Time running out for Dhawan, Rayudu
Ambati Rayudu (L) and Shikhar Dhawan's patchy form is turning out to be a glaring concern for India. (AFP Image)

For the second time in the series against Australia, India’s much-vaunted batting order faced prominent collapses in their run chase. They may have been able to overcome the first one in the ODI series opener in Hyderabad, owing to a much smaller total they were up against, but slipping to 27 for 3 in a chase of 314 was going to be different story altogether. (READ: Khawaja, Finch stand trumps Kohli 123 as Australia stay alive)

India eventually fell 32 short in the third ODI at Ranchi on Friday, bowled out for 281 despite a second straight hundred from Virat Kohli. The Indian captain’s stellar form isn’t ever going to be a problem, especially in a World Cup year, but their propensity to lose early wickets in their last few games presents selectors with a unique problem with just two more matches remaining in the series. (READ: India head into last lap of pre-World Cup ODIs with issues to settle)

With the ICC Cricket World Cup only separated by the Indian Premier League coming up, Shikhar Dhawan and Ambati Rayudu find themselves slipping further into a selection quicksand. Rohit Sharma and Kohli were leading ODI run-getters in 2018, and continue to provide India the stability they need, but Dhawan’s prolonged inconsistency, and Rayudu’s loss of form are hurting India not only in this series, but as they plan ahead for the showpiece event in England.

Shikhar Dhawan has gotten starts but his failure to convert them into big scores has hurt India at the top. (AFP Image)

Since his Man-of-the-Series-winning exploits in the Asia Cup last year, Dhawan has slipped down the run-making charts significantly, scoring just two half-centuries since over 18 innings. On Friday, another airy swipe from the swashbuckling left-hander found Glenn Maxwell at point when he was on 1, after he was snapped up first ball in the first ODI. His 21 in Nagpur was eye-catching, but his dismissal off Maxwell was just as frustrating to watch.

India’s opening stocks aren’t so bare that they haven’t employed the services of KL Rahul in the series, and with the series still in the balance, the Karnataka batsman still has something to offer as India look to stretch their winning record at home. Since his disciplinary ban from the BCCI, Rahul returned for the T20 series against Australia, and reeled off impressive scores, enough for him to stake a claim for a place in the opening slot.

In much the same vein, Rayudu’s form has tapered since the turn of the year as well, when at one stage in 2018 India were pretty much settled with their search for a permanent No. 4 leading in to the World Cup. A few wafts outside the off-stump later, Rayudu was sent back by Pat Cummins with a delivery bowled at high pace, as pressure appeared to show on the batsman’s plays and misses. Rayudu has had to deal with considerable criticism of late, particularly after a 32-ball 18 in the previous match, and a 19-ball 13 in the first ODI.

Pat Cummins took took out Ambati Rayudu’s off stump on Friday. (AFP Image)

Bouncy tracks in New Zealand notwithstanding, Rayudu was able to produce match-winning innings as India captured their first ODI series win in the country in nine years, but a string of failures on home soil aren’t helping his chances, especially with bright, young talent breathing down his neck in the form of Vijay Shankar and Rishabh Pant.

In his last 10 ODI innings, Rayudu has passed fifty just once when he scored 90 in the final ODI in New Zealand. Having been banned from bowling isn’t also going to help his case in the long run, with India looking to fill in the fifth bowler’s role with some part-time spin.

The last two ODIs against Australia pose a unique challenge for India. Matthew Hayden rightly pointed out that victory in the third ODI, which would’ve given India the series, could have given them the chance to test their bench in the last couple of games, but a thin 2-1 lead may have scuppered their plans.

Shankar, MS Dhoni and Kedar Jadhav have on occasion come up with impressive rescue acts like they did in the first and second ODIs, but on a track that didn’t aid batting under lights, not even India’s specialist finishers could come up with significant contributions tonight. Regular top-order collapses aren’t going to help their case either, and with the likes of big-hitting options like Hardik Pandya not available for the series, there is more responsibility to share among the top four.

Only Kohli has been able to keep up with the rigours of batting for long periods in the series among them. Rohit Sharma has looked off-colour despite his T20 heroics, but time surely appears to be running out for Dhawan and Rayudu, as the World Cup bus reverses into the parking lot.