After the highs of the Test series, India were quickly made to realise they could not take Australia lightly. Battered and depleted, Australia produced a stunning all-round display to expose India’s frailties in the middle-order in the first ODI of the three-match series in Sydney.
Once Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli and Ambati Rayudu were dismissed cheaply, there was little or no support for Rohit Sharma in a 289-run chase. Any team that loses three of its top four with only 4 runs on the board, is bound to struggle. India, despite an impressive ODI performance in 2018, still need to sort out their middle-order woes and the defeat in Sydney was ample proof they still have a long way to go before they can consider themselves ready for the World Cup.
India will get a chance to iron out their flaws in the second ODI in Adelaide. Australia have won four out of their five ODIs against India at this venue and it will take a special effort from the Indians to draw level in this series. But they can take heart from their last match here against the hosts in 2012 which India won.
In 2018, Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli scored 3129 runs among them. The next best after the top three was Ambati Rayudu, who scored 392 runs from 11 ODIs. Clearly, they need a lot more from the other batsmen, especially MS Dhoni who managed only 275 runs from 20 matches without scoring a fifty last year.
On Saturday in Sydney, Dhoni did score a fifty eventually but he could not really accelerate and by the time he was dismissed, the asking rate had climbed steeply. Dinesh Karthik and Ravindra Jadeja were expected to chip in with lower-order cameos but they failed.
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India would like to treat the series of ODIs against Australia and New Zealand as preparation for World Cup but Virat Kohli needs to think and re-evaluate his combination.
Kedar Jadhav, a decent middle-order batsman and a capable off-spin bowler, was left out for Dinesh Karthik. Rayudu’s part-time off-spin was ineffective and his action has now been questioned by the ICC.
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Also, India’s bowling attack was exposed without Jasprit Bumrah. Bhuvneshwar Kumar was taken for 66 runs off his 10 overs while Khaleel Ahmed went for 55 off his 8 overs.
Australia, on the other hand, were clinical. Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh and Peter Handscomb scored fifties while Marcus Stoinis smashed a quickfire 47 not out. The Aussies would have been far more pleased with the bowling effort from young Jhye Richardson, who was named man-of-the-match for his four-wicket haul.
Bhuvneshwar said on Monday the team wasn’t worried about the top-order failure. “It was one of those matches where the top order didn’t click.
“It can happen with you when you play so much cricket. So it was just one of those things … it’s very rare for us. We have been in this situation before,” he said. We know it won’t be impossible to win the series but it won’t be easy for us as we are playing away from home.
“We are preparing in a manner where we have to win our next two matches so it’s a kind of knockout for us, we can’t afford to lose this match,” he said.
There is reason to worry though. India do not have much time before the World Cup. They lost the ODI series in England last year. And their top-order was ripped apart by a young pace pair. English conditions during the World Cup will bring their own set of challenges and India need to get their batting line-up and their overall combination right.