The lack of consistency couldn’t have been stressed upon more by Steve Smith, the Australian skipper, who was left a disappointed man at the end of the five-match One-Day International series that his side conceded 4-1 to India, reiterating as he has done in the recent past that it wasn’t good enough. Barring the fourth one-dayer in Bangalore that the visitors managed to win by 21 runs, it was a familiar script that followed in the four games that India won comfortably. In Nagpur on Sunday (October 1), it was once again no different, with the only consistency being – as seen throughout the series – of Australia losing wickets in clumps.
“We showed some glimpses throughout the series that we could play, but we’ve been losing wickets in clumps very consistently and that’s not good enough,” said a blunt Smith at the end of the seven-wicket loss at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Ground. “The top four need to stand up and really take control. We did that in a couple of games, last game in Bangalore to be particular. But we are not doing it consistently enough. We are not giving ourselves the chance to really go hard at the back end of the game and getting partnerships in the middle, something we need to look at.”
In Nagpur, Australia were were once again led by a half-century from David Warner, but a collapse from 66 for 0 to 118 for 4 saw them concede their position of strength. Brief resistance from Travis Head and Marcus Stoinis helped them reach 242, but it wasn’t going to be enough to defend against an Indian side that can bat until No.7, at least. In his bid to make early inroad, Smith used as many as six bowlers in the first 12 overs. None of it helped as a fabulous century from Rohit Sharma, backed by Ajinkya Rahane’s fourth successive fifty in the series saw them cruise to a seven-wicket win.
“I don’t think we had enough runs. We needed to take wickets and obviously was trying with different people to try and get a breakthrough and put some pressure. I thought Rohit played very well and timed his innings to perfection. It was disappointing… The new ball is probably the best time to bat and the wicket slowed up. and I felt the ball got pretty old pretty quickly. Our plan was to try and hopefully get a few early wickets to try and contain the runs as much as possible with the spinners going to get a bit of help with the ball going softer and reversing and probably spinning a bit more too… But, yeah, we weren’t good enough and were outplayed by India.”
Aaron Finch’s calf injury ruled him out for the initial part of the series, but his return in the third ODI in Indore was marked by a remarkable century, giving Australia a strong start. His return to the side saw the openers in Finch and David Warner give their side steady starts with stands of 70, 231 and 66 in the last three ODIs respectively. Yet, Australia’s all too familiar collapse didn’t seem to dodge them as a middle order collapse saw them finish with totals of 293, 334 and 242, at least 30-40 runs short of what seemed achievable at one stage in the game.
“It’s been addressed several times,” conceded Smith. “We are just not taking our words out in the middle and delivering with our actions unfortunately. We have glimpses of it, play well in periods and then we just get ourselves in trouble, probably from poor decision making, under pressure maybe. That’s what we might have to put it down to, worst of all. It’s just not good enough.”
In Kolkata, chasing 252, Australia lost Warner and Hilton Cartwright, who was drafted in to replace Finch, in under three overs. But it was the middle order that came to the part led by half-centuries from Smith (59) and Stoinis (62*), complemented by a useful 39 from Head. Yet, the inability of any other batsman to get going cost them as they succumbed to a 50-run loss with India’s legspinners in Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal accounting for five wickets of the middle and lower-middle order.
“We had a chat after our second game. It was about playing the spinners and hitting the ball down the ground,” said Smith. “I thought we did that in a couple of games… and then today Virat set some really good fields and stopped us from hitting and I don’t think we adapted well enough. Today was probably a day when we could have used softer hands, played a bit square and hit the ball into the gaps instead of actually hitting the ball down the ground. We probably didn’t adapt as well as we would have liked to,” he added.
Adapting well to the situation has not been one of Australia’s stronger areas this series. After being given consistent starts up front, at least the Indore ODI onwards, they have failed to make the most of that platform. Also, the chopping and changing of personnel didn’t really help their cause with Adam Zampa, James Faulkner, Matthew Wade and Glenn Maxwell being left out of the playing XI at some point during the series, either due to the lack of performances or the belief that a different combination could be more effective. Ashton Agar’s finger injury meant Zampa got a chance in the last two ODIs, while Peter Handscomb was a handy inclusion as his contribution in Bangalore in the middle aided Australia in their pursuit of avoiding a whitewash.
“I think they know their role and the template of the way we want to play. We are just not doing it consistently enough,” said Smith when asked if shuffling players in the side confuses them with what their role in the side is. “We talk about making big scores and setting it up for the guys to have an onslaught in the last 10-15 overs. When we do it well, we get the results we are after. We are just not doing it consistently enough to get the results we need and it’s something we need to work on.
“Some guys are back home playing the one-day domestic competition at the moment and there’re some guys there that can put some pressure on the guys that are here. Obviously the results haven’t been good enough and we want our guys to perform consistently. We will have a good look at the one-day competition back home and hopefully a few guys can jump out of the pack and score big runs and bowl really well as well,” he added.
Smith himself has had an inconsistent series by his own standards and admission. After a failure in Chennai where he scored 1, he found a workable formula for himself and got two half-centuries after. But scores of 3 and 16 in the last two has left him disappointed. “I wasn’t feeling great at the start of the series, but I’m feeling okay now. I had a few issues that I was working on but I guess I slowly found out a nice tempo which I’m after. I would have loved to score a lot more of runs. Having not been able to get those runs like I have been in the past few occasions… from that aspect, as a leader of the team, has been disappointing. But I guess that’s cricket. You have those periods when you’re not playing or getting the scores that you like… Something that hopefully I can turn around and contribute in the T20Is,” he said.
Australia will play the first of three T20Is in Ranchi on October 7, before the second and third in Guwahati and Hyderabad on October 10 and 13 respectively.