Rohit Sharma stood at the non-striker’s end with his head hung in disappointment, slamming his bat on the ground. The dhols at the Melbourne Cricket Ground fell silent.
Skipper MS Dhoni had chopped a Mitchell Starc off-cutter on to his stumps. Rohit had already cruised past a century, but was now left to bat with the lower-order, which on bad days is just a glorified tail. Sunday was one such day.
Axar Patel failed to get bat to Starc’s in-swinger. He was trapped on the pads a delivery later, gone for a blob. The rest too hardly contributed as India stumbled from 237 for four in 44.1 overs to just 267 for eight after 50 overs.
India were coasting at 185/3 in the 35th over, with a score of 300 not beyond them, when Rohit slammed his bat at the non-striker’s end. Suresh Raina had been caught at mid-on after reaching his half-century, failing to connect a Starc delivery properly. He was attempting to make use of the batting powerplay, which had been taken at the start of the over.
After a pair in the Sydney Test, Raina looked at home in the team’s first ODI. The captain chose to bat first, but India had lost early wickets. The left-hander, along with Rohit, took control of the innings and provided a platform for India to kick on.
That he has a weakness against bouncers could be forgotten. Raina repeatedly used the pull and hook against the pace of Pat Cummins and smart bouncers from Gurinder Sandhu, the Indian origin player making his debut, to send the ball to the fence.
But after his dismissal, the powerplay was rendered useless. Only 14 came in the four overs after Raina was gone. No less a batsman than Dhoni had walked in, but the skipper was aware of the vulnerability of those to follow.
So Dhoni scratched around. He wanted to hang around before unleashing an assault in the last few overs, but fell before he could start. His worst fears came true after that.
Despite Rohit’s glorious innings that reminded everyone of his form in the ODIs, the tourists were left with about 20 fewer than they could have hoped to defend. The Australian pacers were on target, and Starc in particular caused trouble by reversing the ball, but the inability of the lower-order was glaring.
And when it was India’s turn to bowl, the pacers could only manage inconsistent lines and lengths to start with. It offered Australia a chance to race away, which they accepted gleefully.
Mohammed Shami was too short to David Warner and wide to the other opener, Aaron Finch. The latter cashed in, eventually falling four short of a deserved hundred. The spinners were tighter, especially left-arm Axar Patel who crammed Shane Watson for room and bowled him. And once the ball started to reverse, the Indian pacers were back in the contest thanks to more sensible bowling.
They abandoned the shorter length and did not stray on to the pads. They reduced Australia to 248 for six to sniff at an unlikely victory. But the lack of runs from the lower-order proved decisive as Australia crossed the line with an over and four wickets to spare.