As You Think So You Become
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The apparent strides taken by India to fix their middle-order concerns since the World Cup were given a reality check, while their high-flying seam attack came in for punishment from a rampaging Australian unit at the Wankhede Stadium on Tuesday (January 14). After an impressive show with the ball during which they displayed great tactical nous, the visitors had Finch and Warner smashing unbeaten centuries to chase down the target of 256 themselves with over 12 overs to spare, giving India an absolute hammering - the kind they've not received in quite some time. In doing so, the duo also recorded the highest partnership for any wicket against India.
It was staggering how chances came at a premium for India as the Warner-Finch show rolled along in front of a muted audience at the Wankhede. The pitch that had held up often in the afternoon was offering little assistance to the trio of Jasprit Bumrah, Shardul Thakur and Mohammed Shami - all three of them taking a fair beating. The spinners fared relatively better. Kuldeep Yadav created the only real chances when he had Finch at sea initially in his spell. But other than that, it was plain sailing through and through.
Finch got things rolling off his very first ball, driving Mohammed Shami's loose half-volley through point. It couldn't have been a better indication of things to come, as it played out on not just one, but two counts. Firstly, the Australian captain never looked behind from that point onwards. He dominated India in the opening few overs and allowed Warner some time to overcome a scratchy start. Secondly, Shami's half-volley set the tone for India's erratic start in the defence of an under-par score.
But even so, it could've been different for Australia. It almost was. Warner, early in his innings, almost didn't take a review after being adjudged caught-behind off a Shardul Thakur bouncer. Only with a fraction of a second left did he go for it, and Ultra-Edge - with its silence - left little doubt for the third umpire to overturn the onfield call.
With the scare behind him, Warner soon passed the milestone of 5000 ODI runs - the fastest Australian player to do so - and in Thakur's following over, his scratchiness had gone up in smoke. Warner was a transformed player from that point on, taking over the mantle from Finch and firing loaded salvos through and over the infield.
Barring the aforementioned struggles for Finch in picking Kuldeep, the one-sidedness of the contest prevailed with Australia's opening duo camping in for big scores after a blazing start. Having smashed 84 off the first ten overs, they settled down in the next 20 overs, intent on converting their starts, which they effortlessly did. Then with the target closing in came the final flourish to hasten the end as Australia romped home for a 1-0 lead.
If it seemed that there was little India's bowlers could do to stop the onslaught, it was because their batsmen didn't do what they should have.
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 this time. 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 belied. 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 his 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. Thusthe 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. During the innings break, it emerged that Pant had reported a concussion after a blow to his head - which also resulted in his dismissal.
At that point, there were fears that the dew could play a decisive role and hand Australia complete control. But as it turned out, dew or no dew, Australia were always bossing this contest.
Brief scores: India255 in 49.1 overs (Shikhar Dhawan 74, KL Rahul 47; Mitchell Starc 3/56, Kane Richardson 2/43) lost to Australia258/0 in 37.4 overs (David Warner 128*, Aaron Finch 110*) by 10 wickets.
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