Australia 359 for 6 (Handscomb 117, Khawaja 91, Turner 84*, Bumrah 3-63) beat India 358 for 9 (Dhawan 143, Rohit 95, Cummins 5-70) by 4 wickets
Indian crowds usually tell a story. Between stunned silence at every big shot from Australian bats and booing of their own, Rishabh Pant for a missed stumping, they narrated a tale of everything gone wrong: of their first failure to defend a total of 350 or more, and that too with 13 balls to spare. It was almost like spoilt wine had been served in the middle of a party. Shikhar Dhawan announced return to form with his personal best, a delightful 143; Rohit Sharma was there with him for a 193-run stand, they managed to reach 358, but once the dew set in – and you should expect it in north India – their bowlers and fielders lost the plot.
Australia found new heroes to go with the old: Pat Cummins‘ five-for reduced what looked like 380 to 358, Usman Khawaja followed up his Ranchi century with a 91, Peter Handscomb registered his maiden ODI hundred, but most stunningly of all, Ashton Turner, who probably wouldn’t have played if Marcus Stoinis hadn’t injured his hand, shocked India with an unbeaten 84 off 43 balls. Just get a hang of it: Australia lost captain Aaron Finch for a two-ball duck; they were soon reduced to 12 for 2, the asking rate crossed eight an over in the 13th over, 8.5 in the 26th, 9 in the 29th and 10 in the 43rd. The intent of the 192-run stand between Handscomb and Khawaja was questioned as the asking rate soared, but Turner and dew changed the equation completely.
Virat Kohli’s tactics will be questioned once again. He had two options as Australia began to stich a partnership from 12 for 2. Go for the kill with your strike bowlers or wait for a wicket to fall and then unleash your wicket-takers. Both plans have merit: you can get the part-timers out of the way and then give the main bowlers the tough job or you can try to strike early when the ball is dry. Kohli usually prefers the former – as is shown in how he keeps his best bowler for the last over, often not even needing it – and he did the same here.
Kohli was dealt a rough hand by the dew. In the previous game he chose to field because of the anticipated dew that didn’t eventuate. Here he batted, backing his bowlers to be good enough even if the ball got wet. Not on this night.
The target was a distant thought when Handscomb joined Khawaja. They managed to get to 47 for 2 by the end of the Powerplay. Seven of the next 10 overs – the ball still dry – were bowled by Kedar Jadhav and Vijay Shankar. Kohli later said it would have been more difficult for Jadhav and Vijay with the wet ball so he backed his best bowlers to do that job. Handscomb and Khawaja couldn’t afford to take too many risks at that moment, but they managed to take 22 runs off Jadhav’s first three.
On a skiddy pitch, with the dew setting in around the 25th-over mark, the wristspinners – playing together thanks to the return of Bhuvneshwar Kumar in place of Mohammed Shami – didn’t look effective. Risk-free accumulation continued. Khawaja preferred the various varieties of the sweep, Handscomb brought out the rarely-seen-these-days chip shot; when he wanted to attack, he targeted the shorter straight boundaries.
Possible panic stations were hit by the end of 30 overs: India still had two overs from the fifth bowler, the main spinners had been defanged by the conditions and the excellent batting, the asking rate had plateaued at around nine. Wickets were needed but there were no thoughts on how they could be bought. And then Handscomb took Jadhav apart, hitting two sixes and a four in the 33rd over and entering the 90s; 155 off 17 overs now.
With bums a little squeakier, Kohli had to pull out the big gun much sooner than he would have liked. Back came Jasprit Bumrah, out came a bouncer, and Khawaja fell to the hook shot. Rebelion thwarted, you would have thought, but Glenn Maxwell seemed in no mood to bend the knee. A switch hit ended Maxwell’s innings in the 37th over; with 130 still required, those who didn’t follow the BBL would have thought India had reclaimed the game. That’s when Turner announced himself.
During this BBL, Turner went from being a bits-and-pieces player to being an accomplished finisher. Now was his time. He had the conditions. And he went boom. His default option when he wanted to hit big was down the ground. He picked Kuldeep Yadav’s wrong’un, when he went straight over his head first ball of the 41st over. As the six-hitting refused to abate, meetings between Kohli and Rohit began to get longer, hand-waving got more frenetic, and the crowd became the most desperate.
It began in the 39th over. Handscomb left his crease, was beaten by Kuldeep in the air, looked set for a stumping but the ball brushed his pad and changed the direction, making Pant’s job difficult. The crowd, however, didn’t want to make an allowance for that deflection. They began to chant the name of MS Dhoni, who is resting for the last two matches of this series. It would get uglier at the start of the 44th over. Seventy-two were required in seven overs, Turner had reached 38 off 27, and Pant missed a stumping down the leg side. This time the Dhoni chants were followed by loud booing. Kohli, fielding at the boundary, let his disappointment become apparent, too.
Turner didn’t look back, though. First, he took Bhuvneshwar apart, scoring 20 in the 45th over; then he ramped Bumrah for a crazy six to condemn him to 16 runs in the 46th; when Bhuvneshwar went for 18 in the 47th, it was game over. Two more catches went down, but they probably wouldn’t have mattered. What will make it worse for Kohli and India is that Australia did this not to part-timers but to their best bowlers.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom for the home side, though. In what should be a big positive, Dhawan came out of his minor slump with his highest ODI score. Giving him company for most of his effort was Rohit, who seemed more relieved than his struggling partner. Opening together for the 100th time, they went on to become India’s second-most prolific association in ODIs. Dhawan did all the right things as he hit out selflessly well before the 40th over, after which an extra fielder goes out. He took 39 off the last 15 balls he faced.
Kohli’s rare failure – he was batting at No. 4 to accommodate KL Rahul – and Australia’s plan to take out the straight boundaries by bowling short meant India couldn’t go much beyond what was a conservative expectation after the start they had had.