The four shining lights of Australia's series win

14 March 2019 11:26 Sports Desk

The ultimate validation of Usman Khawaja's stellar series came from Virat Kohli, who after catching him for a 100 in Delhi, flung the ball in disgust. Khawaja produced the ODI version of what Cheteshwar Pujara achieved in the Test series in December-January. By the end, India were frustrated at the very sight of Khawaja, as the batsman finished of with scores of 50, 38, 104, 91, 100, aggregating 383 runs at an average of 76.60, only three runs behind David Warner's Australian record of 386 runs (vs South Africa in 2016-17) in a five-match series.

It was not the volume but the circumstances in which Khawaja got them, that made it special. For long, the 32-year-old was criticised for his play against spin after failures in Tests at Bangladesh and Sri Lanka so much so that he was utilised something like a home series specialist. Eager to prove otherwise, Khawaja embarked on a fitness program, reduced seven kilos and played a potentially career-turning Dubai Test match in which his century salvaged a Test draw from a hopeless position.

A meniscal tear and off-field issues involving his brother threatened to side-track him only for Khawaja to return stronger than before. He scored three half-centuries against India in the Tests before breaking the century jinx against Sri Lanka at Canberra.

Khawaja batted at one-drop when Alex Carey was handing opening responsibilities for a brief while, but returned to his favoured opening slot at the start of this series. While he played the fast bowlers with the swag of a Caribbean batsman, it was his performance against spin that truly caught the eye. Khawaja, like Handscomb, was never afraid of using his feet to get to the pitch of the ball. More importantly, to balls pitched outside the line of the stumps, he developed an important shot - the reverse sweep - that constantly put a spanner in India's plans. His Man of the Series-winning performance will secure his starting place at the World Cup even if Australia can't resist the temptation of bring David Warner back in the side.

Fifteen months ago, Adam Zampa was left scarred at the treatment meted out to him by Hardik Pandya. In the ODI series opener at Chepauk in September 2017, Australia had India on the mat with an impressive start from Nathan Coulter-Nile only for the leggie to let his team down by engaging in an ego tussle with Pandya. Zampa kept tossing balls up, Pandya kept sending them into the stands. India won the game and romped to a series win while Zampa was left to wonder if his days as an Australian cricketer were up.

"The downfall started last time we came to India," Zampa said. "I fell into the trap of just thinking 'that was a one-off, I was underprepared and I'll use that as an excuse'. It definitely took a little while to rebuild confidence and form."

Zampa played four more games in the home series against England and was discarded from the ODI setup, only to return ten months later against South Africa. Glenn Maxwell, who skippered Zampa at Melbourne Stars in the Big Bash League, played a central role in the spinners' revival. "His leadership at the Stars was really good for me. If you have people pushing you it gives you a bit of belief."

Cut to the present: Zampa is asked by television presenters if Virat Kohli is his bunny (he has dismissed the Indian captain five times in international cricket) Zampa finished the series as the standout spinner - beating the likes of Kuldeep Yadav - returning 11 wickets at an average of 25.82 and an economy of 5.68, routinely troubling India's famed top-order along the way. His contest against Rohit Sharma in the final ODI at Delhi was particularly noteworthy given he made the star batsman dance to his tunes with an assortment of deliveries. Rohit was dropped twice off Zampa's bowling before the leggie had him stumped with a clever change of length. He should be pencilled in as the first-choice spinner for the World Cup.

Pat Cummins ended up playing each of the five ODIs in the series despite Aaron Finch's forewarning that the pacer was red-lining because of his immense workload over the summer where he featured in each of the six Test matches. Cummins finished as the leading wicket-taker of the series, claiming 14 wickets at 15.71 including a maiden ODI five-fer at Mohali.

"A captain's dream," as Mitchell Johnson called him, Cummins found all his success from a role he'd seldom donned for Australia in ODI cricket - bowling with the new ball. The 26-year-old quick usually operates first-change behind Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood, but almost seamlessly adapted to his new role in the absence of the other two first-team regulars. His ability to hit the hard length and bowl his cross-seam variations was instrumental in squeezing India's run-flow on a two-paced Delhi wicket.

Cummins bounced out Rohit Sharma on a docile wicket in Nagpur and fired in yorkers at regular intervals in Mohali, underscoring his versatility. Add his lower-order batting contributions and you start to comprehend why he's touted as "the complete package" and "future captain of Australia."

Handscomb was the middle-order rock Australia have yearned for during their two-year slump. Funnily enough, ahead of the home summer, he was deemed unfit for limited-overs cricket and left out of the series against South Africa and India. Then he endured a horror run in the Test series against India and lost his Test spot, only to be surprisingly called up to the ODI team for the home series against India.

With Travis Head losing his spot in the middle-order, the place was Handscomb's to seal. And seal he did. Arguably the best player of spin in the squad, Handscomb put down an early marker of his abilities with a measured 48 in a run-chase at Nagpur before his victory push was cut short by a run-out. After returning a blob in Ranchi, Handscomb played one of the innings of the tournament, setting up a frenetic Mohali finish with his maiden hundred - a masterful 117 off 105 that saw him sweep Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal out of the attack. Handscomb also helped decode the slingy Kedar Jadhav, staying deep in his crease to get under the ball and muscle it over the boundary.

Handscomb added another match-winning 50 on a slow turner in Delhi to finish the series as the third-highest run-getter, behind Khawaja and Kohli, with 236 runs at 47.20 and a strike-rate of 92.19.

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