M0umbai, March 17 (IANS) KL Rahul struck a well-controlled unbeaten 75 while being in a crucial sixth wicket partnership of 108 runs with all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja as India defeated Australia by five wickets with 61 balls to spare in a low-scoring affair. With the win at the Wankhede Stadium, India took a 1-0 lead in the three-match series
After the pace duo of Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj claimed three wickets apiece to help India bundle out Australia for 188 after skipper Hardik Pandya had won the toss and elected to bowl first, Rahul and Jadeja came together to extricate India from a precarious 83/5 to take them to a memorable victory.
It was not the usual Wankhede wicket and offered movement off the seam to the bowlers. The bowlers held the upper hand barring the magnificent 65-ball 81 by Australia’s makeshift opener Mitchell Marsh and the controlled knocks by Rahul and Jadeja.
India made a disastrous start as they lost their first three wickets with just 16 runs on the board. With the ball swinging and nipping around, the Indian batters found the going tough and the Australian bowlers made their life difficult by not giving them any chances.
Marcus Stoinis brought one back into the batter and Ishan Kishan was comprehensively beaten. He reviewed the decision but the call went with the umpire.
The experienced Mitchell Starc was at his best, bringing the ball in occasionally and then taking it out to keep the batsmen guessing. He got into the act and sent back the in-form Virat Kohli (4) too, bringing the ball in after taking it out for a couple of deliveries.
Suryakumar Yadav, the T20 specialist hoping to get into the ODI squad for the World Cup, was out for a first-ball duck, beaten by pace as the ball missed the inside edge and thudded into the pads. Australia reviewed it and ball tracking showed it would have hit the top of the of-stump. Starc got two in two and though he failed to get the hat trick, added Shubman Gill to his victims as the batter played a loose shot, driving away from the body and Marnus Labuschagne picked a fine catch.
Gill stayed at the wicket for 31 runs and scored 20 runs, failing to adapt to the conditions as Starc claimed 3-24 in his first spell.
Two middle-order partnerships then revived India — both involving Rahul, who has been under pressure recently due to his poor form, losing his vice-captaincy. He became the star of the day for India and produced a knock of superb quality. He started cautiously initially, getting used to the swing as the Aussie bowlers led by Starc threatened to being an early end to the Indian innings.
Rahul and skipper Hardik came together to raise 44 runs off 55 deliveries for the fifth wicket. Rahul played the waiting game while Pandya (25 off 31 balls) went for his shots, hitting the first six of the Indian innings off Cameron Green besides a four each off him, Starc and Sean Abbott before becoming Stoinis’ second victim of the day, rushing into a hook shot off a bouncer that nipped in to cramp him for space.
Rahul then figured in the most crucial partnership of the Indian innings — a half-century partnership for the sixth wicket with Jadeja as India, who were lagging in comparison to Australia at the end of 28 overs at 114/5 to the visitors’ 169/5, fought back brilliantly.
Rahul completed his half-century in 71 deliveries, opening up later by hammering Adam Zampa for a four and a six in the 36th over. He had reprieves when a couple of outside edges did not carry and was also beaten on a few occasions but kept building his innings, hitting four boundaries in his fifty. He celebrated it by hitting two fours and a six but raised most of his runs through singles.
Jadeja proved an able ally as they raised an unbeaten century partnership to help India escape to victory from a difficult situation.
Australia 188 all out in 35.4 overs (Mitchell Marsh 81, Steve Smith 22; Mohammed Shami 3-17, Mohd Siraj 3-29) lost to India 191/5 in 39.5 overs (KL Rahul 75 not out, Ravindra Jadeja 45 not out, Hardik Pandya 25; Mitchell Starc 3-49, Marcus Stoinis 2-27) by five wickets.