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Cricket news - How India's amended chase strategy thwarted Australia's plans

Kohli and Rohit added 137 runs for the second wicket

Kohli and Rohit added 137 runs for the second wicket

If there was anything that Virat Kohli was wary of coming into the series-decider in Bangalore, it was India's intent and body language. Not because they were lacking by any means, but because he didn't want his side to fall short when pit against an Australian side, who feeds off it, which Kohli believes is their "strongest point".

The current Australian touring party was a much more accomplished side than the one that beat India last year in their come-from-behind win. Having played Australia enough over the last decade, Kohli has worked out that it's not the batsmen or the bowlers that need containment. This tussle is won in demeanour; in bettering Australia's spunk, who come at the opponent hard "with the intent of making things happen every over". It translates to the opposition having to keep their foot on the pedal at all times, without giving them the slightest of openings to sniff a chance of a comeback. And it is exactly what Kohli did - he never took his off on Sunday (January 19), as India adhered to their plan with flawless artistry.

After India had restricted Australia to 286 on quite a dry wicket at the M Chinnaswamy, and being one batsman short with Shikhar Dhawan suffering an injured shoulder while fielding, their chase strategy had to be amended. Rohit Sharma, who normally is happy with Dhawan taking charge upfront, assumed the role of the aggressor, like he has so often in the left-hander's absence since the World Cup 2019. In 15 innings since, Rohit has had a strike-rate of 84 in the first ten overs and has been dismissed every 71 balls.

In two-and-a-half years before that, he had a strike-rate of 70.13 and was dismissed every 51 balls in the opening ten. Call it taking charge, or seamlessly fitting into a varied role, it's reaped dividends.

Opening with KL Rahul in Dhawan's absence, Rohit dominated the first-wicket partnership as India cruised with little fuss to 69, with Rohit having scored 44 of them. He took full advantage of the freebies the Australian pacers offered, punishing anything with width, picking the lengths perfectly while playing the safe game. Rahul couldn't replicate his heroics from Rajkot, but Rohit and Kohli put on display a stand, not boasting of their customary flamboyance, but one of the most calculated ones.

Kohli strolled out in the 13th over and played second fiddle to Rohit, who went on to get to his half-century off 55 balls. It was amidst a phase where Ashton Agar and Josh Hazlewood were brought in to contain, if not mend, the damage of Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins's spells of leaking runs. The bowling pair, along with Adam Zampa, kept the batsmen in check and slowed down India's scoring, but couldn't shut them out as the singles trickled in. The run-rate fell, but with the odd boundary, India ensured that they never really fell behind in the chase by much. It took a couple of good overs here and there to skew the equation of current rate vs required rate with the pair never letting that gap widen.

Rohit converted that fifty into his hundred No.29 in ODIs with 20 overs remaining in the chase. Kohli, at that point, was 29 off 42 balls, while Rohit, was 101 off 111. One Hazlewood over that fetched 14 runs was all it for Kohli to get a move on. His self-assured drives and pulls transitioned momentum between the two batsmen as smooth as silk. Rohit then took a step back as Kohli went on to a 61-ball 50 which worked well for India as Rohit fell for 119 off 128, after a 137-run stand.

"It's a little different from what we've done in the past," said Kohli. "We were a batsman short, and already we had to take a call about who bats where. I think experienced guys have to step up in games like these. That's where experience counts. You can call it a cliche but it does come in handy in situations like these.

"We knew that the plan that Australia would have is to get one of us out early so that they could put us under pressure, because Shikhar was in no condition of striking the ball as he should. From that point of view, it was one of the most calculated partnerships we've had. We've had many flamboyant partnerships as well, where both of us are going hard from each end but today I had to play second fiddle because Rohit was settled in, he knew the pace of the wicket and in between I gained momentum so I started going for it. But then he got out so I had to play anchor role from the other end."

Shreyas Iyer too made a circumspect start, despite taking Starc for a couple of boundaries. However, he wanted to take Zampa on, but Kohli asked to see that over through, given that the spinners were getting the ball to grip even at a later stage in the game. However, given the green signal from his captain, he let loose in the next over, taking Starc to the cleaners and even combated the short ball that he's had trouble against. From a run-a-ball 24, Shreyas had 37 off 28 in the matter of an over with India in touching distance of victory.

"There was a bit of dew in the latter half. The ball came onto the bat much better but it wasn't that much dew because the ball was gripping for the spinners. Ashton Agar and Zampa came in at the end but the ball was still gripping a little bit. Shreyas wanted to take a chance against Zampa in the over that we got 8 runs. We decided that even if we get 4 from that over we'd still be needing 37 from 6, so we can easily finish the game off in five overs from there.

"So when we played that over out, I told him, now you've earned the right to go really hard in this over and really express yourself and if they bowl the short ball, take it on, because once you execute that in the game, then you get over that mental block, if any. I don't think he's going to have any issues anymore because he really went after their best bowlers and got the results.

"It took the pressure off of me as well not having to take risks and the other guy striking at 140-145. I think it was really smart how we went about it. Communication is very important out there in the middle. My job as a senior batsman is to give clarity to the younger batsmen when they are in situations that they can learn from so they can remember and keep repeating in even at a time when we don't play and these guys are still playing. It's about gaining that experience and doing the same things over and over again when the situations are difficult."

Kohli couldn't see the chase through, falling in the following over to Hazlewood for a 91-ball 89, but the damage was done. The skipper had two things at the forefront of his mind when he went in to bat. One, to not allow Australia wickets and an inlet into the game, and two, to exercise total control over the opposition with a partnership of little risk and maximum dividend. If showcasing intent, even just to upset the opposition was the strategy, Rohit and Kohli nailed it. It was little surprise thereafter that they completed the chase with 15 balls to spare to win.

"Last year after 2-0 up, we thought we're definitely going to win one of the three at home, but they showed us that they understand these conditions very well now, having played here a lot in the IPL and so many tours over the years.So today, although they had a stronger side than last time, we thought if we play good enough, we can beat this team. All the teams in the world are skilled but these guys play with the intent of making things happen every over you play against them, so you can't take your foot off the pedal at all, that's what we've done in the last two games. In the partnerships, even the singles were with intent.

"We didn't want to give them a feeling of we don't know what's going on, there was surety, body language, intent and once we get a strong partnership in, we're going to take the game away. Having played them a lot we also know each other's games, which goes both ways - they can also trouble us. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don't, but today was a good one," said Kohli.

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