Australia failed to complete the 5-0 India whitewash in ODI series’ last game at Sydney. MS Dhoni got lucky with the coin toss and elected to field presumably because, India almost successfully chased an even stiffer target at Canberra. They uncharacteristically fell in a heap in the last stages at Manuka Oval but the going there was just too good for Dhoni to decide in favor of batting first at SCG. The bouncing Australian wickets helped batsmen on either side and if Indian bowlers couldn’t make a dent in Australia’s batting, nearly the same was true with Australia’s bowlers as India scored freely in all matches regardless of the final outcomes. The ODI series was a run-fest with a whopping 3159 runs being scored in 5 games and results coming only when a few balls had remained. Australia won the series 4-1 but they lost the fifth ODI at SCG despite posting 330 in their 50 overs. India paced their chase nicely with a 123-run first wicket stand and although they lost Virat Kohli cheaply, there was an unlikely hero, later in the chase. Manish Pandey had failed to click earlier but he produced a blistering knock, when it mattered most. Named as the Player-of-the-Match, Manish slaughtered the Aussie bowling in his unbeaten 104 off 81 balls as India cruised to a 6-wicket victory.
When MS Dhoni won the toss at the SCG, his decision to field first was clearly prompted by India’s performance in chasing the target at Canberra’s fourth ODI. India lost a solitary wicket at one stage in the 349-run chase and required just 72 off the remaining 75 balls. What happened thereafter was another matter but that gave an indication that Indians were capable of successfully mounting the 300-plus chase. At Sydney on Saturday, Australia began by losing Aaron Finch in first over, though the home team was not happy with the umpire’s upholding the LBW decision. India had brought in a new bowler Jasprit Bumrah, who began his ODI career pretty well by removing skipper Steven Smith in the 12th over. When George Bailey also fell cheaply as the third wicket in the 15th, it looked as if the Indian bowlers were having their say. At 78/3, Australians were in trouble and when it became 117/4 in the 22nd over; India looked like bowling out Australia early. But David Warner and Mitchell Marsh stood defiantly in India’s way. The two batsmen began thrashing Indian bowlers and forked out a 118-run fifth wicket stand by the 39th over. When Warner fell for a 113-ball 122 that included 9 fours and 3 sixes, Matthew Wade joined Mitchell Marsh and another 85-run partnership ensued. When Wade got out for 34, Australia had reached 320/6. Marsh went on to score 102 off 84 balls and remained unbeaten in Australia’s 50-over score of 330/7.
Indian openers Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma came out to chase the 331-run victory target with a positive frame of mind. They dealt with Australian bowlers just as their batsmen had treated the Indian bowlers. After the first-wicket stand produced 123 runs, Dhawan fell in the 19th over to a brilliant catch after making 78 off 56 balls with 9 fours and 3 sixes. Unfortunately for India, Virat Kohli fell cheaply but the determined Rohit Sharma moved on with new batsman Manish Pandey. The scoring rate jumped as Manish batted with gusto and Rohit provided him fine support from the other end. Their 97-run partnership was crucial, despite Rohit being unfortunate to get out at 99. MS Dhoni joined Manish and encouraged him to carry on while providing support at the other end. They carried India to the threshold of victory and when Dhoni got out as the 4th Indian wicket, only 6 runs were required for victory. Manish Pandey not only completed his century but took India past the finish line in style.
After losses in the last four ODI games, the 6-wicket victory at Sydney was a huge consolation for India. But if one looks back, India’s 1-4 loss in the series was not one-sided. They always had a chance and every Australian victory came towards the end. Rohit was unlucky to get out at 99 at Sydney but his effort was crucial in India beating Australia. It was also a big consolation after his centuries in first two ODIs went in vain. Manish Pandey was the hero as he literally snatched the victory from Australia with his fine century. MS Dhoni’s anchor role in the sixth wicket stand was no less important because his constant encouragement to Manish was a great psychological factor for the young man. Earlier, the debutant Jasprit Bumrah impressed everyone with his bowling. He claimed 2 wickets for 40 runs in 10 overs contrasted to Umesh Yadav yielding 82 in 8 and Rishi Dhawan being belted for 74 in 10. As India wait for the T20-series, victory at Sydney would be a great morale booster.