India last night set up a blockbuster series decider against Australia on Sunday with a comprehensive victory in the second ODI in Rajkot.
The home side took the ascendancy inside the first hour and never surrendered it as they hammered a huge total of 6-340 and then bowled tightly to limit Australia.
Australia made a decent start to their chase, moving to 1-82 from 15 overs, before Aaron Finch was a tad unlucky to be out stumped against Ravi Jadeja from what was the definition of a line ball call.
The required run rate at that stage was a hefty 7.5 runs per over yet Steve Smith (98 from 102 balls) and Marnus Labuschagne (46 from 47) tackled this task calmly.
During their stand of 96 at better than a-run-a-ball that pair of Test stars began to put Indian under some pressure. On his ODI debut Labuschagne batted with the composure and confidence of a veteran and looked set for a big score before he was dismissed by Jadeja.
Smith was stuck in the mud early, crawling to 3 from 16 balls, before he located his rhythm and began batting serenely against both pace and spin. But when Alex Carey (18) and then Smith fell in the same over to left arm wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav the match had got away from Australia.
Earlier, India produced a much improved effort with the bat after their limp display in the series opener at Mumbai. The home side paced their innings nicely, with openers Shikhar Dhawan (96) and Rohit Sharma (42) offering them a solid base.
They went after Aussie express quick Mitchell Starc, who was wayward early on, giving up 20 runs from his three overs with the new ball. Then Rohit and Dhawan targeted his replacement, seamer Kane Richardson, who conceded a boundary in each of his first four overs as he chalked up figures of 0-30 at that stage.
Three balls after Richardson was taken out of the attack, leg spinner Adam Zampa beat Sharma in the flight and caught him plumb LBW.
That brought to the crease Indian skipper Virat Kohli, who looked in supreme touch immediately. Kohli’s placement, timing, manipulation of the field and running between wickets allowed him to cruise at a-run-a-ball without taking any risks. One of his rare cavalier shots brought him unstuck on 78 when he tried to plant Zampa into the stands but was caught on the boundary due to a fine double-act by Ashton Agar and Mitchell Starc.
That was Zampa’s third wicket as he produced his best performance in an ODI since the series against Pakistan in the UAE ten months ago.
Australia’s selectors have showed faith in the 27-year-old wrist spinner after his disappointing World Cup. It was a wise move as they build towards the next World Cup, which will be held in India. Although Zampa’s overall ODI record is poor, he is excellent in Asian conditions. In Asia he has taken 35 wickets at 29 in ODIs, to go with 14 wickets at 20 in T20Is, and 19 wickets at 14 in the Indian Premier League.
Zampa looms as a fine option for the next World Cup, although the same cannot be said of Agar at this stage. After doing a good job in the first match, the left arm spinner was a weak link for Australia last night as he took 0-63 from eight overs.
With career figures of nine wickets at 59 from his 11 ODIs, Agar is yet to find his feet in this format. It was, however, a tough night for the Aussie bowlers on a highway of a pitch against a quality batting line-up. Only Zampa and Pat Cummins (0-53) escaped heavy damage, with Agar, Starc (0-78) and (2-73) all going at well over seven runs per over.
In the process, India ended their run of four consecutive losses at home to Australia and set up a mouth-watering series decider.