Smith and Marnus fire but India go big to level series
AUSTRALIA got a look into its future in Rajkot, and for 15 overs it looked damn bright.
The master, Steve Smith, and the apprentice, Marnus Labuschagne, in his maiden white-ball innings, embarked on a rescue mission after Australia was set 341 to secure consecutive ODI series wins in India.
They came together in the 16th over of Australia's chase, with game-one century-makers Aaron Finch (33 off 48) and David Warner (15 off 12) crashing back to earth.
It was ultimately a chase that fell only 36 runs short as India won its first-ever ODI at Rajkot's new ground on the back of Virat Kohli's 78 (76), Shikhar Dhawan's 96 (90) and a double strike from Kuldeep Yadav in one over that brought Australia to its knees.
Jasprit Bumrah (1-32) - who over-pitched and underperformed on Tuesday - was harder to hit than a pinata, in another worrying sign for Australia.
But at the start of a new World Cup cycle, all eyes were on Labuschagne after his sudden rise towards the top of Test cricket.
It took the fall of Australia's match-winning Mumbai openers for the master and apprentice to unite.
Finch lacked fluency compared to his glorious brutality on Tuesday and was finally gone after a line-ball stumping decision went India's way, but it took a spectacular jumping catch from inclusion Manish Pandey to get rid of Warner.
Did Finch have 1mm behind the line when the stumps lit up? Should the benefit have gone the batsman's way? Plenty thought so.
India borrowed Neil Wagner's playbook early and bombarded Smith with short balls, but once he and Labuschagne came together the game started to change.
They quickly entered Tinder mode, chasing singles everywhere, and it steadily evened a mighty contest.
It was mature batting. Death by 1000-cuts stuff, and slowly India started to bleed. So, what did Kohli do?
Bring back Bumrah, whose four-over spell reaped back-to-back maidens and conceded just seven runs.
What did Labuschagne do?
Strike a glorious on-drive boundary off Bumrah's second ball that was straight out of the textbook.
In game one it was No.1 and No.2 - Finch and Warner - and in game two it was fast becoming No.3 and No.4 - Smith and Labuschagne. Poor old Alex Carey must've been wondering if he'd ever get a go.
For a while it looked as if the Australian summer of Marnus was going to roll into an Indian winter.
Then came the moment for India. Labuschagne chipped Ravi Jadeja and it flew straight to Mohammad Shami, who was earlier clutching a sore left knee.
Labuschagne looked furious with himself as his first ODI innings ended on 46, and a 94-run stand came to a close.
But it meant that after seven-white ball matches without a bat, Carey was in, as an ODI run-chase started to resemble a T20.
Carey departed for a quick-fire 18 (16) when he guided a catch straight to Kohli. If the height of a celebratory throw indicates the important of a wicket, India's captain thought Carey was a key.
The buzzing crowd went berserk, but was equally gracious throughout the night. The Rajkot faithful openly cheered Smith and Warner and some even raised placards, showing their support for Australia during its bushfire crisis.
Carey's exit left Australia needing 121 runs from just 76 balls, and watching on TV from Perth there was a bloke named Glenn Maxwell, who has often thrived in that situation.
But after Maxwell's disappointing World Cup it was specialist finisher Ashton Turner who instead came to the crease. India's bowlers must've felt relieved.
Three balls later and it didn't really matter. Kuldeep Yadav bowled Smith (98), denying him a ninth ODI century and first in three years.
That brought Ashton Agar in at No.7, which was Maxwell's position in the World Cup semi-final. The double strike ensured that Australia and India would share a chartered flight on Saturday with the series on the line.
They will jet to Bangalore - the venue Kohli and Finch will call home at this year's IPL - for Sunday night's decider tied at 1-1.
It wasn't a great day for Australia's attack. Mitchell Starc's 0-78 was just one run away from his worst ODI figures, while Kane Richardson, Ashton Agar and Marnus Labuschagne also conceded more than seven runs per over.
But Adam Zampa (3-50) again brought down Kohli and now has career figures of 5-151 against the skipper.
India picked up another injury with Rohit Sharma leaving the field clutching his right shoulder. If Rishabh Pant (concussion) returns in Bangalore then KL Rahul, who batted at No.5 on Friday night, will replace Sharma at the top of the order.
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