This might just tickle those interested in quizzing. When did India last beat Australia in ODIs twice in succession in the same series/competition? The answer is difficult to come by even in the days of google search and dates back to a good 10 years. It was in India in 1998 with Mohammed Azharuddin and Steve Waugh being the captains, just before Sachin Tendulkar's famous 'desert storm' centuries in Sharjah.
This was looking like a timely question till the 14th over of the Indian chase. Having bowled out the world champions for a modest total in decent conditions for batting, the situation was ripe for this 'double'. A combination of probing bowling under pressure and careless batting denied Mahendra Singh Dhoni's team a chance to emulate what India had done what seems to be an eternity ago.
Too many loose shots
There was no terror in the pitch which offered some bounce when the bowlers really bent their back. There was no Brett Lee either. At 55 for one and the ball having lost shine, India seemed to be cruising. But funny that this game is, everything changed in the space of three overs. The bowlers were disciplined at best and yet, forced too many loose shots.
Right after the dismissal of Irfan Pathan which broke the second-wicket stand, Gautam Gambhir slapped a short one straight to point. It was a rare bad ball and the batsman would send it to the boundary nine out of 10 times. He had survived playing and missing a few times and with two wickets gone, was expected to play more responsibly. Expectations were high too because he had anchored the innings in the second game against Sri Lanka but when the situation demanded a similar effort, impetuosity got the better of him for the umpteenth time.
Having shown glimpses of class in the previous outings, there were high hopes on Rohit Sharma too. The team's decision to persist with him at No. 4 showed how highly the think tank rates him. He had plenty of overs to play himself in but instead of doing that, he tried to drive one that was not in the slot with minimal movement of the feet or the body. When the youngster watches the replay, he should realise that everything with that shot was wrong - from the choice of ball to hit to execution.
The Yuvraj shocker
The problem with Yuvraj Singh these days is that he walks in with all the bad thoughts that come from a string of low scores. Not a single substantial knock in seven international innings on tour before this one, he was understandably shaky to begin with.
He was caution personified outside off after having perished while driving in most of those seven outings. Slowly but surely, he seemed to be getting his touch back and even played a few fluent drives, the one off Mitchell Johnson through the covers reminding all of his glorious hours. His partnership with Dhoni was taking India closer to the Australian total at a good pace as well.
Just as it seemed Yuvraj had things under control, an attempted pull off Brad Hogg was caught at long-on. It was as bad a long hop a wrist-spinner would bowl, so the shot was on. But a batsman of his quality with full understanding of the situation should have been more careful while pulling one from outside off that was turning further away. He will surely curse himself while watching the replay.
It completely nullified the sensible manner in which Dhoni was going about his job, placing the ball into the gaps and running hard. Rohit ended his forgettable day by going for a non-existent single as the skipper's runner. After a bad Test series, Dhoni is leading by example in the one-dayers. Just that the others are not taking the cue from him.
Why Pathan at No. 3?
It's hard to understand why Pathan is being sent in at No. 3. He is under no evident instruction to attack while the fielding restrictions are on, which could have been one justification of this move. He is playing as a batsman but then, what are the other batsmen in the team for in that case?
Having him at No. 7 would mean that when Robin Uthappa comes in, he knows there is one handy bat to follow him. In this case, he is coming in telling himself that his fall will start the tail. That's not the best situation for a specialist batsman, who is usually separated from the tail by the wicketkeeper or an allrounder. India are not using this option despite having an allrounder. Moreover, it also shows that despite chasing a low total, the team doesn't have enough faith in the frontline batsmen.
Collective batting concern
The batting was going to be under pressure after the exclusion of seniors. In this series so far despite the odd encouraging sign, it continues to be India's concern, especially with the poor form of Yuvraj and the lack of big scores from Sachin Tendulkar. Virender Sehwag did share a couple of decent opening stands with him, but before being ruled out with a side strain, he too wasn't really firing.
This means that Gambhir, Rohit and Uthappa had to shoulder the load and a quick look through their last few innings reveal that barring Rohit to an extent, none have shown the kind of consistency the team is expecting from them. The targets against Australia in Melbourne and here were manageable by all yardsticks, but the chase stuttered on both occasions. With three matches to go, India's future in this competition will depend on how quickly they regroup in this department.
Toiling in vain
Ishant Sharma operating with three slips, Sreesanth having five inside the ring on the off-side even after the power plays, Pathan bowling the 49th over with two slips, there were many unfamiliar sights at the Adelaide Oval, if you were Indian and not part of the cricket team. Adding to the list of things uncommon was the fact that for the second time in two games, Australia had lost half their side before the total crossed 100.
It was not out and out fast bowling and not exactly hostile apart from the first few overs by Ishant. More than pace, India's man of the moment stood out for the way he kept quiet the opening pair of Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden. The left-handers were not comfortable at all with the one that kept beating the outsides edge from a length just short of the driving one.
That length was the hallmark of India's bowling effort and barring Sreesanth's first spell, when he pitched it too full, all the bowlers got it consistently right — on or just outside off without much width with a packed off-side field. That there were few drives despite bowling that line showed how well executed the plan was. They probably didn't imagine that all their efforts will go in vain, but that's how the cookie crumbled on a sad Sunday.