It is the 25th over of Australia's chase, David Warner has just holed out to deep midwicket for 56 off 84 balls. Australia need a further 219 runs at 8.79 runs an over. On the other end is Steve Smith, well-set on 31. He has been given the role to anchor the innings. As Warner exits the arena, all eyes roll across to the Australian dressing window. Everyone expects Glenn Maxwell. This is a situation that demands Maxwell. Australia need him and so do the game. But the Australian think-tank defies cricketing logic and sends in Usman Khawaja.
In the next seven overs, Australia score 32 runs. It takes Khawaja 20 balls to hit his first boundary; by then the asking rate has already crept over 10. Maxwell is still sitting in the dugout. With each ball, the required run-rate rises. Khawaja finally connects a few sweeps and Smith is also shifting gears, but Australia need the vigorous force like the one Hardik Pandya provided for India.
The acceleration that is required never arrives. Khawaja finally perishes to an adventurous paddle. He has scored 42 from 37 balls. He has added 69 from 72 balls with Smith, but the partnership highlights the deficiencies and bizarre strategies in place. It can be easy to blame Khawaja, but the truth is that he has not been selected to play the ‘basher' role. In hindsight, there is only one man and that is Maxwell.
As Khawaja departs, Maxwell finally arrives in the middle. The large electric scored displays the improbable equation — Australia need 151 runs from 80 balls with 7 wickets in hand. The task is astronomical, even for Maxwell. He carves out a few boundaries, but the horse has already been bolted. Social media has already erupted. The target of 353 has exposed Australia's frailties.
Before the loss to India, Australia have won 10 matches on the trot, so the cracks had not been out in the open. Suddenly, with one loss, there are recurring questions. Is Maxwell the single source of energy in the middle order? Can Smith and Khawaja be in the same playing XI, given they play a similar role and does Warner need to be more expansive at the start?
Australia didn't need all their armour against Afghanistan, and if Nathan Coulter-Nile had not played the innings of his life against the West Indies, there would be more queries about the batting order. Australia clearly got it wrong against India. But 300-plus totals will need to be chased if Australia are to achieve the lofty heights of 2015 and relying solely on Maxwell is not the solution.
Opposition teams are bound to study how India meticulously unravelled Australia with bat and ball. On Sunday, Warner, Smith, and Khawaja all played a comparable role. One of them needed to be dynamic. Perhaps it was the reckless shots the top order played against the West Indies that affected their minds. But chasing 353 needed a more assertive approach. To make matters worse, there are no quick remedies. Shaun Marsh is also a builder and not a thrasher, so the approach needs to be changed and the players need to be more flexible. Australia could afford to be regimented against weaker oppositions, but teams such as India or England will test them.
Like the batting, the bowling also lacks depth. The minute Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan walked out to the middle, they had one task in mind: Forget the runs just don't get out to the opening spell from Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins. Other teams are bound to mirror that tactic. The reason for that is Australia's second tier bowling in Nathan Coulter-Nile, Adam Zampa and Marcus Stoinis can be milked for runs without having to take too many risks.
Coincidently, a large part of Australia's success in the last 10 matches had been built upon Zampa taking wickets in the middle. On Sunday, Dhawan made it a personal mission to unsettle him and it put an extra burden on the likes of Stoinis, Coulter-Nile, and Maxwell. Teams will look to imitate India, and Australia need to find a solution.
The 10-match winning streak has been broken and perhaps this is the loss Australia needed to rectify a few issues. India have shown other teams how to undo Australia with a simple and concise plan. The onus is now on Australia to devise an alternative solution.