All the strides India have taken at fixing their middle-order concerns since the World Cup were given a reality check by an extremely efficient Australian attack at the Wankhede Stadium on Tuesday (January 14). India, seemingly on their way to a sizeable score after a 121-run stand between Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul, slid rather steeply post their dismissals to get bowled out for 255.
For too long have India relied on their top three to do the heavy lifting in ODI cricket. It wasn't any different in the series-opener either, except that they had a different top three altogether. Having expressed his thoughts of accommodating Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul all in the same XI, Virat Kohli went ahead with the move of dropping down to No. 4 and - for a good while - it was all well and good.
Rohit may have fallen early to become Mitchell Starc's first ODI scalp in India, but Dhawan and Rahul got together nicely to lay the platform. In apparent competition against each other for one spot should India's combination change, the pair worked well together to lead India's steady progress on a pitch that's wasn't as conducive for strokeplay as Rohit's first-ball boundary suggested. Rohit himself found that out soon enough as Starc got a full ball to stop on him as the attempted drive went uppishly to mid-off where Warner held onto a low catch.
So with the pitch having exhibited its two-paced nature, Dhawan and Rahul saw sense in doing it the hard way. Dhawan, in particular, was pretty restrained at the start. The southpaw, back in the ODI set-up after missing the series against West Indies through injury, was stuck on 3 off 22 balls before sensing the need to change his approach. It had taken a couple of sizzlers from Starc to bring about that shift, first storming past Dhawan's defences with a brute of a yorker, and then finding the leading-edge which fell safely into the off-side.
From that point, the shift in Dhawan was rather dramatic as he jumped down the very next ball to Starc and hammered him down the ground. It was a phase where he struck five boundaries off 9 balls, before settling down again and getting his fifty off 66 balls.
Rahul, on the other hand, batted in one fluent gear right through as he went about laying a good platform along with Dhawan. Having come off a good run of late, this was another excellent chance for the Karnataka batsman to go big. Thus the frustration was understandable when he slammed his bat into the turf after throwing it away off an Ashton Agar delivery that he hit straight to short extra cover. It would prove to be the turning point.
Australia stormed back into the match thereafter, taking four wickets for 30 runs. Dhawan was undone by a leading-edge off Cummins, Kohli by a stunning return catch from Zampa, and Shreyas Iyer by Starc's brilliant set-up. Iyer, having showcased his aptitude for the No. 4 spot with superb showings over two legs against West Indies, found life more difficult against quality of this kind as Starc softened him up with a bouncer before angling one across for the edge.
Rishabh Pant and Ravindra Jadeja led a brief recovery with a 49-run stand, but Australia had their quality pace attack handy again to remove both of them quickly, although they would've been irked by the few boundaries Kuldeep Yadav and Mohammed Shami managed towards the end.
Even so, with dew expected to be a factor, the visitors would fancy chasing the total that seems to be under-par. Although the two-paced nature of the pitch could prove to be a challenge if dew were to stay away.
Brief scores: India255 in 49.1 overs (Shikhar Dhawan 74, KL Rahul 47; Mitchell Starc 3-56, Pat Cummins 2-44, Kane Richardson 2-43) vs Australia.