Australia managed to beat the much favoured Indians in their own backyard in a heavily-contested series after winning the decider by 35 runs in Delhi today. Riding on a second consecutive century from Usman Khawaja, Australia managed to post 272/9 in their 50 overs before bundling the hosts for 237 due to a superb bowling effort.
With the series being the last international engagement for India before the World Cup in England, the loss should hurt them a lot. They are now left with only the Indian Premier League (IPL) that starts in ten days' time to find solutions to their problems.
In this article, we list five reasons why the hosts lost the series:
1. End-overs bowling
Having reduced Australia to 229/7 in the 46th over with bowlers Pat Cummins and Jhye Richardson at the crease, India still bled 43 runs in the last four overs to give the opposition a respectable total. Frontline bowler Jasprit Bumrah whose figures at one stage read 7-0-13-0 leaked 26 more of his remaining overs while the Aussie tail-enders accumulated five boundaries between themselves thus setting up a tough chase under the lights.
2. Spin threat? Not so much!
In home conditions, India often relies on its spinners especially the wrist-spinning duo of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal to eke out crucial scalps in the middle overs while keeping the scoring rate under check. In Delhi, however, India's spinners Kuldeep Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja and Kedar Jadhav returned the combined figures of 21-0-127-3. While Jadeja, as always managed to stem the flow of runs, the Aussies took a special liking for Kuldeep's floated deliveries and carted him for 4 sixes and an equal number of fours to break the shackles. With the spin threat neutralised, the visitors put pressure on the seamers to produce something magical which unfortunately couldn't materialise. In England, where the pitches are not supposed to help the spinners as much as back home, this issue could return to haunt India at any stage of the quadrennial event.
3. Too many experiments
There is no doubting the fact that India have been experimenting a lot with their Playing XI in the ongoing series and it was again on display when the young Rishabh Pant walked out to bat at No. 4 during India's chase. With Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli already gone, the hosts needed someone to support a sedate Rohit Sharma at the other end. Pant, however, couldn't curb his instincts and went to feel for a floater from the veteran Nathan Lyon costing him and his team a priceless wicket under the condition the game was in at that point of time. There is a feeling that the objective of a balanced side that Kohli and the team management wanted to achieve by the experimentation hasn't quite been successful and with an all-round batsman like Ajinkya Rahane still waiting in the wings, the selectors have a big headache on their hands before they sit to pick the team for the all-important World Cup in June.
4. India cracked under pressure
Even though India have been sloppy in the last three matches of the series, we should give credit where it's due. After losing the first matches, the visitors upped the ante in the next three by putting their opponents under pressure in each of them. If their bowlers were pasted to all parts of the park in Mohali, the batsmen ensured that they completed the highest chase in their team's ODI history. At the Feroz Shah Kotla, despite not putting a mammoth score, the bowlers kept chipping at the wickets and never let the Indian batsmen off the hook.
5. Cricket is a team game
Pat Cummins has emerged as the most likeable Australian cricketer in the past six months or so having impressed with his never-say-die attitude whether with ball or bat in hand. Usman Khawaja, who was under pressure coming into the series, sealed his World Cup spot by producing back to back centuries in winning causes for his team. The leg-spinner Adam Zampa who was thought of young and inexperienced bowled with a lot of courage and flight to fuel the attacking instincts of the Indian batsmen including Kohli and made the most of the conditions throughout the series. In a nutshell, the 3-2 result in favour of the visitors wasn't a fluke and the better team over the five matches did emerge the winner as Australia produced one team effort after another to seize the initiative from the hosts.
All in all, this wasn't the marker that India wanted to set in their last ODI engagement before the World Cup but that is the reality now. With an unsettled middle-order and the all-rounder spot in a flux due to the injury to Hardik Pandya, the hosts find themselves posed with the same questions that they were facing before the series started. Will the IPL offer any answers? Does Rahane still deserve a chance? Is Vijay Shankar ready? We don't know but India can still hope. After all, it's not necessary to peak before the World Cup to win it. India must know it as well as any other team but the stark reality is that they have now lost two successive white-ball series just before the mega event.