The aura of invincibility India built in recent years, especially at home, in the limited-over format has vanished.
In what was the team’s last ODI before the World Cup, the collective performance of a puzzling combination left more questions unanswered than it started out to address.
In addition to the persisting middle-order woes and lack of a reliable fifth bowling option, some batsmen’s lack of technique against quality spin bowling stood exposed before Adam Zampa and Nathan Lyon.
Moreover, the over-reliance on the top-order hurt the team once again.
As India’s worries grew, the 35-run victory, in the fifth and final ODI at the Ferozeshah Kotla here, gave Australia a well-deserved 3-2 series triumph, its first in India since 2009.
India’s third successive defeat also blew the lid off the much-underlined ‘problem of plenty’ in selection and exposed plenty of problems.
Only bright spot
For the record, riding on the in-form Usman Khawaja’s 100, Australia set a target of 273. In response, India folded at 237, the only bright spot being the fighting 91-run seventh-wicket stand between Kedar Jadhav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
All through, Australia stayed ahead of India despite a brief spell when the side tumbled from 175 for one to 229 for six. Indeed, this kept Australia from scoring a 300-plus total for the third time in succession but the way India responded, it did not matter.
However, the composition of India’s playing XI clearly raised a few eye-brows. It was not clear whether India was playing to win the series or happy to stay in the “experiment mode” even after two reverses.
On a pitch, known to progressively offer slow and low bounce, India chose to go in with Mohammed Shami and Ravindra Jadeja for K.L. Rahul and Yuzvendra Chahal.
That meant, this combination had only three specialist batsmen, in addition to a wicketkeeper-batsman, three all-rounders and seven bowling options. As it turned out, Vijay Shankar played as a specialist batsman after Kohli found no use for his bowling.
When India chased, its vulnerability was evident once Shikhar Dhawan and the skipper were dismissed with just 68 on the board in the 13th over.
Except for Jadhav and Bhuvneshwar, both of whom departed in succession at 223, the Indian batting was disappointing.
A struggling Rohit Sharma got a half-century, was dropped at 52 and 53 off Adam Zampa and finally lost his bat before being stumped for 56.
Rishabh Pant, walking at the fall of Kohli’s wicket, did not help his cause. Though Pant’s wicketkeeping skills left much to be desired, his flamboyant batting once again came a cropper. Clearly, those assuming the Delhi-lad to be a sure second-choice keeper for the World Cup need to seriously consider Dinesh Karthik in their options.
Vijay Shankar, too, lost out on another great opportunity to reinforce his claim for a World Cup berth, and so did Jadeja. Among the bowlers, only Jasprit Bumrah looked effective while the rest, particularly Kuldeep Yadav, had an ordinary day at work.
In contrast, Australia ticked most of the boxes after leaving out Shaun Marsh and Jason Behrendorff and included a fit-again Marcus Stoinis and Nathan Lyon.
Though Stoinis and Ashton Turner failed to fire, Australia found important runs late in the innings. The last four overs produced 41 runs, including 19 off the 48th over bowled by an otherwise economical Bumrah.
The eighth-wicket pair of Jhye Richardson and Pat Cummins blitzed 34 runs off 16 balls. Given the margin of victory, these runs proved decisive.