Having the opening ODI between India and Australia reduced to what was essentially a T20 chase for the Australian team after rain had almost washed the game out was never going to be an advantage for the visiting team, but the game had been lost by them long before it arrived after yet another superlative start was taken away from them by yet another middle order recovery. Which once again raises the spectre of what the Australian team has to do to close down these recoveries, and also forge one of their own in similar circumstances.
For Australia, the start couldn’t have been better. A fit-again-for-the-moment return for Nathan Coulter-Nile brought a wonderful burst of three wickets in seven deliveries, taking out Rahane (5), Kohli (0) and Pandey (0) to leave the hosts at 3/11. The mix of pace and swing and the willingness of the Indian batsmen to go hard at wide deliveries brought about their downfall. Even the recovery that followed was held in check, and when Marcus Stoinis underlined his increasing value to the team by snaring both the set batsmen, India was in trouble at 5/87 in the 22nd over, and should have been set up to be dismissed for around 200. Unfortunately, as has been a constant hiccup in Australia’s fortunes during 2017, the bowlers were unable to close out the innings and the middle order managed to firstly stabilise the innings and then tear it apart. Old and new combined in Pandya (83 off 66) smashing previously solid bowling all over the park, while Dhoni (79 from 88) played circumspectly. Finishing off with Kumar (32 not out), India to the delight of their supporters scored 2/194 off the remaining 28 overs and clocked in their fifty overs at 7/281 on a wicket that was skidding and staying low. It was somewhat surprising that only five bowlers were used by Australia, leaving Maxwell, Head and debutant Hilton Cartwright without an over. Perhaps it was a tactic to ensure the five front liners all got over under their belt, but as the final two partnerships developed it seemed a little strange not to try one of them as an option.
The rain came during the break, and by the time the ground staff had ensured the match would continue Australia had been left with a target of 164 off 21 overs, a tough enough ask in a normal T20 match of which Australia is not the best exponent. With the way the wicket was playing 282 would have been tough enough to chase off fifty overs, but the T20 scenario played right in to India’s hands. The mixture of spin and off-speed mediums by the Indians proved far too much for Australians who have been mostly dormant since the IPL. Warner (25), Maxwell (39) and the recalled James Faulkner (32 not out) were the only double figure scores, and they eventually fell to a 26 run D/L Method loss.
It will be interesting to see if Australia uses any other options for the second game. Peter Handscomb has been called into the squad to cover for the injured Aaron Finch, and could surely be brought in for Cartwright, allowing Travis Head to return to the top of the order. This would strengthen the batting, while also offering Ashton Agar a slot in the lower order would also improve the power. If the all-rounders are going to start at number 5 then there is a lot of pressure on that top four to make runs, while the bowlers need to find a way to stop the rot that is allowing opposing middle orders to recover time and time again.