India need to manufacture a Powerplay
Around the time it became certain Australia were going to seal the series in Melbourne, a brilliantly funny tweet was retweeted 67 times. It showed a very young Rohit Sharma on a motorbike, Virat Kohli was riding pillion and the caption said: "Humse aur nahi hoga bhai, chal India wapas. [Brother, we can't do anymore, let's go back to India.]" All it needed was a sidecar with Ajinkya Rahane.
India have been on this treadmill of putting on 300 and failing to defend it, and every time the captain and the critics have asked the batsmen for more runs. In the absence of Mohammed Shami, their best ODI quick over the last two years, and with their throwing arms exposed ruthlessly by the Australian batsmen and their large outfields, India's helplessness has never been more obvious than when MS Dhoni asked for 30 more runs from the batsmen instead of improvement from his bowlers.
On a slower and drier MCG pitch the batsmen gave them 295, and India made a fist of it, but their fielding and bowling let them down at crucial moments again.
The scrutiny, however, was on the dot balls Rohit Sharma faced, when he has been the one batsman making up for slow starts like a fiend. The big hitting of Ajinkya Rahane was dissected and the absence of Suresh Raina was rued. Everybody has sort of given up on the bowlers.
And India's batsmen are like the elder ones among quarrelling brothers and they are being told, "Beta tu toh bada hai, tu hi samajh ja [Son, you are the elder one, you please understand.]" You are among the best in the world, so please score 20 more. The question is, where do the batsmen get them from? It is extra pressure, Dhoni has made that clear, but it is not impossible.
Let's examine the options. Rahane came in to bat with the score at 134 for 2 in the 27th over. Eleven months ago, at the same venue, Rahane walked in at 136 for 2 in the 28th over against a far more threatening South African attack in the World Cup. He batted till the 46th over, struck 79 off 60 and fell with India's score at 278. In this match he got out in the 45th over, having made 50 off 55, with India at just 243. Back then India reached 307 despite a stutter in the end; here they were kept to 295 despite a powerful kick from Dhoni's nine-ball 23.
The big difference was the Powerplay. It was still a thing at the World Cup and India took 44 runs from five overs heading into the final 10.
But since the Powerplay has been abolished from ODI cricket, India have struggled to stay abreast with other teams. Dhoni had himself brought up the issue when, despite Rohit Sharma's 150, India failed to chase 304 in Kanpur. In that game, India scored just 20 runs between the 35th and 40th overs, when batting Powerplay would have normally been on.
With the change in rules, the last 10 overs, especially batting first, are not as critical as they used to be. Five fielders are allowed outside the 30-yard circle and teams can't bank on getting 120 runs every time. Batsmen now need to look at overs 30 to 40 to accelerate.
This is the time when there is one less boundary rider to worry about. It is some time in these overs that India need to create a Powerplay in their head. If a wicket falls, they should send a hitter in because, as Dhoni said, there is no need for one in the last 10 overs. Especially on these vast Australian outfields, where 80 runs can be scored by just knocking the ball around and the odd boundary, which is precisely what Dhoni can do.
So when India's captain asked for extra runs, you would have expected the batsmen to look for them between overs 30 and 40. In Melbourne, only 60 runs were added in these overs. In Brisbane and in Perth, an identical 67.
India have been playing the first block of each game perfectly, especially with a shaky lower-middle order to follow. Their scores of 149 for 1, 166 for 2 and 147 for 2 at the end of 30 overs are testament to their quick scoring without losing wickets and under the pressure of knowing there isn't much to follow. If, at some point before the 40th over, they can manufacture a Powerplay in their minds, possibly pick on a particular bowler, they may be able to get those extra 20 runs before going into the final overs.
Aaron Finch and Shaun Marsh did just that a couple of days ago and Australia went from 93 to 135 in three overs. It is not how India batsmen - more traditional and correct, who like to eliminate risk by following a method - like to bat, but their bowling and their fielding demand those extra runs be scored.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo