On reflection, everything that Australia wanted to happen leading up to the start of the 3rd ODI in this series went according to plan. Aaron Finch was declared fit to take his place and came in for Hilton Cartwright at the top of the order. Matthew Wade’s horror 2017 was called out again as he made way for part time keeper but more credentialed batsman Peter Handscomb. And for the first time this series, Australia got the chance to bat first and set a target that India would be unable to chase down. And India still won. Comfortably. It says much about the preparation and current status of the two teams.
Steve Smith has spoken often in recent times about the collapse or non-performance of parts of the Australian batting order. He wanted it to stop, or at least be rectified. One guesses that he will be disappointed again in his team’s finishing in this match. Between Dave Warner’s 42 (off 44 balls), his own 63 (71 balls) and Finch’s timely century on return to the team (124 off 125 balls), the top of the order had more or less done its job. Smith’s dismissal in the 42nd over left Australia 3/243 with 8 overs remaining, and the hope that the middle order could accelerate the total beyond 300. But it was not to be. Wickets fell consistently, meaning each new batsman had to try and get moving with no time to play themselves in. Maxwell (5 off 13), Head (4 off 6) and Handscomb (3 off 7) all fell, while Stoinis managed 26 not out from 27 deliveries. Only three boundaries came from the final eleven overs as India tightened the screws. Instead of posting a total around 320-330 which should have been a given with 12 overs to go when the score was 2/224, Australia only managed to add 69 runs in that time. They finished at 6/293, and it never looked enough.
India cruised. They barely got out of second gear. With their bowlers having done all the hard work in the last twenty overs of Australia’s innings, India’s batsmen could play with freedom knowing that the total was within them. The opening partnership of 139 from 21 overs pretty much put the match to bed. Even at 4/206 they were in front given they had 15 overs to score the required 88 runs, a doddle in modern day ODI’s. With Pandya, Pandey and Dhoni all hovering in the middle order for India they just don’t ever seem to be under pressure at the end of an innings, whether setting a target or chasing it down. On hard surfaces with small boundaries it must be difficult to find a way to either dismiss them or to tie them down. Especially here at home, the Indian team has the engine humming. Winning here by five wickets with more than two overs to spare showed up Australia’s deficient score. Had they made the 330 they should have they may still have lost, but it would really have gone down to the wire rather than the plodding victory it was.
India has now won all three matches, the first despite a shortened run chase for Australia due to rain, the second by setting a score and restricting Australia to less, and now by holding Australia to an average total and then chasing it down with ease. They have dominated all three games, and from here it would be a surprise if the selected and available Australian squad can win either of the two remaining matches. Surely both Faulkner and Zampa will get another chance now that the series is decided, and one suspects Wade will be returned the gloves in an effort to boost his confidence heading into the Australian summer. His position for November must seriously be questioned at this point nonetheless.
Australia has been outplayed, though with obvious absences especially in what would be considered a full strength bowling attack. Australia’s batting remains the problem, and should be the main talking point for selectors when they come to look at the ODI’s in Australia in January. At that time the next World Cup will be 18 months away, and they will have to start deciding what the make up of that squad is likely to be, and more problematically what the batting line up will be. If changes need to be made or considered, and the results here suggest they are required, then those changes will have to be made at that time. The next two games could be the most important of some of this teams players careers.