Australia could not have asked for a better start to the series-opener in Chennai. After Virat Kohli won the toss and asked the visitors to bowl first, Steve Smith & Co. went off to a flier with Nathan Coulter-Nile running riot, dismissing Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli and Manish Pandey to leave the hosts reeling at 11 for three.
Australia further tightened their grip on the game when Marcus Stoinis struck twice to reduce India to 87 for five.
However, the failure to capitalise on the early wickets cost the team from Down Under dear, as Hardik Pandya and MS Dhoni added 118 runs for the sixth wicket to help India post a challenging 281 for seven. Australia’s morale would have certainly taken a beating after they let India off the hook and they suffered another blow when they were asked to chase down 164 in 21 overs after rain interrupted the game.
With the pitch offering enough assistance to the bowlers, the visitors never looked in contention to chase down the total and were eventually restricted to 137 for nine. Speaking after the game. Smith admitted the revised total was tough to chase down with new balls from both ends.
“It was never going to be easy chasing 160 with two new balls. I think 160 with one new ball would have made things a lot easier,” Smith said. “When you have two new balls from both ends, as you saw the whole game, we took three wickets with the new ball, and they found it quite hard. It was the same for us. When you are playing 20 overs, you don’t have a great deal of time to make things up. You need eight an over basically from ball one. It was difficult in that aspect. Perhaps we could have been a little bit more defensive at the start, keep wickets in hand and went harder later.”
Australia, nevertheless, only have themselves to blame for letting India off the hook. Smith dropped two catches, and while he got away with the first one, as Rohit Sharma could not capitalise on it, he and his team paid a hefty price for the second miss. Pandya was batting on just 13 when Smith failed to take a tough catch in the slip, and the Indian all-rounder went on to score a match-defining 66-ball 83 run knock.
Smith rued his team’s failure to capitalise on a good start, but at the same time took nothing away from Dhoni and Pandya.
“You always want to take your catches,” Smith said. “I obviously dropped one early and one that sort of yorked me as well – the Hardik Pandya’s one, I couldn’t get my hands underneath it. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to capitalise on what was a very good start. 5 for 87 and then I think it was 6 for 206 (205). That partnership [between Dhoni and Pandya] turned out to be a match-winning one. I thought MS and Hardik played very well.
“I think we probably we went away from our plans a little bit. We were hitting such a good length and certainly persisted with that for a while with the good bouncers we were bowling. We were trying too many things, too many slower balls, just not hitting that good hard length we were hitting early on. That partnership changed the game. They put 120 odd (118) and took them from 87 to 206 (205). In the end that proved to be a match-winning partnership,” he added.