After losing the first three ODIs against India, all Australia could play for was pride and perhaps regain some momentum ahead of the summer's Ashes.
Openers David Warner and Aaron Finch — aided by some clinical death bowling — ensured a 21-run consolation victory in Bangalore breaking what was a streak of 11 consecutive ODI losses overseas for Steve Smith's men.
But on Sunday, they slumped to another emphatic defeat to the World No 1 ODI team. Virat Kohli and his feisty men owned Australia 4-1.
Smith and Co are, of course, no strangers to humiliation on overseas tours. They were clean swept 0-5 by the Proteas just last year. But that was all water under the bridge after they trounced New Zealand 3-0 and Pakistan 4-1 in consequent ODI series at home.
Following another heavy defeat in India, the angry media and the frustrated fans will come down on Smith's men like a ton of bricks. But if the Aussies vanquish the Poms, the loss will be buried in oblivion. If they don't, heads will roll as an ‘Argus review’ rakes over the Ashes.
So, let's take a look at how each of the Aussies fared in India (and assess whether they are a likely starter for the Ashes 2017-18 opener on 23 November)
David Warner: 7/10 (Matches: 5; Runs: 245, Avg: 49. 50s 1, 100s 1)
It’s no secret that the Australian ODI side is top heavy and overly reliant on David Warner to set the pace of the innings. Australia’s chances of starting confidently on the tour suffered because the aggressive left-hander failed to get going straight away. In the first two ODIs, Warner succumbed to the wrist spin of Kuldeep Yadav and the swing of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Australia’s chase thus faltered.
The team’s sole victory came riding on Warner’s 14th ODI ton. Severe on the pacers and spinners — smashing 12 fours and four sixes — he became the eighth batsman to score a century in his 100th ODI.
Ashes XI? Yes, unquestionably!
Aaron Finch: 8/10 (Matches 3; Runs: 250, Avg: 83.33, 50s 1, 100s 1)
After recovering from the calf injury which ruled him out of the first two ODIs, Finch announced his return to the side in commanding style. With scores of 124, 94 and 32, he was the highest run scorer for Australia in the series and scored the equal highest number of boundaries (along with Rohit Sharma), clobbering eight sixes and 28 fours. All this, despite only featuring in three games.
He gave solid starts in each game but, unfortunately, the middle order failed to cash in. His 231-run opening stand with Warner helped set up what was ultimately a match-winning total in the fourth ODI.
Ashes XI? No, questionable first-class record.
Hilton Cartwright: 1/10 (Matches: 2; Runs: 2, Avg: 1)
Cartwright was forced to open the innings in Finch’s absence in the first two ODIs and the all-rounder was like a fish out of water. He may be an able middle-order batsman but promoting him as an opener — in especially hostile conditions — was a serious selection blunder. He may have a commendable first-class record but he hardly looked comfortable in coloured clothing.
Ashes XI? No. Not a genuine all-rounder.
Steve Smith: 5.5/10 (Matches: 5; Runs: 142, Avg: 28.40, 50s 2)
This was a harrowing series by Steve Smith’s batting standards. Scores of 1, 59, 63, 3 and 16 are quite unlike the Australian skipper who usually leads from the front. Though he got starts, he failed to capitalise on them triggering frequent middle-order collapses throughout the five-match series.
Usually one of Australia's best fielders, Smith dropped some crucial catches at key moments in the first three ODIs.
His captaincy, too, is currently going through a difficult phase and has drawn criticism from even his predecessor, Michael Clarke. In the final ODI, when Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane were taking the game away from Australia, Smith failed to set aggressive fields despite leg-spinner Adam Zampa inducing the edges of both batsmen.
Smith admitted he wasn't feeling great at the start of the series. Whatever it is, Australia will sincerely hope he works it out before England come a-knocking.
Ashes XI? Yes. World No 1 Test batsman.
Travis Head: 4.5/10 (Matches: 5, Runs: 119, Avg: 23.80)
Head was another batsman guilty of not converting his starts into bigger scores. After Bhuvneshwar Kumar dismissed the openers cheaply in the second ODI, the left-hander shored up Australia’s chase with his skipper but then gifted his wicket hitting a juicy full-toss from Yuzvendra Chahal straight to mid-wicket.
With a series strike-rate of around 80, the left-hander could never quite put the pedal on the gas in the slog overs. Even his off-spin failed to make an impact during the series.
Ashes XI? No. Lacks consistency.
Peter Handscomb: 5.5/10 (Matches: 3, Runs: 59, Avg: 9.66)
Australia called up Handscomb to join the squad as cover for the injured Finch. Midway, with the series on the line, he replaced Matthew Wade as wicket-keeper. It was another one of those selection blunders we are so used to seeing. When Wade was brought back for the final two ODIs, he kept out Glenn Maxwell to bring stability to the middle-order. He made a handy contribution of 43 off 30 in the fourth ODI to help Australia cross 300. Handscomb deserves a longer run to truly test his limited-over potential.
Ashes XI? Yes. Thanks to a formidable summer last year.
Glenn Maxwell: 4.5/10 (Matches: 3, Runs: 58, Avg: 19.33)
They say mistakes make for great teachers but with Glenn Maxwell, the adage seems untrue. Call it impulsiveness, poor judgment or sheer intransigence, the dynamic batsman keeps repeating the same mistakes and is often the first to get dropped when Australia's fortunes suffer. With scores of 39, 14 and 5, Maxwell fell to the leg spin of Yuzvendra Chahal on all three occasions and the selectors are not the most patient lot. With the capacity to fascinate and frustrate in equal measure, Mark Waugh and Co need to come to terms with the the Victorian all-rounder's sporadic brilliance.
Australia felt his absence in the last two ODIs when a platform had been set for a batsman like Maxwell to cash in during the slog overs. But alas, they couldn't.
Maxwell is perhaps forever doomed to repeat the same mistakes but when he's not demoralising bowling attacks, he's taking a one-handed stunner or defending two runs in the last over to bowl Aussies to victory. So, his dynamism and resourcefulness warrants him a place in the team for the foreseeable future.
Ashes XI? No, unless for some inexplicable reason, it's moved to the subcontinent.
Marcus Stoinis: 6/10 (Matches: 5, Runs: 153, Wickets: 2, Avg: 76.50, 50s: 1)
Stoinis continues to improve with the bat and gave Australia hope in the second ODI when it felt like there was none. But he was left hanging just like in Eden Park in February this year. He may not have knocked our socks off with his performances but he could become a mainstay in the side in a year. He's also a handy, if not reliable, medium pacer with an array of variations up his sleeve. He'll be yearning to impress for Western Australia in the upcoming Sheffield Shield season and put his name forward for the No 6 spot in the Test side.
Ashes XI? No, not a finished product yet.
Matthew Wade: 1.5/10 (Matches: 4, Runs: 34, Avg: 11.33; Catches: 3, Stumpings: 0)
"How can Matthew Wade be the first choice gloveman in a country that's produced Ian Healy, Adam Gilchrist and Brad Haddin?", is a question that's frequently asked by the more informed cricket fans. With a string of single-digit scores, the clock is ticking on Australia's premier wicketkeeper as his batting, more than keeping, remains under constant scrutiny. The selectors' persistence with Wade defies logic and reason but the ODI series loss to India may just be the final nail in the coffin.
Ashes XI? Hell NO!
James Faulkner: 4/10 (Matches: 2, Runs: 44, Wicket: 1, Avg: 44)
After being omitted from the Champions Trophy squad, the ODI series was Faulkner's first opportunity to make a noteworthy comeback. He was smashed to all parts by MS Dhoni in the first ODI in Chennai and was relegated to the bench. Faulkner was recalled in the final ODI but again failed to make an impact finishing with figures of 0-37 off 5.5 overs. His batting in the series hardly inspired confidence in the selectors.
Faulkner first rose to prominence on Australia's previous tour of India in 2013 and had earned the sobriquet "The Finisher" for his Michael Bevan-like exploits. He was even the Man of the match in the 2015 World Cup final. But the all-rounder's form has since dwindled due to a chronic knee injury and a lack of confidence.
Ashes XI? Not quite there yet.
Ashton Agar: 5/10 (Matches: 2, Wickets: 2)
Critical of Adam Zampa’s bowling in the first ODI, Smith brought in Agar. In the second ODI, the 23-year-old delivered nine overs for 54 before cramping up in the heat and humidity of Kolkata. In Indore, his figures were partially spoilt by the big-hitting Hardik Pandya and a dropped chance. To make matters worse, he fractured his right little finger while fielding and was ruled out of the remaining ODIs.
Ashes XI? Maybe in Sydney.
Pat Cummins: 7/10 (Matches: 5, Wickets: 4)
While it is astonishing that Cummins's body has withstood such a heavy workload this year, it is shocking that he doesn’t have a lot of wickets to show for it. He bowled some pretty aggressive, combative spells throughout the series and was regularly clocking over 150km/hr in some pretty hostile weather conditions.
Ashes XI? A resounding yes. Big Four and all.
Nathan Coulter-Nile: 8.5/10 (Matches: 5, Wickets: 10)
After a dreadful run of injuries, Coulter-Nile spearheaded the Australian bowling attack commendably in the absence of Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood. The leading wicket-taker in the series, he troubled the Indian batsmen with pace and adequate lateral movement. He could have had more if his skipper caught better in the series.
The right-arm fast bowler was chiefly responsible for Kohli having a relatively quiet series dismissing him on three occasions. Kohli, in his efforts to run the ball down to third man, played it onto his stumps as Coulter-Nile got the ball to seam back in ever-so-slightly.
Ashes XI? Yes. A certain bolter.
Kane Richardson: 8/10 (Matches: 3, Wickets: 7)
Coming into the side in place of Faulkner, Kane Richardson exhibited a more effective array of variations than the Tasmanian all-rounder. He was the second leading wicket taker in the series despite having playing only three games.
Richardson’s skill was on full display in the fourth ODI when he took the pace off the ball to bag the crucial wickets of Kedar Jadhav and Dhoni and seal Australia’s solitary win.
Ashes XI? No. Way down the pecking order.
Adam Zampa: 5.5/10 (Matches: 3, Wickets: 4)
One of the more intriguing matchups of the series was Zampa vs Pandya. Though the Australian leggie dismissed the Indian all-rounder in two out of the three ODIs, he was smashed for plenty as his economy rate close to 7 shows.
While Zampa would surely love to bowl with long straight boundaries, like at the Adelaide Oval where he plies his trade for South Australia, he needs to figure out ways to restrict a rampaging batsman from tonking him all over the park.
While he began to vary his pace and length well as the series progressed, he still bowled the odd full toss or long hop relieving the pressure built by the other bowlers.
He needs to work on his consistency and become a more reliable, attacking option for Australia in the middle overs.
Ashes XI? No. Poor first-class record.