MS Dhoni had been coming hard on India’s bowlers after three successive ODI defeats that took the series away from them. In each one of those games, India batted first and someone scored a hundred to take India’s challenge in the vicinity of 300 runs. Thereafter, they failed to defend the otherwise challenging scores because their toothless bowling allowed Australia to easily hammer their way to easy victories. In Canberra’s fourth ODI, Steven Smith won the toss and experimented with batting first. Therefore, for the first time in the series, India became chasers. India’s bowlers were thrashed for the fourth time as Australia hoisted 348. Going for the 349-run chase, India began with a positive frame of mind. Although they lost Rohit Sharma early, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli brought India to the doorstep of victory by scoring centuries. Requiring 72 in 12.3 overs, India were perfectly poised with 9 wickets still intact. Suddenly and inexplicably, they tripped with finish line in clear sight. Beginning with Shikhar Dhawan’s wicket, India’s batsmen made a beeline to pavilion and 9 wickets fell for the addition of just 46 runs. It turned out to be one of the most dramatic losses India ever suffered and this was not engineered by bowlers. True; they gave away plenty of runs, but this time, it was India’s batsmen, who literally purchased the defeat, when victory was so clearly on cards. If one centurion in each of the first three games suffered from disappointment, there were two in the fourth. What came about was purely the failure of India’s batting, whether Mr MS Dhoni agrees or not.
In Manuka Oval at Canberra, Aussie skipper Steven Smith decided to bat first after winning the toss. David Warner had come back from paternal duties and Aaron Finch was in great form. Smith was clearly justified as Warner and Finch carried the score to 187 in the 30th over before both of them departed by the 38th. Warner scored 93 off 92 balls while Finch made 107 off 107. In the next 7 overs, Smith and Mitchell Marsh added 67 runs with Smith finishing with a dominant 29-ball 51 and Marsh adding another 33. Near the innings’ end, Glenn Maxwell belted Indian bowlers for a 20-ball 41. With George Bailey chipping in with 10 runs, Australia piled up 348/8. There was nothing India’s bowlers could do against the charged-up Australians. The front-line bowlers Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ishant Sharma bowled 28 overs among themselves and collectively gave away 213 runs while Jadeja’s 10 overs went for 51. The other two; Rishi Dhawan and Gurkeerat Singh were equally ineffective in collectively yielding 77 off 12 overs.
Chasing 349 for victory looked an uphill task but India’s top order batsmen accepted the challenge. Led by a rollicking Rohit Sharma, India reached 65 in the 8th over before Rohit fell for a 25-ball 41. Rohit Sharma’s departure brought out Virat Kohli and he, along with Shikhar Dhawan, went after Australia’s bowlers. Without taking too many risks, the two batsmen consolidated the innings and after helping themselves to three-figure knocks, carried India to 277/1 in the 38th over. Dhawan’s 126 came off 113 balls while Kohli took 92 balls for his 106. At that stage, India needed 72 off 75 balls, which was easily achievable. Then the hell broke loose. Dhawan was the first to depart, when he tried to cut a slower ball from Hastings. But the ball ballooned to Bailey at backward point and Dhawan was on his way. Ajinkya Rahane had a split finger and didn’t come in at his usual position. After Dhawan’s wicket in the same over, new batsman MS Dhoni tried to hit Hastings and ended up being caught behind. Six balls later, it was Kohli’s turn to find a fielder. It wasn’t a great ball from Kane Richardson but as Kohli attempted to drive, the ball lifted up for the simplest of catches to Steven Smith. By now, India had lost three wickets for the addition of just one run. The Manuka Oval crowd went wild, when India lost their fifth wicket at 286, when Gurkeerat Singh produced a huge top-edge on Nathan Lyon’s delivery. The slide had become unabated and from position of strength India lost a great chance to beat Australia. Only Ravindra Jadeja stood in the middle and he finished on an unbeaten 24 off 27 balls while none of the other batsmen could even reach the double-digit score. The end came in the 50th over with the fall of Ishant Sharma’s wicket. Losing 9 wickets in a space of 46 runs was the worst fate India ever faced and it came about at time, when Dhawan and Kohli had assuredly taken India close to the famous victory in a mighty run chase. For Australia, it was a 27-ball spell between Hastings and Richardson that sent back 5 batsmen for just 17 runs. But a closer look at the type of bowling would reveal that it was more because of India’s batsmen playing indiscrete shots than any venom in Australian bowling. In the process, India’s batsmen also helped Smith, who escaped criticism for choosing to bat first and almost bringing about Australia’s defeat.