Kohli ton in vain, Aus stay alive

Australian cricketer Usman Khawaja (R) plays a shot during the third one-day international (ODI) cricket match between India and Australia at the Jharkhand State Cricket Association International Cricket Stadium, in Ranchi. AFP photo

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Virat Kohli, the master chaser, threatened to carry India home all by himself with another exceptional century but eventually fell short of the task against the Australians here on Friday.

The skipper, first seeing his top-order succumb without showing a stomach for a fight and then the tenacious middle-order lose direction every time he brought the ship under control while chasing a challenging 314, struck a masterful 123 (95b, 16x4, 1x6) in the third ODI at the JSCA International Stadium Complex.

That belligerent knock kept India in the game, the Aussies on tenterhooks and the fans on the edge of their seats despite the hosts never being in control of the chase. Making batting look ridiculously easy, Kohli kept finding the boundaries at will.

Almost single-handedly he injected hope into a hopeless chase. Cuts, pulls, the trademark cover drives, shots straight down the ground, he just kept littering the stadium with gems. The fans, who had flocked the venue to the brim in the hope of seeing their favourite son MS Dhoni get a big one and wore a disappointed look when he perished for a 26, loved the wonderful exhibition of batsmanship they were treated to.

Kohli also got onto the bike right after he completed his 41st ODI ton. He spanked his nemesis Adam Zampa for two successive boundaries in the 38th over and seeing the ball like a football, he attempted another big shot off the third ball. But Zampa, wiser by the experience, bowled a googly and the ball just went underneath Kohli’s bat before crashing onto the stumps. A delighted Zampa celebrated with a fist pump, knowing he had got the big fish out.

All-rounder Vijay Shankar, who had a memorable outing in Nagpur just few days ago, and Ravindra Jadeja refused to throw in the towel. They kept going at the Aussies but needing to play a big shot almost every over, they needed some luck their way. That didn’t come their way as Shankar fell to Nathan Lyon, caught in the deep while attempting a big shot. Jadeja then motored on with the tail but struggling for timing, he fell for a 31-ball 24. Thereafter the Australians closed the match out comfortably for a 32-run win.  

India owe their defeat to poor bowling and another top-order collapse. Firstly, pace bowlers Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah suffered a rare collective bad day in office as Australian openers Usman Khawaja and Aaron Finch got the visitors off to a roaring start.

Showing no fear to take the aerial route, the duo hardly allowed any bowler to settle down as they kept the scoreboard ticking at over six runs consistently. Finch (93, 99b, 10x4, 3x6), battling poor form for the last six months, finally got back into run-making ways but departed with the century in sight.

His partner Khawaja though wasn’t going to let a great opportunity slip by and he went onto complete a deserved maiden ton (104, 113b, 11x4, 1x6). At that stage the Australians looked on course for a score in excess of 350 but they suffered a late implosion, losing four wickets for 21 runs in 31 balls. However, Marcus Stoinis and Alex Carey played sensibly to take them to 313/5.

That target has been a cakewalk at times for the star-studded Indian batting line-up in the past but with them suffering another failure, it turned out to a tread in the bushes. Only Kohli could ace it though with the rest falling by the wayside.

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