How did it slip away? There have been games where teams have lost matches from a winning position. India’s 25-run defeat on Wednesday will rank alongside the most shocking of those losses in history.
Even though India were in pursuit of a massive 349, so complete was their domination during the chase that at one stage it looked it would be a cakewalk. All defeats hurt badly, but Wednesday’s will be the most difficult to overcome for Dhoni & Co, who now trail 4-0 in the five-match one-day series.
No one would be more gutted than Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan. The two had batted gloriously to take India to a position from where they had to do something rank silly to lose, for 72 runs in 72 balls with nine wickets in hand on one of the flattest decks ever, there could have been only one winner.
It was heroic stuff from Kohli and Dhawan when they took the score from 65 to 277. But, trust India to make a hash of it. From 277 for one, they collapsed to 294 for six to lose all the early advantage provided by the top three. The last nine wickets fell for just 46 runs.
India’s innings started to fall apart in the middle of the 38th over when Dhawan, on 126, played a slower ball into the hands of George Bailey at point.
With Ajinkya Rahane injured, the tricky part was always going to be the middle order batting. It was a question of who will cover up for the in-form No 4 batter. As it happens when a big partnership is broken, skipper MS Dhoni was out for a duck.
Still, there could be no excuse for such a defeat. Compare it to what happened at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in the last match and the reversal was all the more painful to take for the Indian supporters in attendance at Manuka Oval. There, Maxwell had singlehandedly taken his team home with a selfless 96, there was the full army to come and a handful to come and yet they couldn’t cross the line.
As India collapsed dramatically in the final period of play to gift another win to Australia the stunned reaction on the faces of their fans told the story. None was more poignant than a young girl from an Indian family crying inconsolably, unable to bear the collapse and her father struggling to comfort her.
There is no better chaser in world cricket than Kohli, with this being his 15th hundred batting second, but from that position, with the setback of Dhoni, the star batsman should have ensured he was there till the end to take the team through. He fell to a soft dismissal, offering a simple catch to mid-off.
Then too, there were enough batters in the hut and so few to get. Both Gurkeerat Mann and Rishi Dhawan showed a lack of awareness of the situation, playing wild shots to lose their wickets with senior partner, Ravindra Jadeja at the other end.
On his part, Jadeja didn’t play the role of the senior well where he should have spoken to the junior partners and given them a gameplan of what they had to do. He seemed content in playing his own game at one end.
It was amazing to watch how a couple of wickets can transform the whole scenario. The Australian bowling attack which had looked completely flat on the placid wicket, suddenly came alive. Kane Richardson and John Hasting started bowling with confidence and purpose to tighten their team’s grip on the match with each over. Richardson, who looked so innocuous against Kohli and Dhawan during their partnership, finished with a five-wicket haul to walk away with the man of the match.
Australia have never lost defending more than 300 on home soil and they have to thank the Indian batsmen, more than their bowlers, that the record is still intact after Wednesday.