India 281 for 7 in 50 overs (Pandya 83, Dhoni 79, Coulter-Nile 3-44) beat Australia 137 for 9 in 21 overs (Maxwell 39, Chahal 3-30, Pandya 2-28) by 26 runs (DLS method) Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Hardik Pandya, who has one century and one five-for in professional cricket, continued to make mockery of conventional selection principles as he single-handedly won India the first ODI of the series. On a pitch with more bounce than an average Indian ODI surface, Pandya's sensational six-hitting combined with MS Dhoni's pragmatism to lift India from 87 for 5 to 281, but persistent drizzle converted the 282-run target into a theoretically-easier 164 in 21 overs. Pandya then introduced the world to his knuckle ball to send back Steven Smith and Travis Head.
Smith had a rare shocker of a match, dropping two catches at slip, including Pandya, who went on to score 83 off 67 balls, and made Adam Zampa his fourth victim of three successive sixes in three months in international cricket. When Smith came out to bat, he looked to blast everything out of the ground, displaying uncharacteristic panic before failing to pick the knuckle ball and falling to an excellent catch by Jasprit Bumrah at short fine leg.
The two wristspinners, Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, then did their bit in the middle overs to shut the chase out. Kuldeep followed a ripping legbreak with a cross-seam delivery to account for David Warner, making it 35 for 4 in eight overs. Glenn Maxwell then hit four sixes in 18 balls to raise Australia's hopes, but this time Yuzvendra Chahal outsmarted him with a wide legbreak that he could only mistime to long-on. That, at 76 for 5 in 12 overs, was game over for all practical purposes.
It was Maxwell in the first half of the match that started Australia's ascendancy with a sensational catch to send back Virat Kohli, who had chosen to bat first expecting the pitch to slow down considerably in the chase. This came just after reserve opener Ajinkya Rahane had fallen to extra bounce on a drive.
Like Rahane, Kohli, too, drove at Nathan Coulter-Nile, getting a thick edge, which seemed to be sailing over point before Maxwell jumped and hung on, like plucking stationery fruit from a branch. Two balls later, Coulter-Nile soon made it 11 for 3 with the scalp of India's new No. 4 Manish Pandey.
It could have been worse had Smith done his bit in a near-perfect over bowled by Pat Cummins just before Kohli's dismissal. Cummins troubled Rohit Sharma through the over before delivering the coup de grace with the edge on the last ball, but Smith couldn't latch on at second slip. Rohit failed to cash in on that life. As did Kedar Jadhav after a good start. Both fell - for 28 and 40 respectively - to short balls from Marcus Stoinis, one of three allrounders in the Australian line-up.
India's next man in was their only allrounder. He walked in to join the man who might as well have been the only one batting for the Chennai crowd. Dhoni is captain, the thala, as far as Chennai is concerned. Even though Dhoni played sedately - as the situation demanded - his every move drew big cheers from the crowd. Making potentially decisive moves was Smith, bringing back first Cummins and then Coulter-Nile to actively look for wickets and not just wait for them.
In his first over back, the 28th of the innings, Coulter-Nile duly produced the edge for his captain, but Smith was up too early at slip, and let it through for four runs. Had he held on, Pandya would have been dismissed for 13 off 18. Instead Coulter-Nile was through his middle-overs spell, and Smith had to eventually go back to Zampa in the 33rd over.
Pandya fancied Zampa immediately, winding up to each of the three deliveries he faced from him first up. All three were too full for him to hit in the air so he got singles down the ground. In the 37th over, though, Pandya found the perfect length to hit, but only after nearly falling in freakish manner.
To the second ball of this over, Australia had a straight mid-on despite there being long-on and long-off behind him, a fielding position Dhoni has previously used for big straight hitters such as Pandya's Mumbai Indians team-mate Kieron Pollard. Pandya managed to chip a full toss just over the man's outstretched hand. The fielder was removed after that ball.
With the next three balls it wouldn't have mattered where the fielders were as Pandya found each of them to be in his swinging arc and hit them clean and straight for sixes. He did the same to a Stoinis slower ball later before Smith backed Zampa to bowl another over with Pandya still unbeaten. Pandya managed another six off him before Zampa found a bit of drift, making him go across the line towards midwicket, and getting an edge for short third man to gobble.
The Chennai crowd had let itself be wooed by a man other than Dhoni momentarily, but after Pandya's brilliance, the focus was back on the original darling. At 207 for 6 in the 41st over, it was now time for Dhoni to tee off. And tee off he did, although smartly, as he took 39 off the last 22 balls he faced.
He had not hit a four in the first 66 balls he faced for 40 runs, but now he laid into James Faulkner, the weak link in that attack. So deliberate was Dhoni's innings that outside the one top-edged hook off Coulter-Nile, he hit boundaries only off Faulkner.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar provided Dhoni ample support with 32 off 30 before giving India a good start in the defence, cramping up his Sunrisers Hyderabad captain David Warner with movement back in. Australia's allrounders-filled line-up panicked in the face of the tight start and threw their bats at everything.
Only Maxwell tasted reasonable success, hitting Kuldeep for three successive sixes, but by then his team-mates had left him no room for error. The error arrived through the only big hit he attempted off a wide ball, ending Australia's challenge in a match that they would have thought they had secured at various points.