359 – Exactly what the Aussies scored in the final of the 2003 ICC World Cup final against a Sourav Ganguly-led Indian side. Prior to that match, a lot was expected from the Men in Blue as they were up against a side that was in pursuit of a second consecutive World title. But the Indian hopes of winning a second World Cup after 1983 were shattered by a brutal Ricky Ponting who made the final his own, by playing a captain’s knock (140 from 121 balls), where he massacred the Indian pace attack.
Thus, when Australia posted a similar score at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium on Wednesday, I couldn’t see India winning the match. Not just because it was a mammoth total, but because the momentum had totally shifted Australia’s way as their stand-in skipper George Bailey scored his consecutive half-century making sure his teammates didn’t miss regular skipper Michael Clarke.
Indian bowlers were once again humiliated by Australia’s young batting line-up and the team needed some never seen before performances to enter history books by chasing down the second highest total in cricket history.
But Indian batsmen were in altogether different mood. They were looking to grab their piece of history with some scintillating performances.
Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma, who were outstanding in ICC Champions Trophy earlier this year, began the proceedings on a cautious note. Australia were deprived of an early breakthrough when Dhawan skied one high and wicketkeeper Brad Haddin grassed it at the last moment. That drop cost Australia another 77 runs as Dhawan played some magnificent strokes in his 86-ball 95. Shane Watson made a blunder by exchanging few heated words with the left-hander, after which he suddenly shifted gears and it started raining boundaries and sixes all over the stadium.
On the other end, Rohit was playing equally brilliantly as he dealt in singles when Dhawan looked unstoppable. The 26-year-old went on to score his third ODI ton and his manner of celebrating the milestone suggested how much it meant to him. India got off to a dream start as the opening pair added 176 runs for the first wicket.
After Dhawan missed his century by just five runs, in came Virat Kohli. Despite all the fireworks, India still needed 184 runs to win from 24 overs – still a tough ask. After watching a few balls, Kohli often shimmied down the track, and his approach suggested India were chasing a 500-run target. He joined the run-fest and looked to muscle every ball for a boundary or a six. While the Australian bowlers looked short of breath, within no time, Kohli reached another milestone by slamming the fastest ODI century ever against Australia off just 52 balls which is also the fastest by an Indian in the 50-over format.
Rohit, who reached his first century as an opener off 102 balls, slammed 38 runs off the next 21 balls and India made a mockery of the seemingly impossible chase as they won the match by nine wickets with 39 balls remaining. Several records were broken as the batsmen delivered the much-needed never seen before performances.
It was a historic match and India’s dominance was such that players like Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja were all mere spectators in the dressing room. The victory came as a relief for the cricket fans who went in a state of shock after Sachin Tendulkar announced his decision to retire from Tests recently.
India’s only concern at the moment would be the form of their bowlers. In the first two ODIs, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar hasn’t managed to strike early in the innings and the Aussies have crossed the 300-run mark on both occasions. MS Dhoni will have to come up with a new approach to combat Australia’s in-form opening pair of Aaron Finch and Phillip Hughes.
The second ODI for sure will go down in history as one of the best matches ever. While it would be unfair to compare this team with the one that lost to Australia in the 2003 World Cup final, this young Indian team for sure is a side that is blessed with players like Kohli and Dhoni who deliver their best under pressure.
Rohit and Dhawan have been phenomenal at the top of the order, something which is likely to extend the comebacks of Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag. Only if the Indian pace bowlers can be a little consistent, there is no reason why India can’t dominate world cricket in the near future.