Australia may not have thought it a big deal to chase down 359 at the Inderjit Singh Bindra Stadium in Mohali on Sunday night as they had reached a 304-run target at the same venue five years ago.
Curiously, Australia scored exactly 359 in the previous game at Jaipur in 2013 and India easily crossed the line with plenty to spare as Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli scoring hundreds and Shikhar Dhawan 95. Sharma scored a double century in the seventh One-Day International (ODI) at Cuttack for India to post 383 and Australia replied with 326.
Aaron Finch, now captain of Australia, and Glenn Maxwell are the surviving members of that ODI tour wherein Australia scored 300 plus in five matches, chasing down at Mohali and defending in the opening game at Pune, while India won twice chasing and once defending. Two matches were rained off.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammad Shami and Ravindra Jadeja are the others from that series still around to make the squad highly experienced.
Even as the two sides are playing the series keeping an eye on their World Cups squads, India fielded an unchanged team in the first three matches, hoping to take an unassailable lead so that they could test the benched probables in the last two games.
India won the first two matches, but lost the match at Ranchi, Dhoni's hometown. What the team management must be regretting is to rest Dhoni for the last two matches, more so after Australia tied the series 2-2 at Mohali, chasing down the fifth highest ODI target and the highest against India.
The selectors and the team management clearly wanted to test Rishabh Pant's batting as well as his wicket-keeping under pressure. Pant, coming in at five ahead of Vijay Shankar and Kedar Jadhav, looked good in his quickfire 36 off 24 balls. But he showed nerves while keeping, and it is quite understandable as he was only playing his fourth ODI and filling in for, of all people, Dhoni. He should be in the World Cup squad for his batting, hoping he does not have to be called to keep wickets.
Kohli sorely missed Dhoni when things were going out of hand in the last 10 overs at Mohali. One could clearly see the difference in his body language when Dhoni is around and when he himself has to arrange the field and talk to the bowlers.
Rohit should have taken over Dhoni's role, fielding inside the 30-yard circle and leaving Kohli to man the boundaries. The captaincy paralysis seemed to have gripped the bowlers and fielders, who did not know where to look for advice as dew made life uncomfortable for them. Yuzvendra Chahal and Jadhav looked forlorn, missing Dhoni's guidance. They were at the receiving end of the dew at Ranchi, too, where it played truant.
As luck would have it, even the DRS did not look all that convincing when man-of-the-match Ashton Turner was reprieved at 41 with Australia still needing 61 off 39 balls. The third umpire cannot be blamed for deciding on what was put up to him on the screen.
Kohli was unhappy with what he felt was the inconsistent review system and the review that didn't go India's way was a game-changer. It only confirms why India delayed accepting the DRS, though the argument here is that the system is the same for both teams.
Kohli knows, and said in so many words, that a team can't lose a match after dismissing half the side for 271 by the 42nd over and the Australians needing to score at a rate of 10 runs. They needed nine plus for most part the innings. Kohli did a few things right, like bowling Jadhav and Vijay Shankar before dew set in and employing the mainline bowlers in the last 20 overs.
Australians deserved to win for the way Usman Khawaja, who missed back-to-back hundreds, and Peter Handscomb, who scored a stroke-filled 117 off 105 balls, batted. Then there were the heroics of Turner, whose 84 of 43 balls pulled the game decisively away from India as Kohli and his men helplessly watched his big hitting in awe.
The success of Khawaja and Turner is going create a headache for the Australian selectors when they are look to recall Steve Smith and David Warner, after they serve out a one-year ban following the ball tampering controversy in Cape Town in March last year.
Australia's exploits put in shade an excellent 143 by Dhawan and a near hundred (95) by Rohit. The two appeared to be batting the visitors out of the match before the middle-order fell in a hurry. Still, the score looked good enough to stop Australia.
Dhawan's knock must have relieved the selectors and Kohli, as another failure would have raised questions over his selection for the World Cup. The only other player who needs a big knock is Ambati Rayudu who was not played in the Mohali match.
In the decider at the Ferozeshah Kotla on Wednesday India will have to play their best eleven.
Kotla is no Mohali and the pitch should be to India's liking.
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