Having elected to bat, the visitors got off to a brisk start with Usman Khawaja leading their charge. The opener notched his second century of the series to put his team in the driving seat. However, his untimely dismissal coupled with the inability of Australia’s middle order to get going allowed India into the game.
The hosts seemed to have turned the screw with some tight bowling but lower-order pyrotechnics by Pat Cummins and Jhye Richardson ensured the tourists finished on 272.
In reply, India lost Shikhar Dhawan early with Virat Kohli following suit a few overs later. Like many a time before, the hosts’ middle order failed miserably and had it not been for Kedar Jadhav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, the home side could well have been on the end of a hammering.
Here is a look at five major talking points from the game:
#5 Another white-ball failure for Rishabh Pant
MS Dhoni was accorded a rest for the final two ODIs with India comfortably leading the series 2-1. His replacement, Rishabh Pant was expected to make the most of his opportunity and seal his spot on the plane to England. However, the lad from Delhi turned in two dubious displays and his World Cup hopes now hang by the proverbial thread.
In the 5th ODI, Pant came into bat at No.4 with the match tantalisingly poised. The wicket-keeper had the chance to stitch a strong partnership with Rohit Sharma and lead India to victory. Yet, nothing of the sort materialised and he perished for 16.
Though he started brightly, his lack of concentration came to the fore as he wafted at a delivery from Nathan Lyon. The ball spun a touch, took the edge and landed safely in Ashton Turner’s hands.
In the past year, Pant has taken the Test circuit by storm with his belligerent showings. But, he hasn’t been able to replicate that form in white-ball cricket.
And in a series where most believed that the wicket-keeper would cement his place in the side, he contrived to play himself farther from contention than he has ever been.
#4 Adam Zampa and Usman Khawaja stand up to be counted
Australia has fiddled with the idea of introducing Lyon into ODI cricket and brought him into the fold for the home series against India. The off-spinner though, failed to inspire and was subsequently benched for Adam Zampa. And the leg-spinner didn’t disappoint.
In the 5th ODI, the game was delicately balanced in the middle phases. Rohit had notched a fifty and looked in control at the crease. However, a sensational spell of spin bowling by Zampa left the Indian opener bamboozled.
In addition, he also got the crucial breakthroughs of Ravindra Jadeja and Vijay Shankar to throw a spanner in the Indian works.
However, Zampa was not even the most impressive Australian on display at Delhi.
Usman Khawaja has been around the Australian cricketing circuit for the past few years. Yet, he has never been able to establish himself as a vital cog. However, with a stupendous series against India under his belt, he could just be about to fulfil his vast potential.
The left-hander scored three consecutive 90-plus scores towards the fag end of the series and single-handedly carried the Australian batting. At Delhi, he struck a sublime century, laced with 10 fours and 2 sixes to lay the platform for a competitive total.
Before the series began, several fans and pundits believed that Khawaja was only keeping the seat warm till a certain David Warner returned. Yet, with the former coming up trumps so handsomely, the latter might have to wait for his turn come the World Cup.
#3 India’s middle spectacularly unravels, again
India has most bases covered when it comes to ODI cricket. Their top three is one of the most fearsome in the world while the variety in their bowling line-up is unrivalled. However, one aspect they haven’t been able to correct over the years has been their middle order. And on Wednesday, the brittleness of India’s middle order reared its ugly head again.
Kohli and Dhawan failed to muster substantial scores with the bat and hence, the onus fell on the likes of Pant and Shankar. The duo though, ended up contributing just 32 runs between them and their dismissals opened the door for Australia to come back into the game.
Though Jadhav admirably stood strong in the face of adversity, it was a classic case of ‘too little, too late’.
In the past few months, several names have been thrown into the middle order hat. Yet, none of them has inspired any confidence. Thus, the Indian team is in a real fix heading into the World Cup.
While the hosts still have adequate quality to correct their deficiencies, one wouldn’t be too surprised if their middle muddle ends up being their Achilles heel in England.
#2 Is Australia on the road to redemption?
Australian cricket has been on a downward spiral ever since Steven Smith, Cameron Bancroft and Warner indulged in the infamous sandpaper gate. The Aussies have had to battle on-field and off-field issues and inevitably, they’ve suffered. However, the series victory in India suggested that they might just have turned a corner.
The visitors looked down and out in the first couple of games. After being outplayed at Hyderabad, they let a winning position slip at Nagpur. Hence, many believed that the Aussie team had indeed forgotten how to get past the finish line. Yet, in the last three ODIs, they answered those doubters emphatically.
In the 3rd game, they stifled India’s chase with some smart bowling while their batting might came to the plate at Mohali. In the decider, they portrayed a perfect blend of caution and aggression to overcome their more fancied rivals.
There were several positives for the tourists through the tour. Glenn Maxwell’s mojo seems to have returned whereas Cummins and Richardson are making a strong case for themselves. In addition, Turner announced himself on the international stage with a scintillating innings while Peter Handscomb was efficient if not extravagant with his batting.
A few weeks ago, not many were expecting Australia to make a real fist of their World Cup defence. However, mere days later, they are being touted as potential dark horses. And while that highlights the fickle nature of cricket, it also shows that the Aussies have come a long way since arriving on Indian shores.
#1 Uncomfortable questions pop up for India before the World Cup
The series against Australia was always looked upon as one where India would flex its muscles in the beginning, pocket the series and then experiment in the final dress rehearsal before the World Cup.
However, as the series progressed, a can of worms was opened and now India are in the unenviable position of having to search for elusive answers.
The middle order puzzle seems to be getting trickier by the game with each of Pant, Rahul, Rayudu and Shankar failing to make the spot their own. On the other hand, the poor form of India’s openers has been an unwelcome guest with neither Rohit nor Dhawan setting the world ablaze consistently.
Moreover, the Indians were given a rude reminder of how dull life without Hardik Pandya really is. With the all-rounder not in the mix, the hosts were unable to zero in on a decent combination and seemed to get it wrong every time.
For the World Cup, Kohli’s men are considered favourites and rightly so. However, the five games against Australia certainly did expose a few of their weaknesses. And a series which was earmarked as one for providing answers has ended up posing more questions for India.