At the start of the new year, with nine ODIs scheduled at home for India, it was clear these games would play a crucial role in helping the team firm up its combinations ahead of the World Cup later this year. After breezing past Sri Lanka and New Zealand, India hit a wall against Australia and lost a one-day series at home for the first time in four years on Wednesday.
In Mumbai, the Men in Blue, led by its pacers, restricted the Aussies to a modest 188. K.L. Rahul and Ravindra Jadeja took the side home after a poor start.
The top-order collapsed again in Visakhapatnam against Mitchell Starc’s swing and pace as Australia fought back to level the series with a ten-wicket win.
In the final ODI, chasing 270, India looked on course for victory during large parts of the chase until some questionable approach, in going after the two spinners when they were about to bowl out, spelt the doom for Rohit’s men.
Still, a 7-2 scoreline over the last three months shows depth in the squad despite missing at least three first-choice players: Jasprit Bumrah, Prasidh Krishna and Shreyas Iyer. One bright spot has been Kuldeep Yadav, who has cemented his place as the leading wrist-spinner with 15 wickets from these eight games, while the form of Suryakumar Yadav will be a huge concern.
After the series loss, skipper Rohit Sharma said that the team needs to figure out plans to tackle quality opposition. “The last game particularly and today (Wednesday) as well, these two games are the ones where we can understand what we need to do against quality opposition,” said Rohit.
“It is about adapting and understanding your method. Eventually, you have to score runs, no matter how the pitches are and what the bowler is trying to do. You must try and put them under pressure and can’t just let the bowlers bowl in one particular spot,” he added.
For Australia, Mitchell Marsh set up the 2-1 win as he revelled in opening the batting and took on the bowlers by taking advantage of the field restrictions in the PowerPlay. The Aussies have great depth in batting and tried to power through the innings. It didn’t work in Mumbai but did so in Chennai, where the extra runs from the lower-order made the difference.
Steve Smith, who has been leading the side since the third Test in Indore, which Australia won, has been impressive as a captain even though he failed as a batter.
Even as India was cruising to victory in the decider, Smith used his spinners Adam Zampa and Ashton Agar smartly. He was brave enough to hold back Zampa till late in the match, and the leggie removed Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja in his last two overs.
After starting the tour poorly with defeats in the first two Tests, Australia finished its India campaign strongly, becoming the only side to beat India twice at home in the last seven years in an ODI series.