The battle of wits is what has added intrigue to the contest. With not much to separate the two, the series is proving true to its billing of a battle between the No 1 and No 2 sides, and the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium, one of the better wickets in the country, offers the perfect stage for another high-intensity clash.
Australia’s strategy of targeting the India batsmen with the short ball was countered equally aggressively by the batsmen in the second ODI.
Seeing the Australia bowlers become cannon fodder with a fuller length at Rajkot, the visitors’ think-tank caught the India batsmen off-guard by shortening the bowling length in Pune.
When the series moved to the Pink City, India seemed ready with the counter plan. In Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli, they had the men with the right skills to execute it to perfection. Shikhar’s opening assault against Australia was impressive for the way he broke the pacers’ stranglehold by giving the charge, converting the back of length to full length deliveries. Virat continued in a similar vein, using his feet to the pacers with powerful pull shots.
The challenge for MS Dhoni and George Bailey will be to come up with a surprise element to outfox the opposition For the Indians, it will be about sorting out the bowling attack. The batsmen have bailed out the team twice in three outings, but R Ashwin & Co have been below par.
The attention is on bowling coach, Joe Dawes. He has thorough knowledge of the conditions, having spent time as coach of the Punjab Kings XI before his India job. Comparatively, the wicket here offers more assistance to bowlers and a combined effort will be needed to be successful.
The Australians are clear that India’s strength in pace bowling is limited to the use of the new ball by Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and they have negated it with cautious play by the openers - Finch and Phil Hughes.
A lot of Dawes’ energy will be spent planning for Finch. Not only he has got runs in all three games (89, 72, 50), he has set the tone with his powerful hitting. He’s been comfortable against all three pacers as India tried Vinay Kumar and Ishant Sharma as Bhuvneshwar’s partners with the new ball.
Bailey said it was the way to go against the two new ball rule. “To get through the first 10-15 overs without losing too many wickets, then if you can reach the back end, the ball tends to be a bit harder for the batsmen to cash in,” said the Australia skipper.
It will be about coming up with that surprise element, a point emphasised by Bailey.
“It’s about summing up the conditions. But all players are good if they know what to expect (their short-ball strategy), so it’s a matter of not getting too predictable,” he said.
“(At Jaipur) It was a phenomenal batting performance. We spoke about it afterwards like we do after every game. We look at everything, what we did right and what we need to do differently,” said Bailey.
The India camp also believed it was about coming up with new ideas, with Shikhar saying, “We have been thinking and analysing our batting and our bowling and coming up with good ideas to improve and improvise more.”