Having been outplayed in the first two ODIs, India looked set to suffer a clean sweep when they lost half their side with 152 on the board, in 32 overs, in the final ODI at Canberra on Wednesday, before an unbeaten 152-run stand for the sixth wicket between Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja turned the tide. India scored 302 and won by 13 runs. The fact that the venue of their fightback, which happened only 48 hours earlier, remains the same, should help the visitors psychologically.
From a bunch which seemed to be plagued by problems – lack of a sixth bowling option, bowlers who can’t bat, key bowlers in bad form – the tourists, going into a format in which the tour should have started in the first place considering that it followed the IPL, suddenly look like a far more dangerous bunch.
Having lost Pandya the bowler, India seem to have discovered Pandya the frontline batsman, the No. 6 who can take the team to a big total or steer the team home in a big chase. During the course of his match-winning 76-ball 92, the 25-year-old showed tremendous maturity, taking time to dig his heels in when the going was tough, before unleashing his trademark big hits at the death.
In the T20 games, though, India would be happy to see Pandya do what he does best for the Mumbai Indians – blast off from ball one to make optimum use of the final five overs. Pandya’s improvement as a batsman has to be the biggest gain of the tour so far for them.
Giving Pandya close competition for Team India’s ‘MVP’ right now is Jadeja. His 50-ball unbeaten 66 in that victory was yet another affirmation of the fact that in the last few years, Jadeja has improved vastly as a batsman, though he may have slipped slightly as a bowler. His electric fielding, which was evident yet again when he took a diving catch on the square leg boundary to get rid of Cameron Green, means India almost have an extra man on the field.
Skipper Virat Kohli would also be glad that his biggest bowling weapon, Jasprit Bumrah, has finally struck form at the international level. The way the ace pacer castled a dangerous-looking Glenn Maxwell in the third ODI with a typical yorker augurs well for the tour ahead. In T20s, he becomes even more lethal, perhaps the best bowler in the world by a fair distance.
Though he went for 70 in his 10 overs, India would be rather pleased with how easily T Natarajan adapted to international cricket, picking up two wickets on debut. Having made it to the Indian team on the basis of a solid show in the IPL, the left-arm pacer from Tamil Nadu, known as a ‘yorker specialist,’ could prove to be far more dangerous in the T20I series.
In a selection blunder, India seem to have erred in leaving out Mumbai pacer Shardul Thakur, who played a key role in Wednesday’s win, taking three for 51 in 10 overs. Playing his first game of the ODI series, Thakur brought some much-needed aggression and spunk to the bowling. The addition of Washington Sundar, normally economical with his off-spin, gives the team more all-round depth.
Australia badly missed David Warner and Pat Cummins in the final ODI, and that would be the case in this series too. With Warner absent, they will again bank on skipper Finch, Smith, Labuschagne and the dynamic Maxwell. Starc and Henriques too have been nursing niggles.