India coach Rahul Dravid backed captain Hardik Pandya’s decision to bowl first on a Pune pitch that has statistically favoured sides batting first after the hosts’ 16-run loss against Sri Lanka in the second Twenty20 on Thursday.

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Sri Lanka captain Dasun Shanaka led from the front with a record half-century and two wickets in the tourists’ series-levelling win. Following the loss at the MCA Stadium, India’s bowling came under scrutiny as multiple wides and no-balls contributed to a Sri Lankan total of 206/6. Pandya’s decision to bowl first was also questioned as India failed to chase down the target.

“You cannot go on past history. It looked like a really good wicket, to be honest, and it stayed a good wicket right through,” said Dravid in the post-match press conference. “It did a little bit for the fast bowlers if you pitched it in the right areas with the new ball. But other than that, I thought it was a good wicket. They played well to get to [206], we made some mistakes with the ball. And even though we lost that many wickets, we ran them really close.”

He added, “It was not easy in the back-end as you could see they couldn’t bowl their spinners out because of the ball being quite wet. I honestly think the decision was fine. If we could have done slightly better in a few areas in the game, we would have got the right result.”

On no-balls and the lack of experience

Left-arm quick Arshdeep Singh conceded five of the seven no-balls in the innings and skipper Pandya came down heavily on the 23-year-old in the post-match presentation, saying that ‘a no-ball in any format is a crime.’ However, Dravid was quick to emphasise that experience will produce results and defended Arshdeep and the young bowling group.

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“Nobody wants to bowl wides and no-balls in any format of the game, but especially in the T20 format of the game,” he said.

“The young kids will have games like this at times, and I think we all need to be patient with them, (but) we need to be understanding that games like this can’t happen.

“I think as they’re learning, it’s tough. It’s not easy learning in international cricket. You have to learn on the job. I think we’re going to have to have a little bit of patience with these guys.”

On Axar Patel’s exploits with the bat

During the chase, India kept losing wickets with Pandya out for 12 and Deepak Hooda falling for nine as they looked in trouble at 57-5 in the 10th over. But Axar Patel raised Indian hopes with three straight sixes off Hasaranga in a 26-run 14th over and Suryakumar soon joined the onslaught.

Axar, coming in at number seven, reached his fifty in 20 balls with a six and Suryakumar also reached his half-century with a hit over the fence. Shivam Mavi took on the bowlers after Suryakumar’s dismissal but the asking rate got too much as Shanaka bowled the last over and dismissed Axar and then Mavi off the final ball.

Dravid, taking cognizance of Axar’s back-to-back crucial contributions with the bat, praised the spin all-rounder’s efforts saying, “I think his batting is coming up leaps and bounds.”

“We always knew his quality with the ball, and it was just about developing his batting. He is working really hard on it. He has been with the team for more than a year now and it’s an area of his game that we have identified. We know that it’s important for us to have that,” he added.

“In whatever opportunities Axar has got, especially with injuries forcing [Ravindra] Jadeja out of a lot of cricket recently, he hasn’t let us down, whether it’s Test cricket, one-day cricket, or here. That’s really good signs for us, to have people like him, to have people like Washy [Washington Sundar], who unfortunately is not getting a game. He is playing really well, he is batting really well as well. There is also Shahbaz Ahmed. Obviously we are looking for someone to step up in the pace-bowling allrounder area where a lot depends on Hardik Pandya now and so it was nice to see Shivam Mavi bat. Hopefully Jadeja coming back gives us a nice little cushion in spin-bowling allrounder area.”

Watch the press conference here.

Quotes courtesy: Cricinfo with inputs from AFP