Between January 2013 and the start of this series, India-Australia ODIs had produced an average first-innings score of 321. The first two ODIs bucked that high-scoring trend, with India defending 281 and then 252, but a belter of a pitch in Indore seemed set to catalyse a return to the old order. Coming back from a calf injury, Aaron Finch scored his eighth ODI hundred and put on 154 for the second wicket with Steven Smith to project visions of 350 into Australia's minds.
But thanks to their wristspinners, and then their two expert death bowlers, India kept them to 293 for 6, taking five wickets and only conceding 77 in the last 14 overs. Australia didn't get a sniff thereafter, as seventies of varying moods and tempos from Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane at the top of the order and Hardik Pandya at No. 4 led India to a series-clinching victory by five wickets, with 13 balls remaining. It was their ninth ODI win in a row, equalling their best ever sequence.
Rohit gave the chase its early fillip with an innings of gasp-inducing strokeplay. There were four sixes in his 62-ball 71, three of them off the quicks: a full one from Nathan Coulter-Nile lofted flat and straight, a bouncer from Pat Cummins hooked into the roof of the stands behind square leg, and a short ball from Kane Richardson - a reaction to seeing the batsman jump out of his crease - muscled in the same direction and out of the stadium. With his partner in such form, Rahane simply slotted into his slipstream, giving him as much of the strike as he could, and helping himself whenever the bowlers dropped short or angled down the leg side. The two added 139 in 130 balls.
Both openers fell in the space of 12 balls, and it was Pandya, rather than the incumbent Manish Pandey, who walked in at No. 4. India needed 147 from 159 balls at that point, which called for stickability rather than the ball-striking Pandya is known for. And so he proceeded to play an innings befitting the situation. He gave Ashton Agar early warning of the lengths he wasn't supposed to bowl, hitting the first balls of successive overs from the left-arm spinner over the long-on boundary, but otherwise simply looked to turn the strike over and build a partnership with Virat Kohli. He showed plenty of poise against the seamers, showing a full face to anything threatening the stumps, and it was Kohli, eventually, who got out playing a big shot at the end of a third-wicket stand of 56.
That wicket was immediately followed by that of Kedar Jadhav, who top-edged a slash off the fourth ball he faced. With India needing 88 off 88 at that point, Australia had the smallest of openings, but Pandya and Pandey closed the door with a fifth-wicket stand of 78 off 63 balls. In the end, 294 was simply not a challenging-enough target, and both captains suggested at the post-match presentation that this was a 330-340 pitch.
Australia were looking at a score in that region when they were 206 for 1 after 36 overs. At that point, Kuldeep Yadav had seemed the unlikeliest bowler to turn the match around. Finch had just hit his third six off the left-arm wristspinner, a miscued loft that might have been caught at long-off on a bigger ground. Apart from that one shot, Finch had picked Kuldeep's variations better than pretty much any Australian batsman in this series, and looked utterly in control against him. Kuldeep's figures at that point read 7-0-55-0.
And yet - perhaps reckoning that his part-timers were unlikely to do any better on this surface - Kohli persisted with Kuldeep, and he struck in his next over, Finch picking out deep midwicket with a slog-sweep.
India suddenly looked transformed. Pandya and Jasprit Bumrah kept Glenn Maxwell in check with their changes of pace, and then Yuzvendra Chahal, returning to the attack in the 41st over, dangled his legbreaks wide of off stump, inviting the batsmen to reach out and hit him against the turn. The 3.1 overs following Finch's dismissal only produced 12 runs, and Smith, jumping out to the returning Kuldeep in the 42nd over, failed to reach the pitch of a wrong'un and holed out to long-off.
Maxwell followed next ball, leaving his crease too early and giving Chahal the opportunity to slip another wide legbreak past his edge. Dhoni completed his 100th ODI stumping for India, and Chahal had dismissed Maxwell for the third time in three innings. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Bumrah took over thereafter, and Australia only scored 38 off their last six overs.
Having won the toss for the first time in the series, Smith opted to bat, and his openers were steady rather than spectacular against some controlled new-ball bowling from Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah. They recognised there was little margin for error on this pitch, and strove hard not to give the batsmen width. Both bowled largely back of a length to Finch, denying him his favourite shots through the V.
The openers saw out that period, and Warner was just beginning to look dangerous, having hit Chahal for a straight six, when Pandya bowled him with an offcutter than slid past his outside edge. Pandya did an important job through the middle overs with his cutters, cross-seam deliveries and quicker bouncers, and showed Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah the way to bowl when they eventually returned to close out the innings.
The two wristspinners, however, were able to exert far less control on Finch and Smith. Having bided his time against the new ball, Finch now took full toll whenever the spinners landed in his arc. In all, he would hit five sixes, all of them down the ground. He also preyed on the spinners' anxiety to not pitch it too full, and rocked back on a couple of occasions to muscle pulls off balls that were only slightly short.
At the other end, Smith worked the ball cleverly into leg-side gaps, the pick of his shots a pick-up flick against the turn off Chahal, made possible by his dancing footwork down the track. Two-thirds of the way into Australia's innings, the second-wicket pair looked unstoppable. It only took one little opening, however, for India to expose their batting frailties once more.