There is nothing more satisfying for a team and skipper than successfully seeing through a strategy against an opposition as compelling as Australia. For Virat Kohli, it was doubly so. His on-the-fly planning despite losing the services of his experienced opening batsman fell into place brilliantly and ensured that Sunday night at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium would be a triumphant one.
The Australians are known to always come back hard against their rivals. And it was no different in this decider.
The teams were locked 1-1 before this match and India were keen to win, if only to embark on their New Zealand trip on Monday with the confidence of having beaten a challenging team.
The first impression that the visitors meant business was when they packed the team with five frontline bowlers, including two spinners. This left the run-making in the hands of the experienced trio, skipper Aaron Finch, David Warner, and Steve Smith. Then there was Marnus Labuschagne, who, Kohli observed, “is always chirpy and busy on the field.”
The first part of Kohli’s strategy was to wave Ravindra Jadeja like a red rag at the Aussie batsmen, particularly Smith (131 off 132 balls, 14x4, 1x6) and Labuschagne (54; 64b, 5x4) when they were involved in a hectic 127-run third-wicket partnership.
“We wanted to hit Jadeja out of the attack so that Kohli would be forced to recall his fast bowlers earlier than optimal,” Finch said by way of explanation for the unusual show of aggression in the middle overs which led to the dismissal of Labuschagne and the hastily promoted Mitchell Starc. Both fell while going after Jadeja in a matter of just three deliveries and that changed the dynamics of the game.
It ensured that the Aussies would not run away to a total in excess of 300. Mohammed Shami too came back splendidly in the death overs with his reverse-swinging yorkers. Chasing 287 in 50 overs was tricky, particularly after Shikhar Dhawan had injured his shoulder while fielding and hence not available to bat.
It was here that the second part of the Indian planning and strategy came good.
“We were clear in our head how we would utilise KL Rahul. His wicket-keeping skills gave us the cushion of playing an extra batsman and that came in very handy today,” said Kohli.
Rohit Sharma (119; 128b 8x4 6x6) and Rahul (19) stitched together an invaluable 69 runs for the first wicket to set the ball rolling.
Sharma was striking the ball beautifully and Kohli decided to just drop anchor. “We have had many flamboyant partnerships in the past. But this one was all about strategy. We had the experience to grind out the attack and decided that more than the run rate, getting a partnership going was crucial on this pitch where the spinners were getting the ball to grip.
“We knew if needed we could cream 7 to 8 runs per over later on. So I played second fiddle while Rohit attacked whenever he had the opportunity,” explained Kohli.
The Aussies threw everything they had at the duo. They knew they had to separate them and went at them very hard. But the old firm was equal to the task and put together a match-winning 137-run partnership in 24 overs to put India on the right path.
Later, Kohli revealed how much of planning had gone into the chase when, at the start of Adam Zampa’s last over, Shreyas Iyer said he wanted to go after the bowler. “I said ‘no’. We would take just four runs from that over. It was important that we did not gift him our wicket. Actually we got eight runs from that over. I then told Shreyas that he had earned the right to now go after the other bowlers and when Australia tried to crowd him with fielders, he cut loose. It took the pressure off me, just as planned,” said Kohli.
Apparently, the skipper had the terrible loss to Australia in the previous home series playing on his mind. At that time, India squandered a 2-0 lead to lose the series 3-2. “We were determined that it would not happen again and thus our strategy after the Mumbai loss was to make minute plans for every player and situation.”
Certainly, the Indians showed great character and self-belief in coming back strongly after the massive 10-wicket loss in the first ODI in Mumbai.
The versatility of Rahul (he batted at No 3, 5 and 2) came in very handy in mounting the challenge, even as senior batsmen Sharma, Dhawan, and Kohli kept the opponents unsettled.
The Rajkot win was important. It was a forceful reminder of teamwork where every player stuck to the plan, whether batting, bowling or fielding. Collectively, they delivered a consistent message to the Aussies that they would remorselessly come after them.
Of course, the third ODI at Bengaluru on Sunday was the crowning glory. It showed that the team was on top of its game and would give no quarter in its quest for success. Few Indian teams of the past have been so through or persistent in the face of adversity. Surely, nothing succeeds like success!
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