 was more than challenging for India as the visitors won the deciding game of the five-match series by 35 runs on a slow and low Ferozeshah Kotla wicket on Wednesday to clinch the series 3-2.
The series win comes not just at the right time for the Aussies as the World Cup is round the corner, but is also their first series victory in India in six years.
If Usman Khawaja was the star of the Australia innings with a brilliant century, Adam Zampa stole the show in the India innings with figures of 3/46 from his 10 overs.
With no dew to help India tackle the spin of Zampa, the home team was once again found wanting with the leg-spinner picking the wickets of Rohit Sharma (56), Vijay Shankar (16) and Ravindra Jadeja (0) to completely derail the innings. The Indian innings folded up for 237.
Chasing 273 to win the game and with it the series, India got off to a terrible start with Pat Cummins sending back Shikhar Dhawan (12) in the fifth over of the innings. With the score on 15/1, Virat Kohli joined Rohit at the crease.
The duo tried to settle the early nerves and all looked fine till Marcus Stoinis dismissed Kohli (20) against the run of play. Rishabh Pant was promoted to the number four position, and Nathan Lyon ensured that this experiment also failed for India as he walked back for 16, caught at first slip by Ashton Turner.
New number 5 Shankar too flattered to deceive and when Rohit (given a life on 51 and 53 off Zampa's bowling) was stumped by Alex Carey in the 27th over, it looked like the start of the end of the India chase.
But Kedar Jadhav (44) and Bhuvneshwar Kumar (46) had other plans as they looked to play smart cricket and put on 91 runs off 103 balls. With 96 needed off the last 10, they mixed caution with aggression and stretched the game towards the death.
Just when it looked like India would scamper home, Bhuvneshwar was sent back by Cummins. With Kedar dismissed off the first ball of the very next over by Richardson, it was curtains.
Earlier, skipper Aaron Finch had no hesitation in batting first on a Kotla wicket that had a tinge of green, which was more to ensure true bounce than anything else. And the opening stand of 76 between him and Khawaja justified his decision. In fact, they started cautiously and scored just 52 in the first ten overs. But more importantly, they had all their wickets in the bag.
India finally broke through in the 15th over of the innings when Ravindra Jadeja struck. It was a typical Jadeja ball which pitched in line and turned just enough to beat Finch (27). The score read 76/1 and the packed Kotla crowd erupted in joy.
But the joy was to be short lived as Handscomb and Khawaja combined beautifully to keep the Indian bowlers at bay. While skipper Virat Kohli tried all options he had in his arsenal, but was thwarted by the duo who looked to start from where they left in the last game in Mohali.
It finally took a brilliant move from Kohli to send Khawaja (106) back to the hut, but not before he had completed his second century of the series. Getting Bhuvneshwar Kumar to use his variations, Kohli waited at short cover for Khawaja to play an uppish drive. The opener did just that off the last ball of the 33rd over for the skipper to grab an easy catch. The 99-run partnership was finally broken.
Glenn Maxwell failed to deliver as Jadeja dismissed him for just 1, once again caught at short cover by Kohli. Handscomb (52) followed soon after as Mohammed Shami took the edge of his bat in the next over for Rishabh Pant to complete a regulation catch.
From 174/1, the score suddenly read a wobbly 182/4. While last match's hero Ashton Turner (20) and Marcus Stoinis (20) did try their best to finish on a high, the Indians bowled exceedingly well in the second half as they picked wickets at regular intervals to derail the Australia innings.
It finally took some calculative hitting from Jhye Richardson (29) to take Australia to a competitive total. Along with Pat Cummins (15), he took 19 runs from the 48th over of the innings as Jasprit Bumrah cut a sorry figure. The last three overs saw Australia score 31 runs.