An exhilarating display of strokeplay from the batters powered India to their highest-ever total against Australia in 50-over cricket in Indore on Sunday.
Such was the never-ending strokeplay that India fell just one short of 400, finishing at 399/5 in the second ODI at the Holkar Stadium, riding on twin centuries from Shreyas Iyer (105) and Shubman Gill (104), together with a breezy 52 from stand-in captain KL Rahul (52) and a whirlwind 72 from Suryakumar Yadav.
The target was a bit too much for the Australians, who had to chase down a revised target of 317 in 33 overs following the second rain interruption in the game. Alongside scoreboard pressure, spinners Ravichandran Ashwin (3/41) and Ravindra Jadeja (3/42) struck thrice each taking advantage of the turn on offer to bowl Australia out for 217 in 28.2 overs.
Courtesy the 99-run win (DLS method), India not just sealed the series with an unbeatable 2-0 lead, but also go into the ODI World Cup as the No.1-ranked ODI side.
From the batting perspective, India simply couldn’t have asked for a better game ahead of the World Cup. Gill is gaining in strength, having brought up his fifth hundred in the format this year with a kind of preparation that should keep him in top shape for the Cup.
Shubman Gill celebrates his century on Sunday. PTI photo
A back-to-back half-century for Rahul too augurs well for him as his consistency stands out. Surya, too, registered his second consecutive fifty in the format with shots that typifies him in the T20 format and more importantly, this 37-ball knock should put the cobwebs in his mind away when it comes to dealing with ODI cricket.
Since the Asia Cup and so far in this series, India have had most things going their way with the reserves too making handsome contributions and amplifying the bench strength, which is critical for any side going into a World Cup.
However, what stood out on Sunday was the innings that Iyer produced. Returning from back injury, he was again sidelined during the Asia Cup due to a back spasm. In his comeback game at Mohali last Friday, he managed just a single-digit score before being run out.
This game was massive for Iyer to establish his place in India’s Cup squad. When he came in at No.3, India had managed just 16 in the fourth over with Ruturaj Gaikwad falling to Josh Hazlewood after Australia won the toss and elected to bowl first.
On an excellent surface for batting and on a ground with smaller boundaries, Iyer backed his stroke-making skills and aggressive batting, and importantly, was spot-on with his timing. Boundaries thus flowed from his bat and thanks to Iyer being the aggressor, Gill also was able to accelerate following a slow start.
Against this second-string Australia bowling attack, which also missed regular skipper Pat Cummins (with Steve Smith leading the side), Iyer and Gill started plundering runs rendering the likes of Spencer Johnson, Sean Abbott and Cameron Green hapless. Such was the relentless hitting in Iyer and Gill’s 200-run second-wicket partnership.
Gill, in any case, has been in ominous touch in ODIs this year. But what counted more for India was a sizeable contribution from Iyer.
The Australian bowlers kept dishing out stuff in his arc and Iyer had no problems in finding the gaps as he kept unleashing drives and shots on both sides of the wicket. Now that Iyer too has regained a fair amount of his rhythm, he does give the team management the scope of considering him as one of their No.4 choices.
A question mark, however, could also be raised on the seriousness with which the Australians have approached this series. Alongside Cummins, their XI on Sunday was also without Mitch Marsh, Marcus Stoinis and Mitchell Starc.
Besides, David Warner became ambidextrous all of a sudden, batting right-handed against Ashwin. And then, in spite of an inside-edge on to his pads, Warner didn’t take the review. Ashwin and his teammates didn’t mind that though. But, the approach of the Aussies has been very much un-Australian in this series.