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18 January 201517:42 By R Kaushik, Melbourne

Starc, Finch star in tense Australia win

Australia overhaul India's 267 for 8 by three wickets to register second win in tri-series

Starc, Finch star in tense Australia win - Cricket News

Mitchell Starc of Australia celebrates a wicket

India showcased only a fraction of the enormous batting might it possesses. Against most other teams, that might have sufficed. Even against a team high on confidence, it was almost, but just not, enough.

A strong Indian contingent at the Melbourne Cricket Ground had found its feet in the afternoon when Rohit Sharma treated them to a veritable feast, but their optimism soon gave way to knowing resignation as India unveiled inarguably its weakest suit, and was promptly punished by Australia’s run-hungry top-order batsmen.

Rohit’s sixth One-Day International century, a majestic compilation full off beefy pulls and glorious driving, had combined with Suresh Raina’s familiarity and comfort with the limited-overs game to haul India to 267 for 8 on Sunday (January 18) after Mahendra Singh Dhoni won the toss. On a grassless surface but with considerable bounce, at least to start with, it was a decent effort that could have been a lot better had Mitchell Starc (6/43) not gatecrashed its party with another outstanding exhibition of pace bowling.

India had little to show either side of the Rohit-Raina stand of 126. Australia, by contrast, strung together three consecutive substantial partnerships with Aaron Finch the constant in each of those. But, suddenly, Steven Smith, Finch and George Bailey fell within 14 runs and 23 balls of each other and Australia started to look edgy, nervous and out of sorts as India rediscovered its mojo and the crowd its voice.

From out of nowhere, India drove Australia into a corner despite losing Mohammed Shami to injury. Cruising at 216 for 2 towards the end of the 40th over, Australia stumbled and stuttered and limped along, rounding off a tense four-wicket victory by reaching 269 for 6 with an over to spare, a result that all but sealed its entry into the final of the triangular series.

This tournament was always going to be a test of the resolve and character of the Indian bowling attack, relatively light on both experience and confidence, in the lead-up to the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup. Dhoni would have been pleased with the way his side fought till the end, but the profligacy with the new ball will worry him. Bhuvneshwar Kumar was as steady as he generally is but without the penetration, Axar Patel had an excellent debut on Australian soil and R Ashwin was middling, but India’s travails continued at the top of the attack with neither Umesh Yadav nor Shami bowling well enough long enough to pose anything remotely resembling a threat despite the high speeds with which they sent the ball down.

Where India was rocked in the very first over of its batting stint when Starc got rid of Shikhar Dhawan to a loose drive that landed in second slip’s hands, Australia began with fluent urgency. Boundaries flowed off the broad willows of both David Warner, in the middle or a purple patch, and Finch, who had topped 20 just once in his previous seven hits. The 50 was brought up in next to no time as Yadav and Shami failed to sustain the pressure created by Bhuvneshwar, before Yadav hurried Warner with a pacy delivery to elicit a skier to cover.

There was no respite for India, though. Shane Watson arrived in a flurry of fours, particularly severe on Yadav, even as Finch pulled back and soaked in the entertainment. Patel slipped into a nice defensive rhythm as Bhuvneshwar’s replacement but the runs kept coming at the other end until Watson fell on the slog to Patel after dominating a stand of 64 with Finch.

Smith’s arrival at the crease reignited Finch’s industry. Smith, who just keeps scoring and scoring, played some of the most spectacular strokes of the chase including one stunning backdrive off Shami on the up that best illustrated his form. He and Finch seemed to have secured victory with their stand of 101 at a run a ball when both were dismissed in the space of three deliveries, Smith just short of his fifty and Finch four runs away from his sixth ODI hundred. To compound India’s woes, Shami walked off the field just one delivery into his ninth over, whipping off a protective brace on the left knee and hobbling away in discomfort. What might have transpired if India had bowled with greater discipline at the top of the innings is open to conjecture.

Australia had been nothing if not disciplined at the start of the day, through Starc in particular and through Gurinder Sandhu, the debutant who began well before fading away. Unlike in the past when he played himself in with little regard for the scoreboard, Rohit was positive from the off, a wonderful drive way over long-off against the express Pat Cummins in the fourth over of the day as authoritative a statement as can be imagined.

Until Raina joined him, however, Rohit was fighting a solitary battle. Neither Ajinkya Rahane, at No. 3, nor Virat Kohli looked at home during brief stints, both undone by extra bounce. Rahane became Sandhu’s first international victim while Kohli fell to James Faulkner and at 59 for 3 with just six specialist batsmen in their ranks, India were in some strife.

As if to show that he was unfazed by that situation, Rohit uncorked a second giant six, this time off the continually impressive Starc, who followed up the four-for against England with another commendable display of swing, control and guile that alone kept Australia from completely disintegrating. Using the pull to repeated and excellent effect, Rohit ensured that Australia’s lengths didn’t put a brake on the scoring, even as Raina opened up after a very brief period of getting his eye in.

It didn’t appear as if Raina was feeling any lingering after-effects of a pair on Test comeback. At his most comfortable and assertive in limited-overs cricket, he looked a completely different player from the hesitant batsman who lasted just four deliveries in Sydney, pulling Cummins in front of midwicket early in his innings to get the legs moving and the confidence flowing.

Gradually, Australia’s grip was loosened, through sparkling strokeplay and frenetic running that could have been disastrous had the home team been a little more in control of its emotions. With each flowing boundary, Australia began to become more and more infuriated and India continued to hurt them, as the fourth-wicket stand burgeoned to 126 and Rohit moved to within two runs of his hundred.

For some reason, India took the batting Power Play one over ahead of schedule, and Raina fell to the last ball of that over, tonking Starc to mid-on. That transferred the momentum away from the Indian innings as Dhoni struggled to get the ball off the square with six men crowding the circle. India made only 19 for the loss of Raina in that five-over block and Australia rediscovered some of its purpose, fighting its way back through repeated strikes from Starc, who alone of the Australian pace attack looked threatening.

Rohit, hundred celebrated with a kiss heavenwards and a wave of the bat to every Indian supporter at the venue, eventually fell to a tired pull off a full toss in the penultimate over, but by then, he had made the highest score by an Indian at the MCG. That it was relegated to a footnote was perhaps a travesty, but also another reminder of how much work lies ahead of India’s bowling group heading in to the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup.