Australia pulls off incredible comeback series win in India

 

This wasn't supposed to happen. Just a couple of months ago, India toured Down Under and comprehensively beat the Australians, for the first time, in a Test series, before winning the ODI series relatively comfortably, too. Without their two best players in Steve Smith and David Warner – both of whom are still suspended for their respective roles in the ball-tampering scandal – the Australians have been struggling.

In fact, a look back at their past few years of ODI results reveals just how poor Australia's form had been – even before Warner and Smith were suspended. Not since they defeated Pakistan at home in January of 2017 had the Aussies won an ODI series, along the way losing 4-1 in India, 4-1 to England at home, 2-1 to South Africa at home, and finally 2-1 to India at home – quite the fall from grace for a once dominant team.

So when India took a 2-0 series win in a five game ODI series in India, where Australia has typically struggled even with significantly stronger squads, everything appeared to be going to script. Heading into the third match of the series, it seemed likely that India would wrap things up and we'd have a couple of dead rubbers to finish off the tour.

They had at least been competitive in the first couple of matches, with India winning Game 1 in the 49th over and Game 2 by just eight runs, so perhaps there was some indication that the series wasn't yet as done and dusted as it might have seemed. But a 2-0 deficit in a five game series, against a much better team, and on foreign soil, seemed a bridge (or three) too far.

Things seemed to be turning a little to start the third ODI when openers Usman Khawaja and Aaron Finch got the team off to an ideal start. Finch scored 93 off 99 and Khawaja ultimately 104 off 113, and the two put on 193 in under 32 overs (at over a run a ball) before Finch was dismissed. However, Australia failed to capitalise, and though 313/5 was a competitive total, it was a far cry from the 350+ that seemed on offer midway through the series, and with the likes of Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma waiting in the wings to chase down the total, it seemed like there was every chance the series would end that night.

Alas, it did not. Despite Virat Kohli accumulating 123 off 95 in what is rapidly becoming an absurd career, one which has catapulted him into the conversation for the greatest limited overs player of all time – if he isn't already there – the Indians failed to put together any sort of decent partnership, and appeared likely to fall short throughout the innings. Ultimately, they were bowled out with ten balls to go for 281, 32 short of Australia's total.

So 2-1 it was. At least the series would be extended another game, but it still seemed unlikely that Australia would be able to continue the comeback. And after Virat Kohli won the toss and elected to bat in Game 4, that likelihood seemed to rapidly diminish even further. If Australia had gotten off to an ideal start the game prior, this must have seemed like a dream for India. In an opening partnership which quite extraordinarily mirrored that of Finch and Khawaja in Game 3, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan put on, you guessed it, 193, before Rohit was dismissed for 95. Those two put on the same partnership in six deliveries less than their Australian counterparts, and the way the respective innings went after that was starkly different. Though Virat Kohli failed to fire, Shikhar Dhawan went on to make 143 off 115, and with a couple of cameos from Rishadh Pant and Vijay Shankar, the Indians accumulated a massive 358/9.

With Australia's batting lineup a relatively clear weakness in their team, a chase down seemed unlikely, even with their openers coming into form in the previous game. And when Finch was dismissed for a duck and Marsh just three, Australia found themselves at 2/12 and seemingly out of the game. Khawaja and Handscomb, however, had other ideas, putting together a 192 run partnership in under 30 overs before Khawaja was dismissed just shy of a second consecutive hundred. Handscomb would go on to make 117, but despite that a victory seemed unlikely. When Ashton Turner, Australia's relatively unknown number six batsman, strode to the crease, Australia still required 129 runs off 83 balls. Turner quickly made a name for himself though, smashing an unbeaten 84 off just 43 balls to lead Australia to an incredible victory with still 2.1 overs to spare.

2-2. Surely not. All the momentum was with the Australians heading into Game 5 in Delhi, but India had the crowd on their side, as well as the undeniable fact that their team is, quite simply, better. After winning the toss and electing to bat, however, Australia began to compile a score which looked likely to be comepetitive, if not a winning total. Finch only made 27, but he and Khawaja scored 76 at over five an over before he fell. Enter Handscomb, and it must have felt like deja vu for India as he and Khawaja once again began to put together a dominant stand.

When Khawaja fell for 100 (yet another one!), Australia was 2/175 after 33 overs, and a score of well over 300 seemed on the cards. But Maxwell fell an over later and Handscomb soon after, and India began to haul the score in. Stoinis couldn't get going and nor could Turner, and when the latter fell Australia had fallen to 7/229 with just four overs to go, having scored 5/54 in the last 13 overs. Jhye Richardson and Pat Cummins, batting at eight and nine respectively, managed to restore some semblance of competitiveness to the total in the latter overs, putting on 34 runs in just 15 balls including an over of 19 off Jasprit Bumrah, who had conceded just 14 in his first eight. Ultimately, the Aussies managed 272, less than they appeared capable of halfway through the innings but competitive nonetheless.

India's innings was filled with starts – Rohit made 56, albeit off 89 balls, Virat made 20, while a pair of 16's filled the middle order. But they never looked like making 272. Even after Kedar Jadhav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar came together for a 91 run stand, they never stood a chance and finished the innings all out on the last ball of the series for 237, 35 runs short of Australia.

And thus completed an extraordinary comeback. Even in the best of circumstances, a 2-0 deficit in a five game ODI series is typically too much to fight back from. For an Australian team which hadn't won a 50 over series for over two years, which was missing it's two best batsmen, which was playing the second best ranked team in the world, and which was doing so on that team's home turf where conditions differ drastically from their own, it was little short of a cricketing miracle.