India took back their No. 1 ODI ranking by shackling Australia after yet another good start and then chasing down the possibly tricky 243 with apparent ease. India won the series 4-1 - a reversal of the scoreline in the ODIs in Australia
early last year - with just one century from their batsmen, that too in the last innings by Rohit Sharma
, but a third successive hundred-run opening partnership between Rohit and Ajinkya Rahane
India won the final match on the dry and slow Nagpur track through spin. India's spinners pulled back a bolted horse, conceding 134 for 4 in 30 overs between them; Australia's Adam Zampa released all the pressure exerted by the quicks with the new ball, conceding 48 in six insipid overs before getting Rohit out with a long hop when the match was over for all practical purposes.
For a change, Marcus Stoinis and Travis Head staged half a recovery from the strikes of the spinners, but the returning Jasprit Bumrah put in a stellar spell of death bowling, removing Stoinis, bowling a maiden in the 45th over, not conceding a single boundary in his last six overs.
Australia went from 100 for 1 to 118 for 4 to 205 for 4 to their eventual total, which was not straightforward on this pitch. However, Rohit and Rahane absorbed the good spells from Nathan Coulter-Nile and Pat Cummins at the top, before cashing in on the absence of the unwell Kane Richardson and the error-prone spin.
India, too, had to contend with the illness of Yuzvendra Chahal, but Kuldeep Yadav proved to be a more than fitting replacement, Axar Patel
returned another impressive set of figures of 3 for 38, and for the first time in his career, Kedar Jadhav bowled his full allotment of 10 overs. He also kickstarted the first collapse by adding Steven Smith to the illustrious list of batsmen he has dismissed, which includes Kane Williamson, David Warner, Angelo Mathews and Tamim Iqbal among others.
This had come after yet another rapid start by Aaron Finch and David Warner, who seemed mindful that batting was going to get difficult once spin came on. In striving for quick runs before the inevitable slowdown, Finch took one risk too many and fell to Hardik Pandya in the 12th over. Smith and Warner added 34, but Smith, who seems to have allowed the frustrations of leading a flattering side creep into his batting, played a frustrated sweep after Jadhav had gone for 11 in his first three overs. The almost underarm delivery came slowly and bounced little. Smith didn't even wait to check with Warner if he should review the lbw decision.
There would have been lots the two could have discussed in the dressing room when Warner soon miscued an intended chip over midwicket to give Axar his first wicket. The frustration that singles weren't coming easily enough showed in the aerial shots attempted. Warner had attempted it after reaching his fifty, but Peter Handscomb did so even before getting his eye in. The big sweep dragged from wide outside off only produced a fatal top edge.
Watching in the balcony, Smith couldn't hide his exasperation. You couldn't blame him. You know how ugly these Australian collapses can get. With more than half the innings to go, you wondered if they would even play the whole 50 overs out. Stoinis and Head, though, staged a recovery. They played Jadhav only down the ground, with Stoinis taking the odd risk every now and then. Stoinis did enjoy some good fortune, as he edged Axar three times without getting caught. Two of these went between MS Dhoni and Rahane, who stood a touch too wide at slip, with his left foot outside the return crease.
Stoinis began to look dangerous as the last 10 overs approached. He hit Jadhav for a four and a six in his last over, and then went after Kuldeep in the 40th. Before signing off, though, Axar sent back Head with a fast yorker, which Head had already premeditated to sweep. Then it was all down to Bumrah, who first produced just enough movement to trap Stoinis and then handcuffed the rest. Only two boundaries came in the last 10 overs, with Bhuvneshwar Kumar playing an able supporting role to Bumrah.
The value of these last few overs cannot be overstated. That even 242 was tricky showed in how Rohit struggled to get his timing for a long time. He didn't score a run off the first 14 balls he faced. He tried an ungainly heave off the 14th. Had the asking rate been higher, would he have been able to take his time and pick his targets?
How well Rohit picked his targets, though. Not one of the first 14 balls was pitched up to him. He was clearly looking uncomfortable, but when the 15th one was in his driving arc, he caressed it to the right of mid-off. The next full ball went sailing over mid-off. Coulter-Nile, the highest wicket-taker of the series, and Pat Cummins tested the openers, but ran out of support.
As the bowling errors piled on, the India openers delighted the capacity crowd in the outskirts of Nagpur. If Rahane drove on the up through covers, Rohit managed to somehow find enough timing on this low pitch to punch a short ball for a six over long-on. Twice. Despite a slow start to the series, Rohit now topped the runs chart. If there was one blemish on the victory, it was that despite his fourth straight half-century, Rahane once again perished the moment he tried to look for a higher gear.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo