Nine ODI wins in a row, 12 wins on the trot across all formats; six consecutive bilateral series wins. No 1 in ICC Test and ODI rankings. The biggest question troubling the rest of the teams, and currently Australia, is, 'Apart from divine intervention, how does one stop the lethal force that is India?'
India have been absolutely rampant in the international arena. And playing them in their own backyard has slowly started to instill fear in the minds of the opposition.
The authority and the aggression brought to the table by Virat Kohli has taken the team to an altogether different level. The hunger has gone a notch above. The mindset has transformed. The team doesn't want to just fight and challenge for a win, they want to deliver the knockout punch too. Right now, Australia are facing that wrath. And it's almost as if the dynamics of the two teams have reversed.
The fourth ODI at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium presents India with an opportunity to touch a new high. A win against Australia will help them record 10 wins on the trot for the first time in ODIs. However, rain might prove to be a dampener and delay the milestone as the weather forecast has predicted rain and thunderstorm in the morning and evening. India had to wrap up their training session early on Wednesday afternoon due to rain while Australia didn't train at all. There was a steady drizzle through the evening before it eased off slightly in the night.
What could prove to be a savior is Chinnaswamy's state-of-art drainage. The SubAir Aeration and Water Evacuation System installed last year can suck rain water out of the outfield at 36 times the speed of gravity. So in case the rain gods relent, the time and overs lost could prove to be minimal.
Back on field, India's self-belief is at its peak. Throughout the Australia series so far, India have bounced back from difficult positions and just battered the confidence of the opposition from then on. It’s a testament to the positivity that the captain breathes in this vibrant bunch.
In Chennai, MS Dhoni and Hardik Pandya performed the rescue act with India struggling at 87/5. The hosts ended up posting a competitive 281. The Indian bowlers came out like fire-breathing dragons to blow away Australian batting. What looked like would be a struggle, ended up as a comfortable win in a rain-shortened match.
Inside the cauldron that is Eden Gardens, the lower-middle order provided a crucial push past 250 with India in a spot of bother at 204/6 and all the recognised batsmen back in the hut. In an era where 250 would seem a cake-walk, India ransacked Australia of 10 wickets for 202 with Kuldeep Yadav adding cherry to the cake with a hat-trick.
It seemed as if a reinvigorated Australian side had turned up at the Holkar Stadium in the third ODI. Cruising at 224/1 in the 38th over, a 330-plus total looked to be a surety. However, Kohli kept faith in his wrist spinners and some brilliant death-overs bowling restricted Australia to 293. On a beautiful batting surface, India cruised to the target with five wickets and 13 balls to spare.
Every now and then, someone or the other has put his hand up and delivered when the team was in need. Pandya's transformation into a matured all-rounder has been fascinating. Twice in three matches he has shown his ability to adapt with crucial knocks and important wickets.
Ajinkya Rahane has pounced upon rare chances in the absence of Shikhar Dhawan to provide the team a solid platform along with Rohit Sharma. Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar have excelled in the dual role of new ball and death bowling.
Dhoni's finishing, calmness and guidance has made India into a complete package. The biggest dilemma for Australia going into the fourth ODI in Bangalore is finding a weakness in this formidable unit. Perhaps they could exploit India's No 4 conundrum. However, more than trying to find out chinks in India's armour, Australia would be well off sorting their internal problems plaguing the team for quite some time. Collapses, inexplicable shot selection, squandering the advantage, porous fielding, impatience and lack of technique against spinners are some of the few factors stinging the team which has seen them suffer 11 ODI losses away from home.
The over-dependence on Smith and Warner is palpable and the batsmen have failed to fire in unison. They haven't seized the crunch moments. Glenn Maxwell averages 19.33. Warner 22.66. Head 16. Smith averages 41 but much more is demanded of a player of his stature. Also, his captaincy hasn't imbued confidence. The return of Aaron Finch was a huge shot in the arm; he got into the groove beautifully with a century. Warner will be looking to turn his 100th ODI into a special one but all in all, Australia would desperately want their entire batting line-up to up the ante big time.
In the bowling unit, the pacers have performed decently but surprisingly, the spinners haven't found their feet. With Ashton Agar ruled out of the rest of series, Adam Zampa will get a shot at redemption after suffering at the hands of Pandya in Chennai. And his role will be crucial given that the pitch is expected to play slow and low with some assistance for spinners. This is where the part-timers would need to chip in too. The thought of resting Pat Cummins with the series lost would also be floating in the team management's minds which would bring James Faulkner back into the mix.
As Kohli hinted after the Indore ODI, India will look to give opportunities to fringe players. Local boy KL Rahul might get a chance in place of Kedar Jadhav or Ajinkya Rahane. While Mohammed Shami or Umesh Yadav might replace one of Bhuvneshwar or Bumrah. Axar Patel too might get a look in in place of Yuzvendra Chahal or Kuldeep Yadav.
Australia's record against India at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium doesn't inspire much positivity as they have won just one out of six matches with one ending in no result. To add to it, India's win-loss ratio of 3.250 at M Chinnaswamy Stadium in ODIs is the second best for them at any venue among grounds where they have at least played 10 matches. Damage limitation is the need of the hour for the visitors which will in turn instill much-needed confidence for the T20I series.
The average first innings score at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium is 255. With the pitch turning slow and low of late, a high-scoring affair seems less likely.
The series has been won but for Kohli and Co the "journey stops only after the final game". And the hunger with which the Indian side has been gobbling up the opponents, Bangalore might just be one step closer to inflicting a whitewash.
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