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India left hanging in the middle 

New Delhi, March 13

The ghosts of the missing middle-order came back to haunt India as they lost the fifth and final ODI by 35 runs. The result also means that the hosts lost the series 2-3 despite winning the first two One-day Internationals.

Much depended on the makeshift middle-order in the series-decider as the think-tank made radical changes to the line-up here today. The experiment of playing KL Rahul at No. 3 was shelved after the Mohali, and the Karnataka opener was benched. Wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant was pencilled to bat at No. 4, and all-rounder Vijay Shankar was used as a specialist batsman. Needless to say, these experiments, in the team’s last ODI before the World Cup, did not come good. Instead, it showed the vulnerability of the team if the prolific run-getters — skipper Virat Kohli and vice-captain Rohit Sharma — fail to score big.

After Shikhar Dhawan and Kohli were dismissed in the space of eight overs, the onus was on Rohit and the makeshift line-up to take India over the line. But it was not to be as the middle-order choked. Vijay Shankar and Rohit, who was looking set for another big score after scoring 56, got out trying to force the pace. Before them, Pant gave an easy catch to Ashton Turner at slip off Nathan Lyon.

In fact, the back-to-back stumpings of Rohit and Jadeja, who followed him soon after, in one Adam Zampa over killed the run chase.

The quick wickets meant that the home team was reduced to 132/6 by the 29th over. Kedar Jadhav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar tried to get India close with a sturdy partnership of 91 for the seventh wicket. But their dismissals off consecutive deliveries settled the match and the series 3-2 in Australia’s favour. 

The failures have once again exposed the cracks in India’s armour. In the last 15 months or so, both Kohli and Rohit have saved the brittle batting order blushes with their consistent scoring.

Bowlers hit back

Earlier, India bowlers led by Bhuvneshwar restricted Australia to a gettable 272/9 after the visitors had looked like scoring in excess of 300 runs.

The visitors had scored 161/1 by the end of the 30th over and the home team looked frustrated. But the chance dismissal of Usman Khawaja, who top-scored with a 106-ball 100, got India back in the match.

Khawaja and Peter Handscomb were fairly comfortable in the middle and none of the Indian bowlers barring Jasprit Bumrah and Jadeja had made an impression.

But Khawaja’s dismissal off Bhuvneshwar derailed the Australian innings. Minutes later Glenn Maxwell found Kohli again at short cover off Jadeja. And when Shami removed Handscomb for 52, it brought the run rate under control. 

It also brought respectability in the bowlers’ column, which Kohli had sought with changes for this match. The team management dropped Yuzvendra Chahal and Rahul and brought back Jadeja and Shami in the playing XI to get some control with the ball. But the Australians had two sizable partnerships – 76 run for the first wicket between captain Aaron Finch and Khawaja and then 99 between Khawaja and Handscomb — which put paid to India’s plans and caused them a lost series.

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