A strong bounce-back was always on the cards given the resilience of this Indian side, but the manner in which they raised themselves in Rajkot against a formidable Australian team after the drubbing in Wankhede was a tribute to their character and skills.
Not for the first time, the tempo was set by Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, who looked in especially wonderful touch. When Shikhar is purring along, he makes a telling impact and right from the time he drove his first ball from Mitchell Starc down the ground, he was in top gear. His assault on Ashton Agar’s left-arm spin was both calculated and essential.
Virat Kohli, rightly back at No. 3, played like only he can. Not only did he score quickly but gave Shikhar as much of the strike as possible when the latter was taking Agar apart. That speaks to Virat’s situational awareness, something that singles him out from among the best.
There was a danger of the innings going the Wankhede way when Shikhar and Shreyas Iyer fell in quick succession, but KL Rahul produced the innings of his fledgling ODI career. It’s never easy to be moved up and down the order, and Rahul would have mentally bargained for a longer run as opener after his success against West Indies last month.
At No. 5, where he was batting for only the second time, he had to make technical and mental adjustments, which he managed brilliantly. He did move around the crease but never tried to over-hit the ball, which augmented his timing and his placement. The six over cover off Starc was a treat for sore eyes, a stroke of rare beauty pulled off effortlessly.
341 was a steep target but India needed to bowl well upfront. Jasprit Bumrah was at his excellent best in his four-over new-ball burst, especially against Aaron Finch, while Manish Pandey reiterated the value of game-turning fielding with a sensational catch to pack off David Warner.
Rahul’s electric stumping to evict Finch was another decisive moment, and even though Australia was in the hunt through the admirable Steve Smith and the impressive Marnus Labuschagne, Smith’s dismissal by Kuldeep Yadav turned the tide emphatically in India’s favour. Thereafter, Mohammad Shami and Navdeep Saini, getting better with each outing, stood out in the death with their yorkers to fashion an excellent win.
The stage is set for an exciting climax in Bengaluru. I feel the team that bowls better will come out trumps, on what traditionally is an excellent batting surface.