Two old Mumbai hands, who have seen each other grow as cricketers from teenage days and who played for the same club, sealed the series for India, propelling the team to its ninth consecutive ODI win and sixth successive bilateral-series win, which also put them on top of the ICC ODI rankings. A 139-run opening partnership between Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma saw India make light work of a 294-run target set by Australia.
In 2007, Rohit was already a big name in Mumbai cricket circles, big enough for Rahane to drag his friend Dhawal Kulkarni to watch him bat. Rohit was Mumbai’s most exciting new batsman, and already, word was spreading around Mumbai cricket: Watch out for this Borivali boy, he would soon play for India.
Rahane was mesmerised by Rohit’s batting, and as luck would have it, both went on to play for Indian Oil. Both have their own individual style of play, and Rahane has already earned a reputation in Test cricket while Rohit has carved a place for himself in the limited-overs format. Rahane is eying a permanent spot in ODIs, and Rohit is similarly dreaming about Tests, but on Sunday the two pulled out all the stops to make India’s task simple.
However, credit should also go to young Hardik Pandya, who is doing his best to become the all-rounder India has yearned for a while now. It was the Mumbai duo, though, who set the pace in the chase. If Rohit was aggressive, Rahane was elegant. A slow starter usually, Rohit raced away in style, slamming a 62-ball 71 with four sixes and six fours. Australian pacers tried to bowl short of length at him, and Rohit made them pay. He even slugged a Kane Richardson delivery out of the ground.
Rohit completed his 33rd ODI fifty by biffing a huge six off Aston Agar. His knock ended with a top edge to substitute fielder Hilton Cartwright at deep mid-wicket. By then, though, India had got the start they wanted, especially when their middle order has been disappointing in the past two games. Two over later, Rahane too departed, trapped in front of the stumps. His 70 had come off 76 balls. He will probably be ruing that he didn’t carry on for a big innings as his place will be again up for grabs once Shikhar Dhawan comes back.
It was not all India, though, as Australia managed to get the wickets of Virat Kohli and Kedar Jadhav in quick succession. India needed 88 runs in 14 overs and the onus was on Pandya and Manish Pandey. The Baroda all-rounder had been promoted this time and chose his bowlers well on Sunday – the spinner Agar was his prime target. His four sixes came off Agar; three of those flew over deep the mid-wicket area.
By the time Pandya was out, India needed just 10 more, and Pandey ensured India defeated Australia by five wickets. Later, Kohli would credit Ravi Shastri for the promotion of Pandya. “His promotion today was Ravi Bhai’s thought. He felt we needed to attack the spinner. We totally back him and he’s a hardworking guy.”
It was the third time in a bilateral series that Australia had lost the first three ODIs. It would hurt, considering this was their best effort so far in the series, which came courtesy Aaron Finch, who returned for this game after missing out the first two due to injury. Finch plundered 124 runs in quick time and charged Australia to a decent total, but it was not enough. Kohli sent out more worrying signs for the opposition when he said, “We may give opportunities for people from now, but all 15 guys know that we got to be ruthless once we step onto the field. I know it won’t happen every single day, but at least that mindset is there. Credit to the whole squad for the series win, but the journey stops only after the final game.”