| Ishant Sharma, on Saturday |
Chandigarh: Another unforgettable innings from Mahendra Singh Dhoni; another forgettable over from Ishant Sharma...
That best sums up the third ODI, played in neighbouring Mohali, on Saturday.
Till the start of the 48th over of Australia, it was for World Cup and Champions Trophy holders India to lose the match. By the end of it, after senior pro Ishant conceded 30 to young James Faulkner, they’d done just that.
Had a pin dropped right then, it would have been heard across the border, which isn’t a few miles away. The silence was stunning.
Captain Dhoni’s rarely exasperated, but he was reduced to that state as an ODI, which should have been won with a degree of comfort, turned on its head.
MoM Faulkner’s assault on a low-on-confidence Ishant narrowed equations to 14 from the last two overs. Australia won with three balls to spare.
After achieving what looked impossible (44 runs from the last three overs), Faulkner and the seasoned Adam Voges celebrated in the manner of the subcontinent’s players.
Of course, they deserved to show emotions, having made it 2-1 for Australia in the seven-match series.
Faulkner, in fact, more than made amends for conceding 21 in India’s last over, which took the hosts past 300.
Voges revealed that Faulkner, who has been on the rolls of the Rajasthan Royals, targeted Ishant (“This is it... I’m going after him...”).
As it turned out, it was a bit of an understatement.
While Faulkner remained not out on a supersonic 64 (29 balls, 2x4, 6x6), Voges was on 76 when the former clobbered Ranganath Vinay Kumar for the lead-giving six.
Put in the shade was Dhoni’s amazing 139 not out (121 balls, 12x4, 5x6). He hadn’t opened his account when he suffered an injury, but he’s not the type to show his back to the opposition.
“Superman” is how Sunil Gavaskar, a legend himself, hailed Dhoni.
You cannot but admire Dhoni. Often, you have to feel sorry for him as well. What more can a captain do?
Not long ago, in a chat with The Telegraph, Sourav Ganguly picked Dhoni as the “No.1” batsman in ODIs. His claim has got strengthened.
It was under Sourav, incidentally, that Dhoni made his India debut nine years ago.
In each of the four matches on the tour (first being a one-off T20), Australia have taken apart the bowling. Cornered on that front, Dhoni accepted that it was “getting worse.”
That said, Dhoni came out far more strongly: “At the international level, players can’t expect to be spoon-fed all the time. They have to back their strengths, come up with their own plans, step up their game.”
Some would regard that as a richly deserved tongue lashing.
“We should have won... In hindsight, one can look at things differently... As for bringing on Ishant in the 48th over, I looked at the options... One was for me to have bowled...
“One tries to take the right decisions, but it doesn’t work sometimes... Ishant had started well, but everybody is looking at that one over... If bowlers have to be dropped after a couple of bad performances, then even some batsmen would have to go...
“You can’t end up changing the entire team... You need to persist with the players, give them a long rope. If somebody is struggling, then the team’s there to back him,” Dhoni maintained.
A strong indication that Ishant would be retained in the XV.
Dhoni made the point that the changes in the rules had made it “tough” for the bowlers. But, surely, they’re being handsomely paid to do a job.
As is India’s bowling coach, Joe Dawes.
Australia, with a stand-in captain (George Bailey) and stand-in coach (Steve Rixon), have surprised many. Dhoni had this to say — “It’s a good team... I expect a few good overs to be making the difference in this series.”
Right now, “a few good overs” from India’s bowlers seems to be asking for far too much. Hopefully, Faulkner’s given a wake-up call.