There was a glimmer of hope when Bhuvneshwar Kumar joined Kedar Jadhav in doing what every batsman prior to him should have; but as the required rate started mounting, one mistimed shot followed another and necessity led to both batsmen's downfall. India thus stood defeated on home soil – their first since 2015; and Virat Kohli's first since he took over the reins from MS Dhoni.
The five-match home series against Australia was supposed to be India's opportunity at fine-tuning their combinations ahead of the impending World Cup. But, in their last international assignment prior to the quadrennial event, India not only managed to expose the chinks in their own armour but more importantly allow Australia to tell the world, 'Don't count us out yet. We are Australia and come the World Cup, we are always favourites' – all this without David Warner, Steve Smith and Mitchell Starc.
From dismantling New Zealand in their den, and hardly breaking a sweat in the process, to being outplayed at home, what went wrong for India one would wonder – the basics as it turned out.
Virat Kohli, Ravi Shastri and the musical chair
India had questions they needed to answer and the number 4 spot was their primary concern. In fact, the number 4 spot has been India's primary concern since the 2015 World Cup; and it is perplexing how a nation so littered with batting talent, has failed to finalise someone for that spot in four years.
Since the last World Cup, India has tried Ambati Rayudu, Ajinkya Rahane, MS Dhoni, Dinesh Karthik, Yuvraj Singh, Manish Pandey, Rishabh Pant and Shreyas Iyer in the position but none of the above has been given a fair run of games. It has always been a case of a couple of games here and one game there. This not only does not give enough time to judge the ability of a player but more importantly plays with their confidence.
Thus, it is hardly surprising that the team is yet to zero in on anyone at number 4 and a lot of the blame has to be shouldered by the team management. The think tank headed by captain Kohli and coach Shastri must look at their methods of giving people opportunities. If someone is given an opportunity, he must be afforded an extended run before being dropped and once dropped, the next person should be given the same run of games.
The opening conundrum
Barring one match, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan have not got going in this series. In fact, Dhawan's form has been iffy for a good while now and his century in Mohali was his first since September 2018 when he scored his 15th ton against Pakistan in the Asia Cup. Keeping the Mohali match aside, Dhawan's average in the series reads an abysmal 8.50.
While Rohit has not been as disappointing, he hasn't taken responsibility in finishing games for his nation. Oftentimes, Rohit has got off to a good start and even scored half-centuries but failed to carry on to see his team through to victory, especially in run chases.
Given that India's success over the last six years has been formed around the top three, the consistent failures of the openers in the recent past has rendered India slightly toothless against quality opposition.