In Perth 309 was insufficient, and in Brisbane 308 was inadequate. But for a short while it looked like India’s 295 in Melbourne might have been enough to keep this series alive. That was until Glenn Maxwell took it upon himself to bat India out of the match, his 96 steering Australia to a third successive record chase to seal the five-match one-day series with two to play. Though Maxwell fell with one run still required, James Faulkner finished the deal with seven balls to spare.
In the past week, Australia have now set new records for successful ODI pursuits at the WACA, the Gabba, and the MCG. No wonder Steven Smith sent India in when he won the toss. A run a ball holds no fears for his team at the moment. This time it was Virat Kohli’s century that set up India’s innings, but their bowlers were again unable to restrain Australia. On a pitch that offered some turn, it was a mistake that they left out R Ashwin.
That said, India gave themselves their best chance of the series by having Australia four down inside 30 overs. The heroes from the first two games – Smith and George Bailey – were among those dismissed, along with the openers Shaun Marsh and Aaron Finch, and it meant a mountain of work for the allrounders. It turns out Maxwell is quite the mountaineer.
A searing throw from Umesh Yadav in the deep ran out Mitchell Marsh with the help of MS Dhoni’s quick hands, and Matthew Wade skied a catch off Ishant Sharma, but James Faulkner was able to help Maxwell put the chase beyond doubt. Australia needed 65 off the last 10 overs with Maxwell and Faulkner at the crease, then 35 off the last seven. Maxwell played some extraordinary shots, including a slap for six over extra cover off Barinder Sran, and was the key man.
Maxwell timed the chase well enough to give himself a chance at a hundred, reaching 96 with one run needed. But he skied a catch next ball and left Faulkner to finish the job. Their partnership of 80 was the biggest of Australia’s innings, which was formed of several solid stands, unlike India’s innings that was based around two century partnerships and little else.
Aaron Finch and Shaun Marsh put on 48 for the opening wicket before Finch was caught behind off Yadav, and Marsh then combined with Smith for 64 to set Australia’s chase on its path. Marsh’s fifty came up from his 53rd ball, but on 62 he edged behind off Ishant Sharma to give India a sniff. Smith (41) had already been taken at slip when Ravindra Jadeja found some turn, and Bailey had been sharply stumped off Jadeja. But as it turned out, Maxwell was the wicket India really needed.
India came to this match knowing that a run a ball may not be enough to set Australia – it certainly wasn’t in the first two matches of this series. And Smith was keen not to change a winning formula, sending India in when he won the toss. The early loss of Rohit Sharma, who scored hundreds at both the WACA and the Gabba, perked Australia up, but Kohli played the anchor role this time with 117 off 117 deliveries.
Kohli worked hard during his 119-run partnership with Shikhar Dhawan and his 109-run stand with Ajinkya Rahane, both of whom made half-centuries. Only 40 of Kohli’s runs came in boundaries, seven fours and two sixes, and he was constantly taking off for singles to rotate the strike and ensure things did not stagnate. His fifty came from 51 deliveries and his century from 105, and when he brought it up he leapt in celebration: it was his first ODI hundred against Australia in Australia.
Kohli fell in the 47th over when he drove a John Hastings slower ball straight to cover; Hastings’ variations again proved useful for Australia and he finished with a career-best 4 for 58. Dhoni slapped a quick 23 from nine balls in the dying stages but also fell to Hastings, pulling a 140kph bouncer to deep midwicket. Debutant Gurkeerat Singh was bowled for 8 by a Faulkner slower ball, before Jadeja and Rishi Dhawan steered the innings home.
Hastings had also got rid of Rahane for 50 from 55 deliveries, brilliantly caught on the deep midwicket boundary by a combination of Smith and Maxwell. Rahane pulled a short ball and Smith hared around the boundary to make the catch but felt his momentum carrying him over, and threw the ball back inside play for Maxwell to complete the catch. That was one of four wickets in the final six overs; India managed 88 runs in their last 10, fewer than in Perth, more than in Brisbane.
The innings had started with Rohit at the crease fresh from two consecutive ODI hundreds, but this time he failed to reach double figures let alone triple. In the fifth over, Rohit drove at a Kane Richardson delivery and edged behind to Wade, to leave India at 1 for 15. But any hopes Australia had of restricting India through top-order wickets were scuppered by Kohli and Shikhar.
In both of the previous ODIs, Shikhar had fallen in single figures but here he began to find his touch and was especially powerful through the leg side. A straight drive for four off Hastings in the second over of the match was the nearest Shikhar came to scoring an off-side boundary, but he struck nine fours in all and brought up his fifty from his 76th delivery, one ball after Kohli raised his half-century.
But, seemingly aware that India needed to lift their tempo to avoid the kind of stalling that occurred in Perth and Brisbane, Shikhar took it upon himself up the ante. He scooped a boundary over the head of wicketkeeper Wade off Hastings but next ball he again moved into position for a premeditated shot through the on side, and lost his leg stump, bowled for 68 off 91.
Shikhar’s idea was right, though, for India had to lift their rate to push beyond 300 this time. Australia proved once again that they are happy to chase a run a ball.