India's ODI series against a struggling Australian side was seen as a chance to fine-tune preparations for ICC World Cup 2019 while reminding everyone that the Aussies are not the force they once were. But about a month hence, India looks very beatable and Australia – after whitewashing Pakistan – is slowly taking strides towards invincibility.
Following their T20 whitewash of India, Australia started their ODI vigil in the subcontinent with two successive defeats. The religious followers of Indian cricket with its myriad constituents were up in arms, writing off Australia and the schadenfreude for the once greats was at an all-time high. The focus had suddenly shifted from India's perennial problem of finding a number 4 to Australia who seemingly looked toothless.
The fact that India got out of jail in both victories was conveniently overlooked. In the first ODI, India was reduced to 99-4 in the 24th over in pursuit of 237 for victory. The Zen-like MS Dhoni and the street smartness of Kedar Jadhav bailed India out on that occasion. In the second ODI, it was Jasprit Bumrah's death bowling that choked the Aussie chase but hardly did India look convincing in their triumphs.
For a long while in the third ODI, it seemed India had a chance to finish the series off as chase master Kohli seemed to single-handedly hare down a target of 314. But 123 off 95 was not enough as the supporting cast took the day off and the protagonist was left scratching his head. From thereon in, with Dhoni rested, India completely lost the plot to capitulate two more times to concede the series and captain Virat Kohli's spotless record at home.
While India was not able to find any definitive conclusion to their number 4 worry, Australia found a lot of answers on top of some very good questions – how will we fit the returning David Warner and Steve Smith in this group of high performers? Which fast bowler will we leave out to accommodate Mitchell Starc?
The Australian juggernaut then headed further east to the United Arab Emirates where they took on Pakistan. The outcome was something Australians of the yore had gotten used to – a clean sweep. Skipper Aaron Finch, who looked completely lost in the international arena, suddenly rediscovered his mojo to score two centuries and two half-centuries. Glenn Maxwell became the 'Big Show' again as he scored 70 off 33 balls and Adam Zampa kept heightening his ever-growing reputation.
"A lot of people were writing us off, not in just the one-day cricket but in all forms of the game. It's been really positive last couple of months and we have been building nicely," said skipper Finch after their middle-east sojourn. "There will be some unlucky guys," quipped the captain when asked about World Cup selection.
India followed by Sharjah, Abu Dhabi and Dubai set in stone the age-old truth in the game of cricket – if the World Cup is around the corner, Australia is a force to reckon with. The defending champions are the most successful team in the history of the game in the quadrennial tournament with each of their five triumphs coming in different continents.
World Cup triumphs in 1987 - India, Asia; 1999 - England, Europe; 2003 - South Africa, Africa; 2007 - the Caribbean, North America; 2015 - home, Australia and 2019? Never count the Australians out.