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“Their tactic of defensive batting was atrocious when they had a huge target on the plate. Warner and Smith’s knocks have given them a clear lesson that big innings from the top-order batters are necessary but the tempo is crucial too”

Whenever India plays against Australia in a World Cup match, memories of twin losses in the 2003 World Cup hits back the Indian cricket fans. The two losses include a heartbreaking defeat in the final.

Ricky Ponting’s unbeaten 140 powered Australia to a mammoth total of 359 before the Indian were bundled out for 234 and the win handed the Aussies their third World Cup victory.

The Indian fans, on Sunday, bagged an act of small revenge when century from Shikhar Dhawan and fifties from Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli took India to 352, which was the highest score for any side against Australia in the World Cup history. The icing on the cake was India’s 36-run victory over these opponents at the Oval.

Also read: Steve Smith does it the Steve Smith way!

With the quality of bowling attack in the Indian camp, it was always going to be tough for Aaron Finch’s Australians to chased down 352. While India had the history and a recent humiliating home series loss to the same side in their mind, the defending champions needed a win to continue their positive momentum.

Going back to March, Australia needed a win in Mohali to remain alive in the ODI series against India. Against the expectations, the visitors had made a record chase of 359 to level the series. They clinched the victory despite being 12 for 2 and with 12 balls to spare. The heroes of that victory were Peter Handscomb, who scored his maiden ODI hundred, and Ashton Turner with a fantastic 84 not out off 43 balls.

Fast forwarding to the World Cup, neither of the two made it to the World Cup squad as Australia welcomed back their senior batsmen David Warner and Steven Smith.

On Sunday, with a target as big as 353, the Aussies needed their top-order to fire and lay down the required foundation for the rest of the batting line-up to get into the grove without any major issues. That went without saying that, David Warner, who has been Australia’s one of the best batsmen in the last few years, had to deliver. More than just sticking around and saving his wicket, Australia needed him to play his natural game and push the Indian bowlers under pressure with his fearless stroke-play.

It was the time for redemption for Warner and Smith, who were coming off a year-ban for their involvement in the infamous scandal of ball tampering.

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The two registered half-centuries each but their strike-rates, that were below 100, cost Australia the match eventually. Neither of them converted their starts into the triple-digit score. Even if they began their innings slow as the Indians produced their A-level bowling, the Aussie duo had to make up for the lost ball at some point of the innings later on.
However, that did not happen. It was Warner’s ridiculously slow innings that hurt Australia the most.

All this while, Warner has played the role of the executor as his batting partners have always played his second fiddle. When Warner failed to boost the tempo of Australia’s innings, the pressure in the middle increased and that showed in the knocks of Finch and Khawaja, who threw away their wickets.

Warner liked it or not but the fault began with his knock. Someone, who is known to play aggressive innings, chose against it when that kind of play had to be the strategy. The Indian captain Virat Kohli also mentioned that in the post-match conference that the Aussies were hesitant to go loose and went with a mentality of saving their wickets and that approach was wrong considering the target was as huge as 353. “Well, we sort of felt like they were a bit hesitant in going for the boundary option. I just felt like at that stage they didn’t want to lose wickets was the mentality … like they wanted to keep it so they could strike big in the end. But I think that was too big a total to play like that initially,” Kohli added.

When Warner made his comeback in the Indian Premier League, he went all guns blazing in every match possible and that temperament and momentum of his made him look ready to take on any bowling attacks in the World Cup. The Australians are yet to witness that Warner, because the current batsman in their side has not been even close to his character with the bat, is. In fact, his records set so far in three games have been the total opposite of what the Australians have wanted.

Considering Warner’s strike-rate in the 50-over format is 96, his last two half-centuries have been disappointing. Putting it into more perspective, Warner’s previous two fifties – off 74 balls vs Afghanistan and off 77 balls vs India – have been his slowest in the ODIs. The timing of his derailment in the form has not been the best for Australia, who now have fallen to the fourth spot on the points table, below leaders New Zealand, England and India.

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When the boundaries for dried up, Warner and Finch began to take risks while running between the wickets and that cost Finch’s wicket as he got run out and departed for 36 from 35 balls. Their partnership saw 39 dot balls. In order to maintain the left-right combination, Smith walked out next and not Khawaja, who was going to bat at No. 4 for the very first time in the ODIs. Smith and Warner shared a 72-run stand for the third wicket but the number of deliveries they consumed for the same ruined their chance of yet another memorable win over the Men in Blue in a World Cup match.

When Warner fell in the 25th over, the asking rate was going beyond nine and that was no good news for Smith and Khawaja, the two batsmen who had a similar style of play and no big hitting could be expected there. There was still hope as Glenn Maxwell was next at the crease as he came out in the 37th over. Once he settled down in his grove, there is little bowlers could do to stop him. Maxwell had a huge task in front of him and he did show some signs with some series of boundaries before getting out to Chahal.

Smith and Marcus Stoinis fell in the same over, in the span of three balls and that derailed the Aussie batting line-up. Although Alex Carey remained unbeaten on 55 from 35, he received no support from the other end as Australia got bundled out for 316 in 50 overs.

Their tactic of defensive batting was atrocious when they had a huge target on the plate. Warner and Smith’s knocks have given them a clear lesson that big innings from the top-order batters are necessary but the tempo is crucial too. The loss to India was a reality check for Finch and Co but they were lucky that it happened early in the tournament and the reigning champions have plenty games where they can rectify their mistakes and till have a shot at making to the final four.

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