India vs Australia 2017, 1st ODI: Steven Smith dropping Hardik Pandya is SK Turning Point of the match
The opening ODI between India and Australia at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai witnessed one of the best catches in recent times when Glenn Maxwell invoked Jonty Rhodes and produced a spectacular one-handed grab. However, on the same day, visiting skipper Steven Smith made a mess of two opportunities. The latter, which reprieved Hardik Pandya, eventually proved to be costly in the end for the tourists.
India were reeling at 110/5 when Smith dropped a chance to take the dangerous all-rounder from the equation. In the second delivery of the 28th over, seamer Nathan Coulter-Nile managed to coerce Pandya into playing a high-risk dab towards the third man region. However, the ball came off the face of the bat and looped towards Smith at first slip. In what was uncharacteristic of him, the 28-year old was not able to judge the opportunity correctly and failed to bend low at the appropriate moment. As a consequence, he was unable to complete the catch. To make matters worse for the Aussies, the ball sneaked underneath to trickle into the boundary ropes.
The major reason behind the drop was Smith premeditating his movements as soon as he saw the batsman prepare to play the ball late. As a result, the Australian captain could not dive low and pick up the ball inches from the turf. Admittedly, the opportunity was a rather difficult one as these sort of catches take some doing. However, Smith's reputation as one of the best in the business meant that it was certainly catchable.
In fact, Smith was having a rare unforgettable day on the field. This was not the first catch that he dropped in the match. He dropped Rohit Sharma off the bowling of Pat Cummins in the fifth over of the game. Fortunately for him, the opening batsman was not able to make a significant difference to the proceedings as he was bounced out later by Marcus Stoinis. But Pandya seized the second chance and shifted the momentum in India's favour with a blistering knock.
Pandya reigns supreme
Having been given a lifeline, Pandya set about resuscitating the Indian innings by forging a game-changing partnership with the seasoned MS Dhoni. While the veteran batsman played the situation smartly and kept feeding him the strike, the 23-year old unleashed himself on the arena.
The hard-hitting batsman wrested control from Australia by taking the attack to Adam Zampa's alluring leg-spin. He smashed three consecutive sixes and sent the vocal Chennai crowd into a state of delirium. Not the one to shy away from a battle against the seamers, he stamped his authority on the likes of James Faulkner and Marcus Stoinis.
Picking the length quickly, Pandya countered the sluggishness of the surface by using a combination of brute force and delectable timing. Even though Zampa dismissed him, the damage had already been done and the exciting talent had plundered 83 off 66 deliveries. On a pitch wherein the other batsmen found it difficult to score quickly, his strike-rate of 125.75 stood out like a beacon.
Pandya and Dhoni ensured that India registered a formidable total of 281. After intermittent rain reduced Australia's chase into a 21-over affair, the Indian bowlers operated efficiently to seal a 26-run victory for the home team. Pandya himself contributed with two vital wickets including the big scalp of Smith.
Meanwhile, the Australian skipper was left to rue a below-par outing across multiple departments. It might just have been a completely different story had he held on to the opportunity provided by Pandya at a crucial juncture in the game.