Another Smith masterclass floors India, decides ODI series
Ultimately it was India’s sixth bowler, or rather seventh, who did the trick. Hardik Pandya, who had declared himself not match-fit to bowl with Virat Kohli acknowledging that after the first ODI loss against Australia, was called up by the desperate skipper to rein in Steve Smith, who had gone berserk.
With the other bowlers except Ravindra Jadeja leaking almost eight runs per over, Pandya came on and induced a thick edge off Smith with a wide, slower ball in only his third over since September, 2019. By then Smith had matched his fastest century off 62 balls achieved in the first game, setting the stage for another huge total by Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Sunday.
Glenn Maxwell, whose turnaround in form continued with a 29-ball 63*, ensured the hosts set a bigger target for India than in the first match. They ultimately finished on 389/4, surpassing their first ODI total of 374/6, which till Sunday was the third highest ODI total ever against India.
Chasing 390, India needed their skipper to score big, fast and pull out his mastery while going after a target. Kohli had done that seven years ago against Australia in Jaipur when he notched a 52-ball 100* in a successful 360-run chase. He started well and looked set to end his 11-match ODI century drought since August 2019.
Kohli controlled the pace of the chase, showing the intent to take the game deep. But an outstanding catch at mid-wicket by Moises Henriques—he played his first ODI for almost three years as replacement for the injured Marcus Stoinis—off Josh Hazlewood, which saw him put in a horizontal dive to his left, ended Kohli’s knock on 89 (87b-7x4, 2x6).
With India down to 225/4 in 34.5 overs, the asking rate was too high. Australia skipper Aaron Finch did brilliantly by saving his best bowlers for the later overs and they delivered at regular intervals.
KL Rahul (76-66b, 4x4, 5x6), who had shared a 72-run stand with Kohli, did try but his effort was not enough to save India from a 51-run defeat. The visitors thus began their Australia tour losing the ODI series with a match to play in Canberra on Wednesday.
Before that capitulation, Smith stood out again. Australia’s top five batsmen scoring 50-plus did damage India’s cause but it was Smith’s innings that stood out. By the time the Australia No.3 came to the crease, after Finch’s (60-69b) dismissal in the 23rd over, the total had crossed 140. David Warner too was run out, less than three overs later, but Smith ensured the run-rate didn’t drop.
Perhaps the most attractive thing about Smith’s batting in his unorthodox style. Even when bowlers found their best line, Smith found gaps and picked odd angles to play shots, shuffling and fidgeting on his way to annoying the rivals.
Australia bowling great Glenn McGrath put it aptly in a media interaction before the series. “Smith, when he is on fire, can score on strange parts of the ground. You can bowl outside off-stump and he whips it to fine-leg. He is harder to tame because of his unorthodox scoring shots whereas with Kohli, you know where he is going to hit. You can bowl better areas to him as you know where his classic shots are… Two of the best batsmen in the world but two very different batsmen with two different ways of scoring,” he said.
“He has improved in the last two games. These are ominous signs for India going forward,” McGrath said on Sunday while doing TV commentary.
Indeed, the signs are worrying for India. On Sunday, he picked the line early and was in full control. A flat SCG deck also played into Smith’s hands.
Even when Smith didn’t clear the ropes (he hit 14 fours, two sixes), he used his wrists to find scoring areas that other batsmen wouldn’t have imagined.
After reaching 50 off 38 balls, Smith shifted gear as Australia took just 24 balls to complete the next 50 runs. The way he backed away to make room and hit Mohammed Shami’s fuller deliveries past cover in the 39th over and deftly steered Jasprit Bumrah’s slower delivery in the 40th over to the third man boundary were proof of a man who recently said he had found “my hands”. In the same over, he showed the power of wrists too as he struck Bumrah’s length ball outside off to fine leg.
“I didn’t give any chances today and I just felt good from ball one. I was able to get myself in and go hard. I tried to whack the ball too hard in the IPL but I’ve started hitting it with more finesse I should say, which is working for me,” Smith told the official broadcasters.
As Smith completed his 11th century in the 41st over, Kohli brought in Pandya. “I just asked him… Initially just thought of trying him for a couple of overs but he felt good and bowled a couple more,” Kohli said.
Nowhere near full flow, Pandya mostly relied on the slower balls. It was one such ball that Smith edged to Shami at short third man. Australia were 292/3 after 41.2 overs.
An in-form bowling would have checked the run-flow. But Bumrah and Shami were off-colour, particularly Bumrah. After the 1/73 in the first ODI, he went for 1/79. That Shami (1/73), Navdeep Saini (0/70) and Yuzvendra Chahal (0/71) all failed made matters worse.
“We are playing ODIs after a long time. I would not say our bowlers struggled because the opposition batsmen were really good. We didn’t adapt to the conditions quick enough,” Rahul said in the post-match media interaction.
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