"Now this is another fine mess you've got us into," goes the constant refrain from India's batsmen to their bowlers. At times, the mess is so huge the batsmen fail to clear it up, despite their best efforts. At times, the batsmen do such a thorough job, their refrain to the bowlers changes to, "So that's all you've got?" It was the latter occasion tonight. India's bowlers leaked 359, the same score they had in the 2003 World Cup final. Only once had a bigger target been chased in ODI history, the famous Wanderers 438 game. Leave alone 359, India had never chased even 300 successfully against Australia.
All that changed, as Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli made a mockery of the target, if a mockery can indeed be made of a target of 360. India got there with nine wickets and 39 deliveries to spare. Kohli registered the fastest ODI century by an Indian, in 52 balls. Rohit, accommodated by the team management and scrutinised by the media and fans for years, made his third hundred in 104 games, and his first since 2010. But it was Shikhar Dhawan, the golden boy of 2013, who set up the chase with a bludgeoned 95.
Dhawan and Rohit racked up 176 for the opening wicket in 26.1 overs, and Rohit and Kohli 186 for the second in only 17.2 overs. India began solidly against the fast bowlers and went through a short lull against the spinners before Dhawan hit a flurry of boundaries that more than made up for the brief let-up. During his brief career, Dhawan has made sure he makes let-offs and good fortune count. He was put down on 18 off Clint McKay and survived a very close stumping appeal on 42 against Xavier Doherty. After both reprieves, he let loose a volley of imperious strokes. He charged the fast bowlers, especially Shane Watson repeatedly, to power them through the covers. He pulled with confidence, and even the extra pace of Mitchell Johnson could not rein him in.
Rohit wasn't as free-flowing at the time but that did not take away from his contribution to the stand. He was strong through and over the covers against the quicks. He ended the fallow period of five overs for 18 runs against the spinners by stepping out and lifting Glenn Maxwell for six. Barring that insignificant sequence, Australia were never able to build any pressure, conceding boundaries regularly.
'It's absolutely deflating' - Bailey
The only challenge in front of India now was whether the rest would be able to keep up with the frenetic pace the openers had set. Kohli came in and stepped up the tempo so emphatically, the conclusion was foregone long before India arrived home.
The openers had ensured India stayed in sight of an asking-rate of over seven; Kohli made it drop rapidly. As soon as he arrived, he started stepping out and muscling sixes, against seam and spin alike. Kohli hit seven sixes in all, and on the whole, the match descended into a Twenty20-style innings where one boundary merged into each successive one with the collective impact of deflating the bowlers and rendering them almost irrelevant.
Rohit played second fiddle in both partnerships, but was always in control of the situation. As he pulled a six to move to 75, he collapsed in pain from a cramp in his leg. He's been accused of being soft, of lacking temperament, but he took treatment and nearly doubled his score. He hared back for twos as the non-striker, and celebrated an emotional and long overdue century with screams and invectives.
It was improbable to even imagine Australia losing after making 359. Their first three batsmen delivered the platform with three half-centuries and George Bailey and Glenn Maxwell savaged an already clueless India attack. Roughed up by Aaron Finch, Phillip Hughes and Shane Watson, India's bowlers leaked 96 in 8.3 overs against the fourth-wicket duo of Bailey and Maxwell, and 122 in the last ten overs. It was the first time the first five batsmen had made fifties in an ODI. But it was also to be the night India executed their highest successful chase.