It was a game of dissimilitude in Rajkot for India and Australia. Coming into the game on the back of a ten-wicket drubbing, India’s determination to remind the opposition of their might, especially in their own backyard, shone through as they amended all the wrongs of Mumbai. By the end of Australia’s 36-run loss – the first of their summer – two things were axiomatic: a solution to India’s three-opener conundrum presented itself, while Australia’s lack of a finisher was glaring.
Virat Kohli’s decision of accommodating KL Rahul after Shikhar Dhawan’s return from injury meant India was competing with three openers in their ranks. In Mumbai, Kohli demoted himself to No.4 to make provisions for Rahul at 3, which didn’t serve him too well.
In Rajkot, he returned to his regular slot to play sheet anchor to India’s innings with a stoic 78, as Rahul was pushed to No.5. While Kohli’s innings was instrumental for India to get to a strong total, it was Rahul’s blitzkrieg that took them to a winning one of 340. With a 47 in Mumbai and a 52-ball 80 in Rajkot, Rahul’s adaptability and versatility in milking the purple patch that he finds himself in has left India with the power of choice.
India being unable to get into Australia’s middle order in Mumbai inadvertently exposed a weakness for the visitors in Rajkot. Their over-reliance on the top order cost them in a steep chase. The middle and lower-middle order failed to pose any threat to India’s attack that had its tail up. The lack of explosiveness of a Glenn Maxwell kind, lower down the order also hurt the visitors.
The conspicuous positive, was, however, Marnus Labuschagne’s seamless transition from Test cricket to ODIs, who, with idol Steve Smith impressed with a 47-ball 46 in their 96-run stand to keep Australia in the chase. Labuschagne was initially slotted to come in at No.3, but David Warner’s early dismissal prompted Smith to assume the role of the anchor to steer the chase. It could pronounce a new middle order for Australia with Labuschagne making No.4 his own and Alex Carey being promoted to No.5. But that missing finisher is what Australia need if they are to relieve the top order of performance pressure.
Jasprit Bumrah’s return to form will also please India, who after an ordinary first game, returned 1 for 32 in 9.1 overs. Kuldeep Yadav, too, was among the wickets, derailing Australia’s chase with the key wicket of Smith, backed well by Mohammed Shami and Navdeep Saini who executed their yorkers to perfection in the death.
The defeat in Rajkot ended Australia’s ten-match winning streak in Asia, but coming to Bangalore, Australia can take heart from the fact of having won three of their four ODIs at the venue. With the hosts bouncing back to set up the series in prime fashion for the decider, they have all to play for in Bangalore with India’s supremacy up against Australia’s spunk.