Usman Khawaja’s maiden one-day international century inspired Australia to a gutsy 32-run win in Ranchi that kept the ODI series alive with two matches to play.
Australia’s attack bent but did not break in the face of another Virat Kohli century as Khawaja’s 104, Aaron Finch’s 93 and an all-round bowling effort led by Pat Cummins (3-37), Jhye Richardson (3-37) and Adam Zampa (3-70) bowled India out for 281 chasing 314 for victory.
Sent in to bat by Kohli, Australia posted 5-313 from 50 overs, with Khawaja in sublime touch to score his first ODI hundred in his 24th match.
He was given a life on 17 – dropped by Shikhar Dhawan at backward point – and made India pay, finishing with a match-winning hundred from 113 balls, with 11 fours and a six.
Khawaja was supported by Finch, who burst out of lean trot with a powerful half-century, matched by Glenn Maxwell’s rapid-fire 47 from 31 balls.
Australia couldn’t have asked for a better start with the ball, rendering India to 3-27 inside seven overs, including a delivery from Cummins that is perhaps the ball of the tour that was too good for the out-of-sorts Ambati Rayudu.
Despite chasing the highest total in the venue’s history, the pursuit looked in control with Kohli and MS Dhoni at the crease, but the Australians kept chipping away around the India captain, who once again looked like he was batting on a different pitch.
While he was expensive, Zampa picked up the key wickets of Kohli, MS Dhoni and Kedar Jadhav to ensure the series remained alive.
The series ledger now reads 2-1 to the hosts as both teams head to Mohali for Sunday’s fourth ODI, another must-win clash for the tourists.
If it wasn’t for a rough patch of five overs with the bat, Australia would have turned out nearly a complete performance against perhaps the best team in the world in their own conditions.
Having been sent in to bat, Australia would have been eyeing a total in excess of 350 after motoring to 0-193 in the 32nd over.
Finch finally hit form to post his first half-century in 21 innings across ODI and T20 cricket, and even when he fell within two blows of his 12th ODI ton, Khawaja was still at the crease with Maxwell, who was promoted to first-drop.
But where the wheels started to wobble was when a flying Maxwell was involved in a run out with veteran Shaun Marsh, who called the Victorian through for a single after Ravindra Jadeja regathered his misfield and fired the ball to Dhoni who did the rest. As the saying goes, never run on a misfield.
Another lapse of concentration brought a wicket shortly after, when Marsh drilled a catch to long-on but the batsmen failed to cross. Marsh stood rooted the crease as he watched his shot gobbled up by Vijay Shankar as Marcus Stoinis set off but couldn’t overlap with his partner.
It put Peter Handscomb on strike to dangerous left-arm wrist-spinner Kuldeep Yadav, who trapped the right-hander with just his second ball to the fresh batsman.
Australia lost 4-24 in 31 balls but Stoinis and gloveman Alex Carey put on an unbeaten sixth-wicket stand of 50 to elevate the score beyond 300 and, in fact, the highest ODI score at the venue.
While Australia would like to forget that five-over slump, they would be thrilled to be reminded of the way they started with the ball.
With Nathan Coulter-Nile back in Perth to be present for the birth of his second child, Jhye Richardson got his first game of the series. The whippy right-hander was targeted and punished in the preceding T20I series but with the new ball under lights he did not give up a run from his first 16 deliveries.
He struck the first blow – Shikhar Dhawan caught at backward point for one – before Cummins left India in tatters with two wickets in six balls; Rohit Sharma trapped lbw with the aid of the DRS and Ambati Rayadu castled with an incredible delivery that shaped in, nipped away, squared the batsman up and took the top of off.
Operating with a packed off-side field, Richardson and Cummins allowed just two scoring shots to the leg-side in an exhibition of pace, accuracy and bowling to a plan.
Playing in what could be his last home game, Dhoni put on 59 with Kohli, seemingly at ease, before he got too funky digging out a well flighted delivery from Zampa and was bowled.
It was all Kohli for the next 45 minutes as Finch and the Australians through everything at the champion batsman only for it to be hit back at them twice as hard.
Of his 14 boundaries, the audacious cover drive played on the up off Richardson was the pick, an emphatic stand-and-deliver-shot that sent the crowd wild.
His innings wasn’t flawless – on 98 a thin edge was grassed by Carey from the bowling of Maxwell. Four balls later he was saluting the crowd celebrating ODI hundred No.41.
The run chase was in control, Shankar was providing ample support and the result looked forgone, but Zampa would again provide the breakthrough, bowling Kohli with a googly that beat the bat and clipped leg-stump.
From there, Australia would not be denied an impressive win, one that keeps the series alive for at least one more match, on Sunday in Mohali.
Qantas Tour of India
First T20: Australia won by three wickets
Second T20: Australia won by seven wickets
First ODI: India won by six wickets
Second ODI: India won by eight runs
Third ODI: March 8, Ranchi
Fourth ODI: March 10, Mohali
Fifth ODI: March 13, Delhi