It is an indictment of how skewed the contest between bat and ball has become that for 2961 ODIs, no batsman broke the 200-run barrier and now three have done it in the last 467 matches. Rohit Sharma was the latest entrant to the club, after Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag, and he hit 16 sixes - a world record - during a ransacking of Australia in the deciding match of a series that bowlers on both sides will be glad to leave behind. Incredibly, Australia lost because they were out of wickets and not time.
India hit 19 sixes as they racked up 383; Australia replied with 326, the ninth time in 11 innings that a team passed 300 this series. And though they lost by a sizeable margin in the end, they did not lose the six-hitting contest. Australia matched India in raining blows over the Chinnaswamy Stadium's tiny boundaries and together they smashed the record for the most sixes in a one-day international. India and New Zealand had hit 31 in Christchurch in 2009; India and Australia hit a numbing 38 today. And 29 balls remained unused. Vinay Kumar's 1 for 102 in nine overs were the worst figures by an Indian in an ODI; Glenn Maxwell and Shane Watson were close to owning the record for the quickest 50 by an Australian, and James Faulkner's 57-ball 100 was his country's fastest ODI century. It was hard to make sense of it all.
The madness began with Rohit. For a batsman to have the opportunity of making a double-century in 50 overs, stars need to align, and they did today. Apart from the playing conditions that already favour run-making, George Bailey put India in on an easy-paced pitch and a Lilliputian outfield, the weather was cool and the humidity low, and Australia had sent home Mitchell Johnson, then lost Watson to injury in the middle of his spell, while their remaining bowlers sent down a variety of pies. Rohit had the necessary luck too, when on 120 he was dropped at deep square leg by the substitute Moises Henriques, who parried the ball over the boundary to worsen the six count.
Rohit might have felt the need to compensate his team and the crowd for running out Virat Kohli, the hottest batting talent in India at the moment, for a duck. He and MS Dhoni plundered 167 runs off 94 balls for the fifth wicket. India scored 151 in the last ten overs, of which 101 came in the last five. Rohit had gone past 100 off 114 balls. And then he went past 200 off his 156th delivery. It was difficult to recall that Rohit had played the supporting act during his sixth century stand in 19 innings with Shikhar Dhawan, their third such opening partnership of this series. And that he had to overcome a testing period, when Dhawan was trapped lbw in the 19th over and Kohli run out in the next.
Despite India having gone past 100 in 15.1 overs, a whole new level of carnage began from the 26th, when Rohit waylaid the spinners, launching Xavier Doherty and Maxwell repeatedly into the stands between square leg and long-on. When the quicks returned, they repeated their errors of bowling both sides of the wicket, and Rohit continued driving and flicking over the leg-side boundary, while also driving fours and sixes between point and long-off. His smooth stroke-play was in contrast to Dhoni's brutal blows, which included a helicoptered six that flew over the roof at long-on.
At the start of the final over, Rohit was on 197. He brought up his double by driving Clint McKay over the cover boundary, and sent the next one over midwicket to claim the record for most sixes in an innings.
When Australia had slipped to 74 for 4 in the 17th over of the chase, with Watson hamstrung in the dressing room, India looked like coasting to victory. But out came Maxwell, wielding his bat like a hammer. He hit his first ball for six, and then pillaged Vinay to sprint to 28 off 6 balls. He swiped and slugged his way to equalling Simon O'Donnell's 18-ball record for the fastest Australian half-century, and eventually fell for 60 off 22 deliveries.
Then came the wounded Watson, his penchant for six-hitting increased by injury, his anger stoked by Dhawan's graceless mocking of his hobbling between the wickets. He too vandalised Vinay for 22 in an over, and was in the running to beat Maxwell and O'Donnell, before he was caught for 49 off 22 at short third man, off Dhoni's thigh.
The most astonishing performance of the day, however, came from Faulkner, who added 115 runs with McKay for the ninth wicket. At one point, when the stand was worth 57, McKay had contributed no runs to it. He plundered Vinay, for 21 runs in an over, and moved from 35 off 29 balls to a century in the next 28 deliveries to beat Matthew Hayden's record for Australia's fastest century. While Faulkner hit fours and sixes seemingly at will, the Diwali crowd fell silent and had he had a proper batsman for company, Australia may have been able to pull off one of the most improbable chases.
They needed only 67 off 48 balls when Ravindra Jadeja began to slow them down, first with a three-run over and then by bowling McKay with the final delivery of his spell. Faulkner then mis-hit the next ball, high into the night sky, and Dhawan, running fast to his right at deep midwicket, caught it superbly to give India the series 3-2.