While there is an argument to be made about modern batting wickets and boring matches, sometimes they give us spectacles like this.
First, Australia surged gloriously to 6 for 348. Second, for the bulk of India’s reply, the touring side looked like it would reel that total in.
Finally, Australia crashed back into the game in a late flurry of wickets to win.
Three centuries, 13 sixes, some hectic overs. It is true that the modern limited-overs game often reduces bowlers to bowling machines, and it was no less true in this contest.
But occasionally the quality of sublime batsmanship makes you willing to accept that inequity is not always iniquity.
First David Warner’s 93 and Aaron Finch’s 107, then Steve Smith’s inventive 51 and Glenn Maxwell’s outrageous 41, then Shikhar Dhawan’s 126 and Virat Kohli’s 106. And in the end a bowler won man-of-the-match.
At one stage India was 1 for 277, needing a cruisy 72 from 75 balls. Then it collapsed in spectacular fashion, losing 9 for 46 in 12 overs to be bowled out in the last. From the rubble, coughing and caked in dust, emerged Kane Richardson with figures of 5 for 68.
The game had a strange lead-in. Before this fourth ODI, Australia had batted second every time in the series to comfortably exceed targets of 310, 309 and 296.
Welcome back to the WACA, or the Gabba, or the MCG, doesn’t matter – Australia scored a record chase at every ground.
But at Manuka, a ground where South Africa has played as many ODIs as Australia, things were different. Winning the toss, Steve Smith could have heaped psychological pressure on India by putting it in, once more challenging them to set a total beyond reach.
Instead he chose to bat, perhaps reasoning that his team should hone both skills. The effect was to make the Indians comfortable, giving them a known target and removing the worry of replicating their exact failures from this series.
Even when that known target swelled to 349, it would not have led India to despair. Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni would have remembered a fortnight in 2013, when they made short work of 360 and 351 against Australia.
Best chasers in the business unable to get the job done
The latter two are the best chasers in world cricket. I recently praised James Faulkner for his run of unbeaten second innings. But if you use the common qualification of 20 innings, Kohli went into this game with the best second-innings record in the world, averaging 61.34, while Dhoni is sixth with 51.98.
When it came to averages in successful chases, Dhoni was the best by a mile with an average of 109.19, Michael Bevan splitting the pair with 86.25, then Kohli fractionally behind on 85.97.
By the end of the game tonight, Kohli had raised his average in the first category, but not in the second. Dhoni, crucially, had not bettered his marks in either.
It was always going to be a day for batsmen, with the pitch a white road in the middle of the oval. Warner returned from paternity leave to replace opener Shaun Marsh, who was deemed unlucky but did give up five catches last start on his way to 62.
Warner did no such thing, batting out a maiden before launching with six boundaries in two overs against Umesh Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who had replaced Barinder Sran. While Finch plugged away more awkwardly at the other end, Warner brought up his 50 with a six from his 46th ball, and showed all the signs of being refreshed by his short break, another run of five boundaries in two overs taking him into the 70s.
Finch then got moving and nearly caught up as Warner thought about a century, but the latter batsman fell seven runs short when his on-side swipe against Ishant Sharma brought an edge onto his stumps.
Finch did raise his hundred – his seventh in ODIs – but was out soon afterwards when Ishant took an uncharacteristically agile catch running back from mid-on.
But that just brought Smith to the crease, having dropped himself to number four in order to give Mitchell Marsh some much-needed time in the middle.
It did not greatly aid Marsh, who made a sluggish 33 from 42 balls, flattered by a couple of late hits before he holed out. But Smith showed him from the other end with a characteristically inventive innings, racing to his fifty from 28 balls.
The late rush saw George Bailey, Faulkner and Matthew Wade fall quickly, but Maxwell around them crashed 41 from 20 balls, including 18 from the last over, and including shots like the elevated reverse-pull versus a fast bowler for four. As you do.
Lyon opens the bowling for Australia
Off-spinner Nathan Lyon had replaced quick Scott Boland, but perhaps Smith didn’t notice they bowled different styles as he brought Lyon on to open the second innings. Rohit didn’t mind, smashing 17 from Lyon’s second over.
Dhawan hit a six and a four from one Richardson over, Rohit took two sixes and a four from the next. When he gloved the last ball of the over down leg, he had made 41 from 25 and India had 65 from eight overs. They were on their way.
Kohli and Dhawan made sure they stayed that way, with a 212-run partnership that sparkled and thrilled.
Kohli played with more classic beauty: “It’s not a bat in his hand, it’s a rapier,” enthused Harsh Bhogle on Grandstand as another cut shot twinkled to the fence.
Dhawan offered more vicious inventiveness, pulling with power, coming down the wicket to drive or even cut. One shot will live long in the memory: first ball of the 11th over, John Hastings the bowler, Dhawan advancing to the short ball and then leaping to cut it for six, both feet off the ground as he put every micron of muscle into the shot.
Kohli was particularly stern on Faulkner, with whom he had exchanged words in Melbourne. Four balls in Faulkner’s first two overs went to the fence, and one in the fourth went over it, driven down the ground.
The only catch taken was a bloke in the back row, leaning one-handed over a railing to reel in a take that left Nathan Lyon applauding from the field.
By the 35th over, the result looked almost a formality. Both had raised centuries, Kohli his 25th, drawing level with Kumar Sangakkara to sit equal fourth on the all-time list. It didn’t help that Maxwell was off the field after being struck on his knee while batting. But as ever in cricket, wickets change things quickly.
Dhawan cut Hastings to Bailey at point in the 37th over, then the same bowler had Dhoni edge behind three balls later.
Gurkeerat Singh Mann came in next, Ajinkya Rahane dropped down the order after splitting the webbing on his hand while fielding, then Kohli was out in the 40th over, checking a drive from Richardson to Smith at mid-off. It was a soft dismissal, and he hung his head in disbelief.
Indian innings descends into panic
Panic rippled through the ranks, even though 67 from 60 balls should still have been a stroll. Mann smashed a boundary from Lyon, then holed out. Smith bravely brought himself into slip and Rahane duly edged to him next over, struggling with his injury. Another to Richardson.
They only needed 41 from 37 when Rishi Dhawan holed out. Wade dropped Kumar from Faulkner, but that only let Richardson get him as his fifth.
Then with 38 needed from 27, Yadav put on a masterclass of idiotic slogging, wasting dot ball after dot ball with no connection while the far more accomplished Ravindra Jadeja watched from the other end.
Australia did their best to muck things up as well, Marsh taking a hat-trick of sorts in the 48th except that the first two catches were dropped by Richardson and Wade.
Bailey took the third to account for Yadav, and there was no sense that India could find the runs, the pain ended when Ishant nicked off in the last over, India bowled out for 323.
It was in the end an embarrassing capitulation, but one from a winning position that took a certain amount of genius to attain. Hard then to know how to feel about this game.
The only thing to do, perhaps, is appreciate the batting genius on display. But as ever, it would be nice if the curators gave us the chance to enjoy bowling genius as well. At least, on this occasion, Richardson went home happy.