In the recently concluded One Day International series, one side played as the Australians are traditionally known to—and it wasn’t Steve Smith & Co. It was India, in terms of skills—and more importantly the aggression and burning hunger to win with which Australian cricket is identified.
The 4-1 scoreline scuttles any theory about the relative merits of the two teams, leaving little scope for ifs and buts. Statistics show how India’s batsmen and bowlers left the Australians trailing.
Smith’s team was missing some key players who had won them the World Cup in 2015. Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood were notable absentees. Their class and experience could have been vital. Given his batting form, the fact that Aaron Finch missed the first two matches was also perhaps crucial.
But by no means was this a sub-standard Australian side, as the results might suggest. There was enough depth of international experience (David Warner, Smith, Matthew Wade) as well as familiarity with Indian conditions (Glenn Maxwell, Nathan Coulter-Nile, James Faulkner, Adam Zampa), owing to association with the Indian Premier League.
If Australia were made to look poor, it was because India were at full throttle, exploiting home conditions thoroughly, playing with zest and optimism, but, more pertinently, never surrendering even when the chips were down. In almost every match, there were phases when the Australians seemed to be on top, only to lose their grip over a spell of five-six overs of superb batting or bowling by India, who found players to make it count when it mattered most.
This aspect, always critical in a cricket contest, was clearly the differentiator in this series. It revealed not just the difference in ability, but also in mindset and ambition. While Australia frittered away opportunities, India created them.
In effect, India threw up more “impact" players: those who could turn a match around in a few overs with the bat or ball. On the other hand, players who were expected to make a big impact for Australia—Maxwell, Faulkner, even Smith himself—bombed.
Gratifyingly for India, the team was not dependent on star players alone. Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and M.S. Dhoni have such stellar records in ODIs that their success, particularly in home conditions, is to be taken for granted. It would make news if they flopped.
But it’s the success of the others that made the series win possible. Ajinkya Rahane, treated in hot and cold fashion in the recent past, gave the team management a stinging reminder of his ability with four half-centuries on the trot. Kedar Jadhav was innovative with bat and ball. He packs a mean punch in his strokes, but it is his ability to find gaps in the field with deft improvisations that makes him dangerous. As a slow bowler with a slinging, low-arm action, he picked up wickets at crucial times too.
India’s frontline bowlers were in splendid form and, in my opinion, outshone the batsmen. Wrist spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal had the Australian batsmen at sixes and sevens. Axar Patel’s nagging line and length gave away little.
The fast bowling pair of Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah either picked up early wickets or choked the Australians in the death overs, showing a high degree of skill and control. These bowlers, slow and fast, hunted superbly in pairs.
Then there is Hardik Pandya, man of the series for his derring-do with the bat and a golden arm that fetched India a wicket whenever needed. His growth as a match-winning all-rounder was clearly the biggest gain of the series.
The fact that all these players—barring Jadhav—are in their early or mid-20s shows the current Indian team’s depth. So much so that players considered frontline till recently—R. Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav—are now either in the reserves or not even in the squad.
That makes for a challenging situation for selectors and the team management when the squad has to be pruned and crystallized for next year’s World Cup. The caveat, of course, is that all these players also have to prove themselves overseas.
For now, Indian cricket couldn't be in a sweeter spot.
Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.