The party was over, the band had left, the lights had gone out – and then India decided to turn up in the One-Day International series against Australia. And they brought enough music and light in the form of Manish Pandey to have their own party, belatedly showing the Australian team and public that their team was indeed better than the one-sided scoreline of the five-match series, which ended at 4-1. India pulled off a win in the last match by the skin of their teeth and the dint of Pandey’s will and skill.
Finally, in a series that had six Indian centuries, one resulted in victory. Pandey walked in to bat at Sydney Cricket Ground on Saturday (January 23) at 134 for 2 in the 21st over with Virat Kohli having fallen for his first cheap score of the series as India set out in quest of 331. In his first proper opportunity to bat in the series, Pandey showed just why his temperament is highly rated, playing an innings of maturity that gave India hope for the future, even though the series was badly lost.
His 104 not out off just 81 balls carried India to victory by six wickets with only two balls to spare in a chase they had looked like botching, to add to the ‘one more close loss, one more opportunity not taken’ narrative. Pandey was having none of it though, and even the fall of MS Dhoni in the final over of the chase didn’t ruffle him one bit. It was by a distance the highest successful chase in all ODIs against Australia in Australia.
Australia had been driven to 330 for 7 on the back of hard-hitting centuries by David Warner (122 off 113) and Mitchell Marsh (102 not out off 84), and just like they had done in Canberra, India began the chase in express-train mode and seemed well on course in the first half of their innings. Shikhar Dhawan’s flashing blade had brought him 78 from 56 balls, while Rohit remained solid, though he was crestfallen to go for a 108-ball 99. Dhawan fell when Shaun Marsh pulled off a stunner off John Hastings – who has been Steven Smith’s go-to bowler all series long – and a couple of overs later, Smith’s well-laid plan to choke Kohli with close fielders and short bowling bore fruit.
Much rested on the partnership between Rohit and Pandey, but Rohit became Hastings’s third victim to leave the game wide open again. Dhoni, perhaps walking in for the last time in an ODI, played an innings that was the antithesis of how his entire career had gone. He entered the scene with India needing 100 to win off 91 balls, and ended up scoring 34 off 42. Try as he might, the Dhoni of old who would have finished the chase as certainly as the sun would have risen the next morning, couldn’t connect with either timing or authority, which signalled perhaps that the sun was setting on one of the truly great ODI careers of all time.
And then, as has been typical throughout Dhoni’s career, he confounded when people thought they had him figured out. With 13 needed from the last six balls, he clubbed Mitchell Marsh over long-off for six to swing the balance towards India one last, decisive time. He fell next ball, but the man who has staked the best claim to be India’s next regular middle-order batsman guided a ball fine to first bring up a maiden ton, and then hit the winning runs that allowed India to end the series with some dignity salvaged.
Pandey showed an almost Dhoni-like calm in a pressure chase, keeping the runs coming even as India just about kept the required rate within reach. Some of his driving was exquisite, and his game-sense shone through in how he placed the ball and ran hard – aided by Dhoni – to ensure the runs came even if the boundaries didn’t. But all of that was second to his mental strength, which was what India needed in a tense chase.
In the first half, India had been well served by the fourth man they handed an ODI cap to in the series, with Jasprit Bumrah giving an excellent account of himself in returning 2 for 40 in ten overs, with Smith his first international wicket. Led by Bumrah, the bowlers gave a better account of themselves than they had all series long, but Umesh Yadav capped a poor series with a horror match, his 8-0-82-1 painting an accurate picture of his profligacy.
Ironically, Pandey and Bumrah, India’s two brightest points of the match, were last-minute additions to the XI with two players injured. Bumrah came in for Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Pandey replaced Ajinkya Rahane.
Yadav was guilty of releasing pressure nearly every time he was called on. The bowlers had reduced Australia to 78 for 3 inside 15 overs, and 117 for 4 in the 22nd over, when the younger Marsh walked out to join Warner. Mitchell Marsh had come into the match a little undercooked on the batting front. He faced up to Ravindra Jadeja and Rishi Dhawan first up, both men keeping things relatively tight. When Yadav was called back in the 30th over, Mitchell was gifted a half-volley and a long hop. In Yadav’s next, there were more hit-me-anywhere balls on offer and the caution built up by decent bowling earlier was lost in minutes. The two went on to add 118 off 105 balls for the fifth wicket, and Marsh and Matthew Wade built on that to smash 85 off 52 for the sixth wicket, with the allrounder doing the bulk of the scoring.
India pulled things back a tad with only seven runs each coming off the last two overs, which proved crucial in the final analysis.
But, while the little things counted towards India’s eventually morale-boosting win ahead of the T20Is, Pandey’s ability to remain unfazed by the chase, the foreign conditions and the occasion, was the deciding factor.