A top-order rejig can help Australian team rediscover their one-day mojo in India

Ajit Vijaykumar 01:33 23/09/2017
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It's been a struggle at the top for Australia.

Australia captain Steven Smith lamented another batting collapse at Eden Gardens as his team went 2-0 down in the five match ODI series in India. Chasing a modest target of 253 on Thursday, the Aussies had a few thing going for them. The outfield retained moisture following a brief shower and late evening dew, which meant the Indian bowlers struggled to grip the ball for the latter part of the innings.

Even after the tourists lost two early wickets, Smith and Travis Head were on top of things and handled the biggest threat – wrist spinners – competently. Then, Yuzvendra Chahal bowled a knee-high full toss, Head smashed to it mid-wicket and the wheels came off.

The Aussies are understandably perturbed at the alarming dip in form; they have now lost 10 away completed ODIs in a row. While it is easier said than done, they should look at their own efforts in India over the years in ODIs and draw strength from it.

The Australians have struggled in the longest format in India but have excelled in ODIs. Remember the iconic 2001 series in India where Harbhajan Singh single-handedly dismantled the mighty Aussies? Well, the Baggy Green won the ODI series 3-2. The Aussies lost the 2008 Border-Gavaskar Test Trophy 2-0 but had won the seven-match ODI series the previous year 4-2 and clinched a seven-match series in 2009 by the same margin. They were blanked 4-0 in Tests in 2013 and later in the year lost a closely contested ODI clash 3-2, bowled out for 326 chasing 384 with five overs to spare in the final match.

So what was it that worked so well? The answer is simple – a top-class top order.

In 2001, Australia’s top three of Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting got the better of the Indians. Six years later, it was Hayden – 290 runs from five innings – who played a big role in maintaining Australia’s stronghold.

In 2009, Shane Watson’s consistency at the top – 256 runs from six innings without a ton – helped the men in green and gold emerge victorious. It is, therefore, not surprising to see Smith’s side struggling in India right now.

David Warner and Hilton Cartwright found it tough to put bat to ball in the first two matches and that has had a cascading effect. India’s top order, on the other hand, got back on track after the first match with Ajinkya Rahane and Virat Kohli scoring commanding fifties on a tough wicket in Kolkata.

Opener Aaron Finch’s calf injury put a spanner in Australia’s works before the series started and it is unlikely that a greenhorn like Cartwright will be able to tackle Indian conditions with the visitors already behind in the series.

The best way forward is to have Head open with Warner, Peter Handscomb bat in the middle with Smith staying at one down. Warner’s role should be to hold the innings together while one of either Smith or Handscomb can take on the spinners as both have proven their credentials against top-class slow bowlers in the longest format.

Nothing is certain in life, but if Australia do sort out their top-order and hit India hard in the first half of the innings, they will have the best chance of pulling things back. It’s a formula that has worked well for them in the past.

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