Many believed that all that the Indian team needed to do in order to register a win at home was to simply turn up at the venue. Nothing would have come as a bigger shock to their arrogance than seeing their team squandering a two-match lead to finally lose the ODI series by three matches to two.
Underdogs Australia not only pulled the rug from underneath the smug Indian team’s feet, but also taught them a thing or two about not giving up in the face of overwhelming odds.
Make no mistake. The loss of the third match and maybe even the fourth ODI could have been explained away as a result of complacency. But the fifth match, the decider was something else altogether.
At two-all, the series-decider was all about the protagonists rising to the occasion. India’s chosen playing eleven had the responsibility of clinching the series for the country. There was immense pressure on the players to soak in the situation, put up their hand when it mattered most and finally see the team through.
But when push came to shove it was the relatively inexperienced Aussies who called the shots. They came to the fifth match with a definitive plan and pulled it off brilliantly to make the seasoned Indians look pedestrian.
India, on the other hand, panicked after the loss at Mohali. They strengthened the pace bowling department by dropping leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal and opted for the pace bowling skills of Mohammed Shami. KL Rahul too was dropped as the team went in with more options on the bowling front.
Skipper Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan, and Rishabh Pant, all of who knew their home base of Feroz Shah Kotla far better than others, were expected to lead the batting charge. But they came a cropper all too soon.
On the other hand, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar was in his elements. He bowled superbly (3 for 48 in 10 overs) and then batted (46) with a lot of self-belief to make his a memorable performance. It was also a rude wake-up call for Kuldeep Yadav. Not only was he cárted around in yet another match, his lone success also came at a heavy price. Surely his showing in Delhi and Mohali must have dented his confidence in bowliṉg to the Aussies on relatively small outfields.
Interestingly, there were occasions when the Aussie batsmen did not bother to read the direction of his spin. They opted instead to hit the ball straight back at him.
India also seemed to have lost their stranglehold on Aussie openers Usman Khawaja, in particular, and skipper Aaron Finch. They came up with yet another big partnership (76 runs) by wisely playing out pace ace Jasprit Bumrah.
In fact, it was these small moments that proved that the Aussies were better primed than the Indians. They had their own plan to thwart Bumrah (he went wicketless) and clobber Kuldeep. And it worked.
On the other hand, India were ill-prepared for leg-spinner Adam Zampa. They probably took him lightly and paid the price. Chasing a target of 273 on the Delhi pitch should have been a cakewalk for the batting line up which boasted of heavyweights Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Dhawan. But Zampa's three wickets - of Rohit, Vijay Shankar and Ravindra Jadeja - floored them. In fact, the Aussies spinners, Zampa and Nathan Lyon were a lot more impressive and productive than tḫeir counterparts.
For India, not just the decider, even the series was a big wake-up call. The team had built its reputation on the back of a couple of high-performing players. Their relative failure exposed the inadequacies or limitations of the others.
At times, like during the loss in Delhi, it looked like the others were just making up the numbers. If they were match-winners, they certainly did not look like.
Interestingly Kohli, at the post-match presentation said that “the last three games was to give the guys on the bench and the fringe guys a bit of game time as well and just put them in those positions and see how they reacted. And you couldn't have tried that anywhere else apart from those three games. We gave game time to guys who we think are good enough to perform at this level,” he said.
That might be. But winning is not only a habit but inculcates a mindset that cannot be got by losing series. Guess India lost that lesson somewhere along the way.