India beaten in battle of strategies
Two entirely different ODI philosophies came up against each other, and the more attacking one, the clearer one, won. Matthew Wade, David Hussey and Michael Hussey played the important knocks that gave Australia a target to defend, but the real difference between the sides was in their bowling attacks.
Australia went all out against the India batsmen, not bothering about the odd wide or about the odd streaky shot. India had two fast bowlers who rely more on control than pace; they did well between them, perhaps exceeded themselves in bowling the first 11 overs for 35 runs, but were followed by a collection of spinners, who on most Australian pitches will remain a defensive strategy.
It didn't help that India were caught by surprise by the extent of the rain, and were suddenly left with just three overs of pace once the rain subsided. How much can rain be blamed is a different matter altogether. India knew it was going to rain, which is why they fielded first, but left themselves open to the prospect of 30 - even more - overs of spin, knowing full well how average R Ashwin has been for the better part of the tour.
MS Dhoni said he made the choice because the resources are sparse. Zaheer Khan is injured again - Dhoni didn't mention which of the knees - but is expected to be available for the Perth ODI against Sri Lanka. Irfan Pathan, Dhoni said, would make it three bowlers bowling at 130kph or even slower. Umesh Yadav has been rested. He last bowled on January 27, which gives him eight days to recover.
Dhoni doesn't have an enviable supply of bowling resources at his disposal, but this is nothing but a restrictive mindset, which works better in subcontinent conditions where the pitches are more responsive even to part-time spinners. The margin of error is little for spinners here despite the big playing fields, and the slow bowlers today transgressed that margin merrily, going for 154 runs in 17 overs between them.
Dhoni was severe on them. "We were two bowlers short [today - Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja]. Two bowlers went for a lot of runs. You bowl loose deliveries, but there are certain deliveries that are so loose that will always go for a boundary. Today we bowled quite a few of those. Even though the field was big, I think the execution wasn't really great."
India will need to re-examine the subcontinent strategy of playing with an army of part-time spinners on these pitches. "Of course if plan A doesn't work, you have to go with plan B," Dhoni said. "We also have to see the resources we have got. We don't have a fast-bowling allrounder. Irfan [Pathan] is a part of the side, but he has just come in.
"We will also have to see if we can have variation in the bowling. If you have the same bowling line-up, in the sense, if you have all bowlers bowling below 130, you don't have the kind of variation needed. You have to decide if it is better to play with three seamers or sticking to three spinners. With pace comes the opportunity to score runs, so you have to be very consistent if you have to score fast."
Australia didn't need any Plan B with the ball. They did with the bat, but they handled it pretty well. They had an ordinary start when they were given nothing to hit by the new-ball bowlers, but Wade took India on just after the rain break, and the Hussey brothers shredded the spinners. It was striking how their bowlers went after India's top order.
That was their Plan A, to reopen some of the Test wounds. Ryan Harris hurried through with aggression, Mitchell Starc swung the ball, and got Gautam Gambhir out with the short one again. The better part was when Rohit Sharma scored a streaky yet run-a-ball 21, Australia didn't step back despite this being just a 32-over game. Harris even bowled a wide trying to get into the ribs of Gambhir, but didn't mind it.
Australia know the conditions well, they are playing according to them. India have a fair knowledge of the conditions having spent more than a month in the country, but through bull-headedness or through lack of resources, they are trying to make things work the only way they know. If it does work, they will have truly outdone themselves.
Amid all this, India's new young batsmen, who have been the talking point over the last month and a half because of the non-performance of the seniors, are out in the limelight again. Suresh Raina has been bounced out again, and a premeditative Rohit didn't look convincing at all. All the youngsters have lifted the look of the side with their fielding, but they know will have to score more than they save in the field.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo