Australia had most things going in their favour to construct a fine first innings. For the first time in the series, they had won the toss. Their bowlers did not have to toil under the heat, as they did bravely in Kolkata. Nathan Coulter-Nile abandoned his last-minute practice to watch the coin go up and the moment he saw it was his captain Steven Smith walking up to talk to the host broadcaster, he threw his arms up in the air to celebrate. He knew Australia were batting, and for the first 37.4 overs, they did so like a dream - the scoreboard read 227 for 1 with Aaron Finch, the comeback man, scoring a century.
"That was kind of the template we were trying to set," Smith said. "Two guys in the top four going on, - one guy getting a hundred obviously, sort of the others bat around. Our first 38 overs were very good." In Kolkata, the Australia captain took the blame for not finishing the game himself, for not turning a partnership of 76 runs into something in the region of "140", which might well have been enough in a chase of 253. Indore, however, was turning out much better.
But, off the fifth ball of the 38th over, they lost Finch, the backbone of their innings. In the 42nd, Smith was caught for 63. Next ball, Glenn Maxwell fell and, consequently, Australia lost their way, making only 69 runs off the last 74 balls. They had lost a massive advantage and Smith conceded this has been happening too often.
"That's probably bit of a trend for this format and the Test format as well," he said. "We are quite often getting ourselves in good positions but not taking advantage of those. Today was no different, first 30 overs. We continually address it. It's just hard to put your finger on what we are actually doing or not doing to get the results we are after. Today, it was about execution."
Smith had to accept that India's bowlers caused a few of those problems. "I think [Jasprit] Bumrah and Bhuvi [Bhuvneshwar] are probably two of the best death-overs bowlers going around, particularly when the wicket sort of slows up a little bit as it did [today]. We still need to find a way. We set a template really well. The first 38 overs were magnificent. We set it up and we just weren't [able] to execute it in the back end."
Another crucial moment Australia couldn't win came in the 37th over of India's chase. Hardik Pandya had whacked Ashton Agar for a six and a four, and wound up to do it again. But the left-arm spinner held the length back and secured a leading edge. It flew up towards cover where Smith tried to get under a very tough catch but couldn't hold on. He had dropped Rohit Sharma in Chennai and Bhuvneshwar Kumar in Kolkata. Pandya joined the list in Indore, and a man who should have been out for a run-a-ball 41 went on to make a match-winning 78 off 72.
"It went in the air and was swirling a little bit; [there was] a fair bit of spin on the ball. I expect myself to take those chances," Smith said. "If I get my hands to the ball, I expect to catch them. At the moment, my catching hasn't been good enough. I think I've dropped one in every game I've played so far [in this series]. I've been working hard, just might need to work a little bit harder to try and set the standard. But yeah, disappointing result."
The only bright spot for Australia in the match was Finch. After recovering from a calf injury that had kept him out of the first two games of the series, he produced a high-quality century, accelerating from 36 off 54 balls at the end of 19 overs to 101 off 110 in the 34th.
"I think he played really well today; [he] summed things up early, understood the pace of the wicket, played his big shots at the right time, made some good decisions. We've been talking about it as a batting group, we've been having a lot of those collapses in the middle overs. I thought the decisions he made throughout his innings were very good: keep the right balls out, attack the spinners. It was just a well-paced innings. It's nice to see him back."