Virat Kohli’s conditions-defying 92 and his 101-run partnership with Ajinkya Rahane set up the game for India, before an all-round show from the bowlers wrapped up a 2-0 lead for the home side at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata on Thursday (September 21). A near-unplayable first spell from Bhuvneshwar Kumar laid down the marker for the bowlers, as Yuzvendra Chahal and later Kuldeep Yadav lapped it up to catch Australia 50 runs short in chase.
With 252 runs to defend, India’s quest for success got a shot in the arm via six exceptional overs from Bhuvneshwar, laced with both-ways swing scattered smartly to deceive both the Australian openers. Hilton Cartwright couldn’t tell an outswinger from the one that moved the other way as Bhuvneshwar toyed with his mind by alternating between the two regularly before breaching his big bat-pad gap to send him back for a 14-ball 1. The more experienced David Warner too found it tough to negotiate against the balls that was leaving him after pitching, teasing him to put his bat to it. He let a couple go before being forced to plod at one that was angled across from wide of the crease, resulting in an outside edge that went to Ajinkya Rahane at second slip. By the time Bhuvneshwar was off the attack, his bowling figures read 6-2-9-2, and Australia languishing on 49 for 2.
Steve Smith’s 100th ODI appearance required him mark the occasion with a match-turning effort, and he earnestly worked on it. He took on first-change pacer Hardik Pandya and got the Australian essay on track after they had meandered away to 9 for 2. In Travis Head, he had an ally who would do justice to the No. 4 batting slot. As this partnership grew, the towels behind trousers of the Indian players began to be used even more as dew took effect. Yuzvendra Chahal had trouble with gripping the ball at the start, but that inadvertently earned him a wicket. Smith and Head added 76 runs before the latter hit a high full toss from Chahal straight to Manish Pandey at midwicket.
Glenn Maxwell didn’t waste any time in kick-starting another partnership, and went after Kuldeep Yadav, who bowled a rather ordinary first spell, going for 20 runs in 3 overs. While Maxwell found it easy to hit Kuldeep with the turn, negotiating Chahal proved to be quite a task for the big-hitter. Chahal tempted Maxwell by regularly flighting the ball up, with the latter eventually taking the bait. After having just tonked Kuldeep for a couple of sixes in an over, Maxwell saw reason to charge Chahal and got beaten in flight. The ball struck his back leg and needed Dhoni to adjust his movement, which he did with consummate ease before whipping the bails off.
In the company of Marcus Stoinis, Smith completed his 18th ODI fifty and kept Australia’s chase alive in the process. Kohli tossed the ball to Hardik again and the all-rounder did well to rectify his early failings. He didn’t just keep the runs down, but also foxed Steve Smith with cross-seamer that was short and on the off-stump. Smith opted to go for the pull but hardly timed it. Substitute fielder Ravindra Jadeja running in from deep square leg did the rest. At 138 for 5 in 30 overs, Australia were staring at a second successive defeat on tour.
Shortly, Kuldeep appeared to quicken the process as he became only the third India bowler to bag an ODI hat-trick, accounting for scalps of Matthew Wade, Ashton Agar and Pat Cummins. Nathan Coulter-Nile put up a defiant stance and kept Stoinis company as the latter refused to down his tools already. There was a small partnership brewing, but Hardik cut that short too by taking a return catch that sent Coulter-Nile packing.
Australia were nine down, but Stoinis believed his six-hitting techniques could still run India close. Kane Richardson played along as Stoinis dragged the equation to 57 off 48 balls, scoring his first ODI fifty along the way. The situation wasn’t new for the all-rounder. Earlier this year, he nearly dragged Australia to a win from an improbable position in chase of 289 with a counter-attacking 146 at Eden Park, only for Australia to fall six runs short. At Eden Gardens too, however, he had to deal with the agony of being part of the losing side as Bhuvneshwar returned and struck off the first ball of his second spell to complete India’s win.
It was a day when batting wasn’t easy, as evidenced not just by Australia’s failed chase but also India’s struggle early on. After Rohit Sharma failed to come to grips with the two-paced surface, it took an admirable effort from Kohli and Rahane to get India going. The piercing heat didn’t just trouble the Australian players, but also weighed the Indian captain down. But the man with 30 ODI centuries cherry-picked such a day to improve his recent record against Australia. He walked out to bat with just 46 runs against them in the last six innings (3 Test and Chennai ODI) but batted exceptionally in the sapping conditions to put India on their way to a respectable total.
Kohli was sweating buckets and had to contend with a slow start with Smith employing smart fields to cut out any possibilities of easy singles. Even the Indian captain was often seen on his hunches and didn’t push for the second run in situations when he otherwise would have, which came as a clear indicator of the hostile conditions. Smith rotated the bowling duties between Stoinis, Richardson and Ashton Agar, and even turned to Travis Head, but often missed a trick by not employing a mid-wicket fielder for Kohli, who regularly shuffled across and flicked the ball away to pinch some runs. The partnership between him and Rahane, who made most of the opportunity in the absence of the regular opener, ended up being the catalyst for India’s defendable total. Rahane fell for a 64-ball 55.
Manish Pandey squandered another chance to cement his No. 4 spot as he completely misjudged an Agar slider that cleaned him up. Kedar Jadhav walked out at No. 5 again and added a brisk partnership with Kohli even as players continued to struggle in the heat. Such was the state of Wade behind the stumps, that the two batsmen even pinched a single when the ball went past Jadhav’s bat and went to the ‘keeper. An ever-alert Kohli called for a single when Wade didn’t collect the ball cleanly and switched off a for a moment. Neither Stoinis nor Wade were impressed by Kohli’s call, but the Indian captain also had some words in return.
The Indian captain looked set for his 31st ODI century before playing a Coulter-Nile delivery onto the stumps. Kedar Jadhav threw away a good start (24-ball 24) and MS Dhoni fell early, but lower order contributions from Bhuvneshwar and Hardik turned out to be worth their weight in gold, albeit after a brief controversy regarding the non-dismissal of the latter. Coulter-Nile and Richardson’s bowling in the death ensured there was no late blitz, but even 252 proved to be enough by quite a distance.
Brief Scores: India 252 in 50 overs (Virat Kohli 92, Rahane 55; Nathan Coulter-Nile 3-51, Kane Richarson 3-55) beat Australia 202 in 43.1 overs (Marcus Stoinis 62, Steven Smith 59; Bhuvneshwar Kumar 3-9, Kuldeep Yadav 3-54) by 50 runs.