After being 1-0 down in the three-match series, India fought back to complete a series win against Australia that will give them much-needed confidence building towards the upcoming ICC Men’s T20 World Cup.
There were a number of concerns for Rohit Sharma and Co at the end of the Asia Cup, where they were the defending champions but missed out on reaching the final. But the series win against the reigning world champions in the shortest format has provided a few more positives to take away.
KL Rahul and Hardik Pandya were among the runs even as India lost the series opener. In the second game, reduced to eight overs per side, skipper Rohit stepped up with an unbeaten whirlwind knock, saying he has been batting like this for a while but it came out really that night. And in the decider, Virat Kohli anchored the chase with a well-calculated effort after Suryakumar Yadav’s superb 69.
There isn’t much to ponder over as far as the batting is concerned. India seem sure of the group of players they are going to rely on and the only question that remains is how they will use Dinesh Karthik and Rishabh Pant. Karthik, with his 1-2 punch to finish the second T20I, has done his reputation no harm.
In terms of bowling, though, India will hope to gain more surety in the upcoming three-match series against South Africa – the last official T20 assignment before the T20 World Cup.
Here’s a closer look at three key takeaways for India from the series win against Australia:
Death bowling concern
After the Asia Cup disappointment, the return of Jasprit Bumrah and Harshal Patel in the Australia series was expected to change the complexion of the bowling attack. While the duo showed glimpses of their best, the concern regarding death bowling remains.
India got a formidable total of 208 in the first game but couldn’t defend it, with Australia scoring a total of 53 runs in the 17th, 18th and 19th overs. In the third game, Australia scored a total of 39 runs in the 18th and 19th overs.
Bumrah and Harshal were among the bowlers who were taken for runs in these overs but because they were making comebacks after a while, one can hope they will find their best soon.
The real problem, though, continues to be Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s bowling at the death. He struggled at the Asia Cup too and Rohit’s persistence with him at the death seems baffling now. The seasoned pacer just doesn’t seem to have the pace to test batters, even if he finds his mark, late on. And more often than not in recent times, he’s simply been too predictable.
Rohit, in the post-match press conference on Sunday, lent his support to Bhuvneshwar but one can’t help but wonder if he should only be used in the first half of the innings, or middle overs, when there is more movement on offer and the batters aren’t going for broke.
“Yes, of late, it’s not been the kind of performances that he [Bhuvneshwar] would want but that can happen to any of the bowlers,” said Rohit. “You can see the opposition as well, it’s not easy to bowl at the death. But yeah we’ve been working on some execution plans and hopefully we can give him more options to bowl in the death. And then he’ll be as good as he was before.”
Axar grabs his opportunity
From not being in India’s squad at the start of the Asia cup to emerging as a key asset for the team heading towards the T20 World Cup, it’s been a quick turnaround for Axar Patel.
Ravindra Jadeja being sidelined due to injury led to Axar finding a spot in the side and the 28-year-old has indeed made the most of his opportunities. With eight wickets in the three matches against Australia, he was declared the player of the series.
In the first game, he picked 3/17 in his four overs even as the other bowlers were taken to the cleaners. In the second game, he picked 2/13 from two overs in the 8-over reduced encounter as he removed the dangerous Glenn Maxwell and Tim David. And in the decider, he fought back to finish with 3/33 despite being taken for 16 runs in one over.
The left-arm spinner plays to his strengths and attacks the stumps, and his powerplay overs are a big advantage for Rohit. With the team looking to play six bowlers, including Hardik, Axar’s ability with the bat becomes crucial for the balance as well. But that is something India will hope to see more of soon.
“When you do well and the team wins the series, it feels great,” said Axar in the post-match presentation. “I try to back myself with the line and lengths I bowl and even if the batter takes me on I back myself.”
Suryakumar takes centre stage
It was a series decider against the world champions, the target was steep, the pressure was on after India had lost their openers early but yet again, Suryakumar Yadav remained unfazed by the situation.
The 32-year-old had made a stroke-filled 46 off 25 in the first game before getting a first-ball duck in the second. But in the decider, he played arguably the finest innings of his international career so far. Finest, we say, because of the sheer quality of his strokes.
Be it pace or spin, Suryakumar had absolutely no hesitation in going for his strokes. Be it the ridiculous drive over cover for six off Daniel Sams or that flick for six off Adam Zampa to get to his half-century, he continued to play one breathtaking shot after another to finish with 69 off 36 with five fours and as many sixes.
Suryakumar has been India’s standout batter in the shortest format this year and the team will undoubtedly expect a lot from him at the World Cup. The right-hander can hit boundaries to all corners and the confidence with which he is batting at the moment is a massive positive for India.
“Surya has been very consistent with the bat every time he’s gotten an opportunity,” said Rohit.
“He’s been an impactful player for us. Every time I see him, he has taken his game one notch higher. When you see a player raise his level and do what the team expects from him, it’s a great sign. Every game he plays, he seems to be getting better and better.”