The Indian middle-order, criticised at times for not putting their hands up when the powerful top-order fails, was presented with a stern test in the opening ODI against Australia and they passed that examination with flying colours on Saturday.
Chasing a modest 237 for victory on a batting-friendly surface, the Indians suddenly slipped to 99/4 at a sold-out Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium after appearing to be coasting at one stage. Skipper Virat Kohli (44) fell against the run of play, failing to read a googly off the impressive Adam Zampa to be trapped LBW. Rohit Sharma (37) was late on his shot against Nathan Coulter-Nile while Ambati Rayudu was sent packing by Zampa, a ripping leg-break taking the batsman’s edge.
The wise old head of Dhoni (59 n.o., 72b, 6x4, 1x6), in vintage form since the start of the Australia series Down Under, and the diminutive Kedar Jadhav (81 n.o., 87b, 9x4, 1x6) joined hands at a tricky stage. Between the 21st to 25th over, India had lost two wickets for 14 runs and the Aussies, buoyed by the T20I series triumph and riding a new wave of momentum, were smelling blood.
Dhoni and Jadhav bided their time at that moment. They knew another wicket would set the cat among the pigeons in the dressing room with just the untested all-rounder Vijay Shankar and Ravindra Jadeja to follow. Aussie skipper Aaron Finch rotated his bowlers nicely and applied some immense pressure on the duo.
Dhoni, conjuring all his experience, and Jadhav, showing the stomach for a fine fight, soaked up all the pressure even as the run-rate started to climb — although not to alarming levels. They steadied the ship and once they knew the waters weren’t choppy anymore, they began to increase the tempo gradually.
They unfurled the big shots, mixing caution with aggression to a nicety. They didn’t try smacking the good balls for boundaries but chose the hittable ones. The crawl at the start ended up into a march as they went onto post an unbroken 141-run stand. That brilliant partnership ensured India cantered home to a six-wicket victory in just 48.2 overs.
While Dhoni and Jadhav deserve praise for being the architects of the chase, the Indian bowlers deserve an equal amount of accolade for laying the foundation. Smarting after being whipped by Glenn Maxwell in the second T20I just few days in Bengaluru, the bowlers punched in unison to restrict Australia to a below-par score (236/7).
Pacers Mohammed Shami (2/44) and Jasprit Bumrah (2/60) sizzled in all their spells while chinaman Kuldeep Yadav (2/46) continued to torment the Aussies with his ability to break partnerships. Ravindra Jadeja, getting a surprise call-up in place of Yuzvendra Chahal, didn’t pick up any wickets but was parsimonious as ever, just giving away 33 runs in his 10 overs to choke the Aussies. Jadhav (1/31) shone with the ball too, his slinging off-breaks proving a handful.
An 87-run stand for the second wicket between Marcus Stoinis and Usman Khawaja and a 62-run stand for the seventh wicket between Alex Carey and Nathan Coulter-Nile gave the Australians a target to fight with.
They did so when they sent the Indian top-order packing with just 95 runs on board. But the brilliance of Dhoni and Jadhav carried India home rather comfortably in the end.