India vs Australia: David Warner, Aaron Finch’s tons flatten hapless India
Virat Kohli’s decision to move one step down the order to accommodate KL Rahul dominated talk about the Indian innings, triggered by the skipper’s cheap dismissal and the misfiring Indian middle-order. The hosts ended on 255, a total which was inadequate in the face of a strong Australian line-up. To the disappointment of a packed Wankhede Stadium, so it proved to be. The visitors made light of the target, racing to victory in 37.4 overs with David Warner and Aaron Finch putting on a record opening partnership to complete a 10-wicket win in the first ODI on Tuesday.
In the process, Warner scored his 18th ODI hundred (128*) and Finch his 16th (110*). The unbeaten 258-run partnership is the highest in ODIs for Australia against India, the two bettering their effort of 2017 at Bengaluru.
It would have been even easier for Australia. At one point, India were in danger of not even crossing 250, but some gutsy batting by the tail helped the hosts add some extra runs after a middle-order collapse. The only decent partnership of the innings was between Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul, who put on 121 runs for the second wicket. In the final analysis, it didn’t help the team’s cause as the two failed to build on the platform they laid so painstakingly. It’s the reason questions were raised whether Kohli, being the best batsman in the team, should have changed his batting position just to fit in another batsman.
The lesson, perhaps: no experimenting against a formidable bowling line-up, they will exploit any chink. The combination of Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Kane Richardson did exactly that in the opening session at the Wankhede Stadium.
After Dhawan and Rahul’s partnership to take the score from 13 for one to 134 for one, the game changed course dramatically. The India innings tumbled from that high point to 164 for five in the span of six overs, between the 28th and 33rd.
Bowling with a strong breeze blowing in from the Arabian Sea, the Australia fast bowlers backed their captain’s decision to bowl first with an aggressive display. Left-arm Starc was the pick of the Australian attack, setting the tone with the big wicket of Rohit Sharma and then coming back to claim Shreyas Iyer and Shardul Thakur, returning 3/56. Cummins was equally effective, and accounted for the well-set Dhawan and Rishabh Pant. The two frontline bowlers were well supported by Richardson, who justified his inclusion ahead of Josh Hazlewood with two wickets to make it seven for pacers.
While the wickets column belonged to the fast bowlers, it was the two spinners who triggered the game-changing middle-order collapse. Left-arm Ashton Agar caught Rahul off his bowling, enticing him into an uppish drive. Adam Zampa got the wicket Australia wanted the most—Virat Kohli—also caught and bowled. The leg-spinner can claim to have a measure of Kohli, getting him for the fourth time in 11 innings.
Rahul got his highest score playing anywhere in the middle to lower order. On the face of it, it looked like Dhawan and Rahul had done their job with a partnership of 121. It was a job only half-done, however. They fell in quick succession, which meant there was no one to anchor the innings. Against a quality bowling attack, it’s about building on the momentum. The two were not able to put pressure on the spinners during the middle overs like Kohli does when he gets in. Kohli at No. 3 sets the tone for the innings; when he gets a start, he is always looking to go big. Against Starc and Co, the pressure is relentless and Kohli has the ability to break it with strokes all-round the wicket. The rest then can bat around him. This is what India missed with Kohli at No. 4. As he said on the eve of the match, Kohli’s argument to shift down was: “I’m not possessive about where I play; I’m not insecure about where I bat. Being the captain, it is my job to make sure the next lot is also ready. A lot of the other people might not look at it that way, but your job as a captain is not only to look after the team right now, but also to prepare a team that you leave behind when you eventually pass it on to someone else.”
He wanted to somehow fit Rahul, given his form. Numbers may look pretty, but they are not always a measure of a player’s temperament. That is tested against a team like Australia.