Australia, brimming with confidence, will rest Hazlewood as it aims to seal ODI series
Two matches into an almost monthlong series in Australia, and India is already looking at a last-chance saloon scenario. Defeats in Perth and Brisbane have meant the third One-Day International in Melbourne on Sunday (January 17) will be a must-win affair. The iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground could serve as inspiration, India having beaten South Africa at the ICC World Cup 2015 last year at this venue.
What will simultaneously offer some hope and frustration is that India wasn't just brushed aside in the first two matches and had it taken all the chances on offer, it could well have been on the right end of the 2-0 result, or at least gone into the third ODI with the series even.
The Rohit Sharma-led Indian batting line-up put up over 300 in both ODIs. True, the pitches were flat, but they weren’t of the kind where 350 was a par score. In the second ODI, apart from Rohit, no one seemed to be able to clear the boundaries at the Gabba at the rate needed in the slog overs, and that is something the team will want to address. Virat Kohli, who has batted beautifully in both matches, will still be angry with himself about the manner of his run-out in the second match.
With the bowlers still having a difficult time in Australia, Mahendra Singh Dhoni spoke at length about how the batsmen need to take on more responsibility, whether that lay in putting up totals in the vicinity of 330 when batting first or chasing down whatever Australia put up if batting second.
The pitch at MCG for the fourth ODI is likely to be another batting surface. “The white-ball wickets at the MCG have been fantastic this year at the MCG throughout the Big Bash,” said John Hastings, the Australian bowling allrounder. “They’ve actually had a bit more pace in them than usual. I think it’ll be another high-scoring affair, I can’t see that changing.”
Hastings, who was drafted in when Mitchell Marsh was given a break, will continue to stay with the ODI squad, with the Australian selectors deciding to give Josh Hazlewood time off for the rest of the series, even as Marsh comes back. The younger Marsh will feature in the XI alongside brother Shaun, who did his chances no harm by stepping into David Warner’s shoes and cracking 71.
With Hastings and Mitchell Marsh, and James Faulkner also in the mix, Australia has an enviable option of seam-bowling allrounders to call on, an area that Dhoni continues to insist India are lacking in.
“For us to pull it back the way we did, the bowling group really deserves a pat on the back for that,” said Hastings of the death bowling in the second ODI. “They were two down going into the last ten overs; you can really get anything. For us to take six for 75 in the last ten overs was a really good pat on the back for us.”
Hastings did his bit in the end overs, but for him to play, one among the trio of Kane Richardson, Scott Boland or Joel Paris will have to sit out. Paris looked the most impressive of the three in Brisbane. Boland, who was lauded for his death bowling, has missed and hit his yorkers equally. It’s not the easiest job in the world to bowl to the likes of Rohit and Kohli when they are set at the death, but if one pacer has to be picked among Hastings and Boland, Hasting’s better show with the ball and superior ability with the bat could swing it for him.
Australia’s batting is well set and brimming with the confidence that comes from two very good chases. George Bailey, after his first-ball blooper let-off in Perth, has been unstoppable, new stance continuing to bring great results. Steven Smith’s fondness for Indian attacks hasn’t diminished, and Aaron Finch too found his groove in the last match.
Going into an away series against the world champion, India was always going to be the underdog. And no matter how competitive it has been in the two matches so far, it will reflect poorly if it goes 3-0 down, and for the visiting side, it’s time to translate the competitiveness into results so that the series remains alive.
Australia: Aaron Finch, Shaun Marsh, Steve Smith (capt), George Bailey, Glenn Maxwell, Mitchell Marsh, Matthew Wade (wk), James Faulkner, John Hastings, Kane Richardson, Joel Paris, Scott Boland, Usman Khawaja.
India: Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, MS Dhoni (capt, wk), Manish Pandey, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Barinder Sran, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Gurkeerat Singh Mann, Axar Patel, Rishi Dhawan.