Prior to Wednesday, India had never chased down a 300-plus target against the Aussies. And the 359-run mountain the visitors built at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium reminded many of the brutality Sourav Ganguly & Co had suffered at the hands of Ricky Ponting in the final of the 2003 World Cup. In fact, Australia had posted an identical total in the second final of the VB Series in 2004 as well. Expectedly, India lost both matches by some distance.
So comprehensive was India’s brilliant batting display on Wednesday that the pedestrian effort of the bowlers was gleefully forgotten. Yes, India have now given away 864 runs in 120 overs (one Twenty20 and two ODIs) at an average of 7.2 in this series and their pace spearhead wears a blunt look. It would, however, be unfair to our batsmen if we termed the stupendous win as just another rescue act.
So, how about comparing Wednesday’s approach to the flawed one in Johannesburg 10 years ago?
For starters, India won the second ODI with 39 deliveries to spare. In 2003, they were bowled out in the 40th over. What’s refreshing now is India’s changing attitude towards big chases, a process which started during Greg Chappell’s time. Remember those 16 consecutive successful chases?
After the 2003 defeat, Ganguly said “you don’t chase down 359”. MS Dhoni is slightly more optimistic: he believes any total is gettable. And mind you, India needed just three players to get the job done. The likes of Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina and Dhoni — all phenomenal and proven ODI champs — weren’t even required to bat.
“Yes, it was a lot of runs, but we knew that because of the new five-fielder rule, any target can be chased. I am not saying it’s easy, but it can be done. And big chases need big partnerships.
That’s what we did,” said Rohit Sharma, who was adjudged Man of the Match for his unbeaten 141.
Shikhar Dhawan may have played only a handful of ODIs, but Kohli now has 16 centuries in this format, including the fastest by an Indian. His 10 centuries in successful chases puts him a yard behind Sachin Tendulkar (14). And he averages a whopping 83 whenever India win batting second.
Sharma scored a hundred for the first time in three years, but that doesn’t mean he’s not contributed in big wins. In fact, it’s the opposite. Sharma played perfect second fiddle to Tendulkar in the final of the 2008 CB Series final. He did the same in the Asia Cup last year, assisting Virat Kohli in style. And on Wednesday, he did one better by emerging as the top-scorer.
In Johannesburg, India were going after the bowling from the first ball. Tendulkar got out to Glenn McGrath attempting a pull in the first over. Ganguly was moving away from the stumps and trying to hit every ball over the in-field.
In contrast, Dhawan and Sharma were so organised. They were prepared to play Mitchell Johnson out. After all, he was bowling 150 kph-plus and his first three overs cost just 13, inclusive of a maiden. They built the innings, knew which bowlers to target and when to go for the assault. Kohli was in a different zone.
He started off as though he was already batting on 150. Yes, the 2003 Aussie attack was leagues ahead (McGrath, Brett Lee, Andy Bichel…). That was a World Cup final and this was just any other ODI. So on the pressure meter, this game was nowhere close to that one. But clearly, India have evolved as a batting unit.
“We spoke about breaking up the target. We spoke about getting 40 runs. We played with the bowler’s mind, we wanted to put them under pressure and we wanted to dominate,” Sharma added.
The bowling remains impotent, so to say that India are a far better ODI side may not be an accurate indicator of where they truly stand. But batting-wise, they are a notch ahead of their predecessors.