Marcus Stoinis uprooting Kuldeep Yadav's middle stump amidst the Delhi haze and the cacophony to clinch the ODI series was perhaps a fitting finish to the rubber that seesawed through the five ODIs.
Australia had palpably outclassed India in all the departments in the last three ODIs. It was surprising considering the fact that the hosts had sauntered into the series as favourites against a relatively inexperienced and struggling Australian side in the ODI arena.
The magnitude of the win for Australia could be gauged from the fact that they bounced back from a 0-2 deficit to win their first bilateral ODI series win in two years, since their victory over Pakistan in 2017. In between, they had lost six bilateral ODI series.
For India, there are things that went wrong and there are things that went right. It was a wake-up call that they received at the right time but not the one that would instill anxiety and fray nerves.
Ahead of the Australia ODI series, the permutations and combinations for the World Cup had constantly flip-flopped in the minds. This series was looked upon as a platform for completing the World Cup selection jigsaw which provided a chance to fringe players like Rishabh Pant, Vijay Shankar and KL Rahul to stake strong claims for the two- or three spots available for grabs.
India, however, didn't come out with definitive answers. The permutations and combinations are still flip-flopping.
This series was meant to be a toss-up between Pant and Dinesh Karthik for the second wicket-keeper's slot. But Pant failed to make a powerful impression. He played a brisk knock of 36 off 24 balls in the fourth ODI and faltered in the next scoring just 16 when the platform was perfectly laid for a crucial contribution under pressure. His wicketkeeping came under the scanner in Mohali after he missed crucial stumping of Ashton Turner.
Vijay had turned heads with his mature batting under pressure in New Zealand. Consistent performances in the Australia series would have more or less sealed his spot. His heroics at Nagpur, 46 off 41 balls and the Joginder Sharma-esque last over, had set the ball rolling but he couldn't display the same temperament that he had in the Kiwiland. He had two good chances, in Ranchi and Delhi, to pull off tense chases after arriving at crunch situations but couldn't capitalise. He averaged 55 with the ball in the 17.3 overs he bowled and conceded runs at 6.28 per over.
Rahul could garner just 26 runs in the sole innings he played, in Mohali.
The No 4 conundrum, since eternity, still remains unsolved. Ambati Rayudu scored just 11 runs from three innings.
India's middle order still remains an incomplete puzzle. It might be a tad harsh on Pant and Rahul who could get just two and one match respectively.
Also, one thought, whether India could have pulled off chases had Dinesh Karthik the 'finisher' been there.
If the Indian team were really looking to fill in the fringe spots in this series, maybe they should have had some consistency with the selection and combination. Rahul and Pant could have been given a longer run. There seemed to be too much experimentation and it seemed as if the team management was in a confused state with regards to whether series was the priority or testing the fringe players.
Now, all of a sudden, Ravindra Jadeja too has jumped into the mix after his frugal bowling and livewire fielding. The fourth bowling spot, the back-up to Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar is still unknown. Umesh Yadav and Khaleel Ahmed weren't picked in the squads while, Siddharth Kaul, who was selected for just the first two ODIs, wasn't given a chance in the series. Are they looking at Vijay as that back-up option?
There still seems to be ambiguity about selection but after the series loss, Kohli said that the team is "pretty clear" about the playing XI.
"As a side, combination-wise, we are pretty sorted condition-based. Maximum one change, you'll get to see condition-based. But other than that, the XI we want to play, we are pretty clear about it," The India captain said in the post-match press conference.
Without definitive answers from the series, the team management's clear mind about the World Cup combination does intrigue to an extent.
This was the last set of international ODIs India played before the World Cup. Yes, the loss certainly left them and the fans stunned. However, there is no need to hit the panic button.
This was one of those rare blips India had in a dominating journey they have had in the ODI arena in the last three years. They have lost just two of their last 13 bilateral ODI series'. En route, they have beaten strong sides like New Zealand and South Africa comprehensively. This was just their first bilateral ODI series loss at home since their loss to South Africa in 2015-16. In between, they had won six bilateral ODI series at home.
One series loss doesn't make them a bad team or completely suck the confidence out. In fact, the loss might have come at a good time which could impart a lot of learnings. Sometimes, winning habit can make you complacent and this loss might help them shrug off whatever complacency that might have crept in and woken them up ahead of the World Cup.
The learnings from the series could act as a major catalyst during the World Cup. The team management must have realised the importance of judging the conditions. Twice they were caught on the back foot because of the dew which proved to be crucial to the outcome of the series. It would be one of the most important things oscillating in Kohli's mind while making decisions at the tosses in the World Cup, now. The new ball and the death overs bowling needs improvement and so does handling pressure situations.
That said, this is not the first time they've suffered a jolt ahead of the World Cup. In 2015, on a long tour to Australia, they lost the Test series 0-2 and struggled in the Tri-series involving England and Australia post the Tests, losing three out of the four matches (with one ending as no result) and not even making it to the finals. They however turned the tables in the World Cup and reached semi-final unbeaten.
It has happened in the past and they have had the habit of bouncing back and raising their game on big stages and in the ICC tournaments. What's paramount now is workload management in the Indian Premier League which the players themselves will have to smartly deal with and also not letting ‘bad habits’ creep in.
And then, hitting the refresh button just before the World Cup could set things into motion perfectly.
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