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India's atypical attack mode fails against Australia's spinners

India have a long history of playing ODI cricket around their method of taking games deep, but batters were out going for big shots against Australia

Deivarayan Muthu
Virat Kohli has just brought up a typically risk-free half-century. A massive roar reverberates around Chennai's newly-renovated MA Chidambaram Stadium. There are no signs of dew and the ball is gripping and turning sharply for Australia's slower bowlers, but a Kohli century seems almost inevitable. At the other end, Hardik Pandya has run away to 28 off 20 balls. India are 185 for 4 in 35 overs, chasing 270, with batting all the way down to Ravindra Jadeja at No.8.
Kohli then collapses his back knee and atypically hits the ball in the air, despite not reaching the pitch of an Ashton Agar delivery that breaks away from him. He looks to take on deep cover, but ends up plopping the ball much straighter to long-off for 54 off 72 balls. Kohli usually takes these chases deep and kills them off, but this time he has veered from his approach and holed out. David Warner pumps his fist after taking the catch and Australia captain Steven Smith pulls his collar up; Chepauk is hushed.
The pitch plays more tricks. A skidder from Agar keeps low and storms through the defences of Suryakumar Yadav, who bags his third straight golden duck in the series. Hardik, too, holes out while trying to hit a six, leaving the door ajar for Australia. The visitors capitalise and consign India to their third bilateral ODI series defeat since 2015.
Hardik and Adam Zampa have some history: six years ago, Hardik had said he could hit a six off Zampa anytime he wanted to. But Zampa is at the peak of his powers now. Since the end of the 2019 ODI World Cup, no spinner from a Full Member nation has more wickets than his 66, and only Alzarri Joseph (69) has more wickets during this period. In Chennai, both Zampa and Agar were getting some balls to spin viciously from the line of the stumps.
With the asking rate hovering around eight and with Jadeja at the other end, Hardik could have seen out Zampa's last two overs and targeted the medium-pace of Marcus Stoinis, who ended up bowling the 48th and 50th overs. With Mitchell Marsh playing as a specialist batter this series, Australia did not have a sixth-bowling option. However, despite the presence of a straight long-on, wide long-on and deep midwicket, Hardik throws his hands into a low-percentage slog against a Zampa legbreak and slices a catch to extra-cover. KL Rahul and Jadeja are also dismissed trying to hit Zampa for a six.
India captain Rohit Sharma wasn't too critical of India's uncharacteristic batting approach, but he called for greater application on tricky tracks like the one at Chepauk.
"No, I don't think it was too many runs," Rohit told Star Sports at the post-match presentation. "The wicket was a little challenging towards the second half, but I didn't think we batted well. The moment we thought we had a partnership, we lost a wicket. So, yeah when you want to win games like this, partnerships are crucial and it's something that we failed to do today.
"A bit of both [the nature of the wicket and manner of dismissals] actually disappointed me. You're born and brought up playing on these kinds of wickets, so sometimes it will be challenging, but it's important to apply yourself and try and give yourself a chance. We were not chasing 300, we were chasing 270. After the start we got, it was important for one batter to carry [on] as long as possible and take the game deep. But, again, having said that, we know these things can happen and all of us were trying our best to go out and achieve that, but it just didn't happen."
At the press conference, Rohit said the team management would not judge the batters based on the batting malfunction on Wednesday. "If you look at the last few overs, it was probably a run-a-ball or probably more than that," Rohit said. "So someone has to take a chance. We didn't want to wait till the end for the last couple of overs. We've always spoken of playing a little fearlessly and if someone feels like they can take the bowlers on, we've given them complete freedom to go and do that. And while doing that, there's a big possibility that they might not be able to achieve what they want to achieve, which is fair. Which is fine by us.
"You will learn from that and we will definitely not judge [players] based on a couple of poor shots. All these guys have a lot of potential and they can play shots whenever they want and we want to encourage them to go out and do that quite often."
India have a history of winning ODIs with their tried-and tested method of taking games deep, and perhaps the batting failure in Chennai was just an anomaly.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo