It just took two strong performances from Australia to sow the seeds of self-doubt in the minds of the Virat Kohli-led Team India.
Each victory, riding on 300+ totals, chipped away at India’s confidence, gained after pulling itself out of difficult situations in the first two One-Day Internationals.
Though the series stands at 2-2, Australia stands taller as an improving side. Without doubt, the visiting team has played better cricket.
Following the Australian triumphs, first by setting the target and then by scripting a successful, historic chase, Kohli is less sure of the series triumph.
Moreover, given the possibility of dew on Wednesday evening, the toss could prove crucial.
Indeed, its rare to find the home captain pointing to conditions — misreading the possibility of dew, or the lack of it — that played its part in two defeats.
Kohli looks rattled when the bowlers get the stick or don’t bowl to the field. No bowler likes the sight of a visibly-angry captain. In Mohali, the bowlers faced Kohli’s burning glare while Ashton Turner turned on the heat.
Even the spinners have fallen short of expectations in familiar conditions. Conversely, the Australians have dealt with the slower bowlers admirably well.
Consistently, the Indians have not realised their batting potential. Barring the match-winning stand involving Kedar Jadhav and M.S. Dhoni in the opener, effective partnerships have deserted India, particularly once the opposition makes inroads.
In Mohali, despite a 193-run start, the momentum was lost on a pitch where even 358 appeared — and eventually proved — inadequate.
India cannot always expect at least two, among Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Kohli, to score big. Even when they did, as seen on Sunday night, K.L. Rahul’s batting pushed the team back.
This immensely-gifted batsman struggled on a batting-pitch against an attack softened up by the Indian openers. Eventually, Rahul’s 31-ball 26 stood out like a sore thumb in background of some clean hitting from the Australians.
In the middle-order, in varying degrees, Jadhav, Vijay Shankar and Rishabh Pant do not inspire much confidence. After all, none is sure of being a first-choice in the World Cup’s starting XI.
Without Dhoni’s reassuring presence, the middle-order looks vulnerable.
In contrast, the Australian batting looks assured. Usman Khawaja (283 runs), part of two 190-plus partnerships resulting in victories, and Peter Handscomb (184) have scored centuries.
Skipper Aaron Finch, Marcus Stoinis (nursing a broken thumb) and his worthy replacement Ashton Turner have all scored a half-century each. Others, like Glenn Maxwell and Alex Carey have aggregated three-figure contributions.
The never-say-die approach of Australian bowlers is hard to miss. Pat Cummins (12 wickets) always looks to strike.
The spinners, led by Adam Zampa, have gained from the fact that almost all members of the Indian ODI squad shun domestic competitions and thereby lack the skill against the turning ball on home pitches.
In all, its advantage Australia.
The teams (from):
India: Virat Kohli (Capt.), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Ambati Rayudu, K.L. Rahul, Rishabh Pant, Kedar Jadhav, Vijay Shankar, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Yuzvendra Chahal and Ravindra Jadeja.
Australia: Aaron Finch (Capt.), Alex Carey, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb, Marcus Stoinis, Glenn Maxwell, Jhye Richardson, Ashton Turner, Pat Cummins, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Jason Behrendorff, Nathan Lyon, Adam Zampa and Andrew Tye.
Match begins at 1.30 p.m.