There was a murmur of a whitewash talk after India went 3-0 up in Indore. But those desires/fears were dented by a spirited performance from Australia, who after setting India a 335-run target courtesy a David Warner century, followed up with a spirited show with the ball to squeeze out a victory in Bengaluru. Warner marked his milestone 100th ODI with a 119-ball 124, in a performance of great flair and resilience after three quiet efforts in the series.
Australia’s 21-run victory helped them break India’s nine-match winning streak while ending their own 14-game winless sequence on the road.
Despite the murkiness of the afternoon and the possibility of rain later in the evening, Australia should have scored more considering the start they got. Warner and Finch batted for a productive 35 overs adding 231 in that time as the unpredictable Chinnaswamy surface stayed true. By his standards, Warner’s 14th ODI ton was a relatively restrained effort coming off 103 balls. Finch was, by no means, express himself in his knock of 94 but batting with Warner, he ensured that Australia got a start the likes of which they hadn’t got before against India. David Boon and Geoff Marsh had added 212 in Jaipur back in 1986, so starts of this kind have been a rarity.
Both the openers were particularly severe on India’s new seam-bowling combination of Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav, whose rustiness came through in the dead-rubber clash. Steven Smith called right and opted to bat – a trend that has been followed in every game this series. The first 10 overs bowled by the pacers cost 63 for no loss, a solid validation for the decision. With India opting to rest frontline spinner Kuldeep Yadav as well, finger spinner Axar Patel was in for a containing role straight away. But with Warner and Finch already into the thirties, his task was significantly more daunting. And it showed in his match figures of 10-0-66-0.
Chahal did no better himself without his fellow wrist spinner and had to have his two remaining overs filled up by Kedar Jadhav, who incidentally was the most economical of India’s bowlers. But it was the Warner-Finch show all around. Warner was particularly brutal against anything shot and picked off a bulk of his runs square on the off-side. He was occasionally circumspect against spin, as in one instance against Chahal, when he was deceived in the flight but the short boundaries of the Chinnaswamy came to his aid.
Finch continued on from where he left in Indore, playing in the ‘v’ and save for an odd stutter in the forties, motored along rather comfortably as India rotated their bowlers in search of a breakthrough.
Warner’s innings, studded with 12 fours and four sixes, was eventually culled by a slinger from Jadhav. Finch, who had set himself up for a second century on the bounce, fell six runs short of another ton, miscuing an Umesh Yadav slower ball straight to mid-on. That dismissal was in the middle of a harebrained period of play during which Australia lost three wickets for six runs after the preceding 231 had brought none whatsoever.
But unlike in Indore, that Australia still ended with a competitive total was down to a crucial 30-ball 43 from Peter Handscomb, who combined with Travis Head (29 off 38) for a half-century stand. India conceded 28 off the final two overs and Marcus Stoinis played a vital cameo to give the total much-needed padding.
Eventually, the visitors completed victory by 21 runs but their smart bowling ensured that even on a traditionally chasing ground, they were always ahead of the eight ball despite a 106-run opening stand between Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma. Kane Richardson picked up three wickets and was ably supported by the returning Adam Zampa bowling a crucial second spell during which he accounted for nemesis No. 1 – Hardik Pandya – after the all-rounder scored an impressive 41 in another stint at the No.4 slot.
Between India’s opening stand and Pandya’s cameo, India’s chase had petered off rather curiously with Rahane mistiming Richardson to deep mid-wicket. Then Steve Smith engineered the hosts’ mini collapse with an inspired fielding effort, diving full length to his left and then throwing the ball almost instantly, which was then relayed to the bowler to catch Rohit Sharma well short of his crease. Virat Kohli, who has now been involved in six run-outs with Rohit, dragged a length ball from Nathan Coulter-Nile back on to his stumps after a run-a-ball 21.
Kedar Jadhav shared a 73-run stand with Pandya and proceeded to score a half-century but strangely lost his timing as India’s innings was interrupted by a brief spell of rain when they’d been two runs behind the D/L/S par score. Play eventually resumed but Pat Cummins’s extra pace accounted for Manish Pandey while Richardson prised out both Jadhav and MS Dhoni with a good assortment of slower and pacier deliveries to put the game beyond the hosts. It was a consolation win that brought many smiles.