Australia have been left to rue six pivotal missed chances in the field and a mid-innings batting collapse as India’s tense victory at the MCG on Friday night consigned the home side to a sixth consecutive one-day series defeat.
India’s star duo Virat Kohli (twice) and MS Dhoni (four times) were both reprieved by the Australians in the run chase, an extraordinary string of sliding doors moments as the hosts looked to defend a total of 230.
India won the match by seven wickets with just four balls to spare, by modern standards a sluggish pursuit of a moderate total providing a one-day throwback befitting of Australia’s retro kits for this series.
Dhoni (87no from 114 deliveries) proved to be the match-winner for the second game in a row, his third half-century of the series coming after he’d been dropped from the first ball he faced as part of a stretch of 17 overs that saw the Australians create multiple match-defining chances that they were unable to take.
After Shaun Marsh had taken a smart catch at first slip to remove Rohit Sharma in the sixth over, Peter Handscomb was moved into the crucial position and was unable to hang on to a high chance offered by Kohli when the Indian skipper was on just 10.
Four overs later, one delivery after Marcus Stoinis had taken a sharp return catch to dismiss Shikhar Dhawan, Glenn Maxwell spilled a simple chance at backward point from the first ball Dhoni faced having come in at No.4 in the batting order.
The experienced Indian pair appeared rattled by the let-offs and handed their opponents two more chances in the space of five balls, but the Australians weren’t able to take advantage.
An accurate throw at the non-striker’s end from Jhye Richardson at mid-off would have caught Kohli well short of his ground on 32 after a mix-up with Dhoni, but the young quick’s throw bounced just inches over the stumps.
An over later, another mix-up left Dhoni scrambling to make his ground at the non-striker’s end, but the throw from wicketkeeper Alex Carey was wide of the mark, allowing Dhoni (on 13 at the time) to make his ground just before bowler Adam Zampa broke the stumps.
There was one more piece of frustration to come when an apparent play-and-miss from Dhoni on 34 off the bowling of Peter Siddle brought little more than a muted appeal, replays showing a faint edge that would have earned the Australians a wicket had they reviewed.
The breakthrough eventually came when the score was on 113, Richardson finding Kohli’s edge on 46 to dismiss the world’s best batsman for the third time in the series.
The long-awaited wicket gave the Australians a sniff of victory, but it also acted as a circuit-breaker of sorts for Dhoni and the recalled Kedar Jadhav (61no from 57) as they patiently eased their side towards victory, despite the required run rate increasing to more than nine runs an over at one stage.
The pair added an unbroken 121 with the only major alarm being the sixth and final missed chance of the innings, skipper Aaron Finch dropping a sharp chance offered by Dhoni at mid-off when the veteran was 74 and there were 27 runs still required for victory.
A career-best six-wicket haul from recalled leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal had earlier formed the cornerstone of an impressive Indian performance in the field as Australia were bowled out in the 49th over on a gloomy Melbourne afternoon.
After Australia’s opening pair were both dismissed inside 10 overs for the third time in the series, the match turned in an extraordinary first over from Chahal, who removed Marsh (39) and Usman Khawaja (34) in the space of three balls just as the Australia’s third-wicket pair had begun to find their rhythm.
Both wickets came from innocuous leg-side deliveries – Marsh was stumped off a wide before Khawaja shoveled a simple return catch back to the bowler – cutting short a 73-run partnership that had laid the platform for a sizeable total.
The recently-recalled Handscomb (58 from 63 balls) stood firm as Australia slumped to 6-161, the right-hander top-scoring for the second time in the series before he played back to a straight one from Chahal and was trapped in front, handing the leg-spinner his fifth wicket.
The 28-year-old finished with 6-42, the equal-best ODI bowling figures ever on Australian soil, as the hosts were dismissed eight deliveries short of their 50 overs.
The start of the innings had been a replica of the previous two games as Australia’s openers failed to get going, Bhuvneshwar Kumar removing both Carey and Finch cheaply, the latter for the third time in the series. Having scored just 57 runs in three games against South Africa earlier in the summer, the Australian skipper managed 26 in this campaign, his lowest return since the summer of 2016-17.
Which, coincidently, was the last time Australia won an ODI series, a losing streak that has now stretched beyond two years as the start of their World Cup campaign draws ever closer.
Australia XI: Aaron Finch, Alex Carey, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb, Marcus Stoinis, Glenn Maxwell, Jhye Richardson, Peter Siddle, Adam Zampa, Billy Stanlake
India XI: Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli (c), Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik, MS Dhoni (wk), Vijay Shankar, Ravindra Jadeja, Yuzvendra Chahal, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami
Gillette ODI Series v India
Australia ODI squad: Aaron Finch (c), Jason Behrendorff, Alex Carey (wk), Peter Handscomb, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Mitch Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Jhye Richardson, Kane Richardson, Peter Siddle, Billy Stanlake, Marcus Stoinis, Adam Zampa
India ODI squad: Virat Kohli (c), Rohit Sharma (vc), Shikhar Dhawan, Ambati Rayudu, Dinesh Karthik, Kedar Jadhav, MS Dhoni (wk), Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Khaleel Ahmed, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Vijay Shankar, Shubman Gill
First ODI: Australia won by 34 runs
Second ODI: India win by six wickets
Third ODI: January 18, MCG (D/N)