After starting the Australia tour with two disastrous defeats and surrendering the ODI series within the first three days, India posted a hugely uplifting T20I series win over the hosts just a week later, with their 10th consecutive win of the year in the shortest format of the game. It seems no less than a fairy tale comeback by India into a tour, on which they had looked down and out after the first couple of matches and is a very welcome show of character and determination from the team. It indeed augurs well for the Test series ahead.
Meanwhile, in a landmark development, Tuesday’s final T20I at the Sydney Cricket Ground saw 100 per cent crowd attendance at the stadium for the first time since March and marks a huge step forward for sports as a whole in its quest to attain normalcy after the COVID -19 shutdown.
For the shining star of the white ball series Hardik Pandya, it will be the last international game of 2020, unless he is drafted into the Test side for the four-match Border-Gavaskar Trophy series. Considering that he is in the form of his life, this would make immense sense at this time, especially with skipper Virat Kohli’s imminent return home and Rohit Sharma’s unavailability. Australian legend Shane Warne went to the extent of saying that Indians should start a petition for this.
Even-stevens In Limited Overs
The series is now absolutely even with Australia having won the ODI series 2-1 and India picking up the T20I series 2-1 and neither side holds any appreciable psychological advantage, going into the Test matches.
For Australia, both Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazelwood were unavailable for the second and third T20Is. As was Pat Cummins who was rested. With David Warner and Aaron Finch also unavailable due to injuries, the side was significantly depleted.
One for each team. Photo: AP composite
For India, with Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah similarly rested and unavailable, the pace attack was in the hands of young left-armer, Thangarasu Natrajan who had a wonderful debut T20I series, taking crucial wickets and giving away very few runs, after an equally impressive international debut in the ODI which India won.
Often coming left arm round and angling the ball in, Natarajan bowled 17 yorkers in the first two matches, making him quite a handful. His brilliant work with the ball was reflected in his bowling figures. He had earlier bowled an amazing 96 yorkers in 16 Indian Premier League games. He sure is the find of the tour. He and Bumrah operating in tandem and firing in yorkers from both ends would be great news for the Indian pace attack.
In the first T20I, the spin attack was led by comeback man Yuzvendra Chahal. He deservedly won the Man of the Match award after picking up 3/25, including the scalps of Finch, Smith and Matthew Wade. He became India’s highest T20I wicket-taker and was ably supported by Washington Sundar, who bowled a miserly spell of 0/16 in his four overs.
India’s Saviour Gets Concussed
Jadeja was again India’s saviour with a blazing 44 not out from 23 balls in the closing stages of the innings, but was hit on the helmet. These runs made a crucial difference in the end and gave India something to bowl at, after being 114 for 6 at the end of the 17th over. Amazingly, 47 runs came in the next three overs as India finished at 161. Yuzvendra Chahal, who came in as a concussion substitute for him, somewhat controversially, then scripted his fairy tale comeback. Jadeja had continued to bat on after the injury and was later replaced like for like by Chahal, when he complained of dizziness at the end of the innings.
Down but not out! Ravindra Jadeja taking a breather. Photo: BCCI
This raised doubts in some quarters but was in fact, nothing new as Steve Smith had done the same in the second match of the Ashes tour at Lords in August last year, in the first-ever concussion substitution that launched Marnus Labuschagne’s Test career. He had initially retired hurt on 80 after a Jofra Archer bouncer struck him on the neck then came back, adding another 12 runs before being trapped LBW. He was substituted only the next day after overnight monitoring by medical staff and being diagnosed with a concussion.
In fact, Cricket Australia’s own statistics show that 30 percent of concussions in cricket are delayed in their onset. It is not uncommon for players to pass their tests and feel well on the day of an injury and then display symptoms 24 to 48 hours later. However, to prevent such controversies in the future, it is perhaps necessary to have a neutral medical professional to rule on such matters, like the neutral umpires and neutral match referee of pre-COVID times.
What Happened In Sydney
In the second T20I, stand-in captain Wade hit a brilliant 58 from 32 balls and former captain Smith was amongst the runs again with 46 off 38 deliveries but with a strike rate of 121, he appeared to be a little frustrated at not being able to go faster, in an innings in which everyone else who got into double figures had a strike rate of 144 and above.
Hardik Pandya, second left, celebrates after India's win in 2nd T20I
Chasing a mammoth 195, India needed a strong start and they got that when Glenn Maxwell was smashed for 19 in one over in the powerplay. This gave India a target that was achievable and they got there in 19.4 overs, thanks to a wonderful team effort. The crowning moment came when Kohli waltzed across his stumps to the off side and scooped the ball for an astounding six over fine leg. 14 runs needed in the final over and these were achieved in style with two balls to spare by MoM Pandya who finished with a brilliant 42 not out off 22 balls. He smashed two sixes off the second and fourth balls to see the team home comfortably.
In the third T20I, Wade and Maxwell hit brilliant fifties to propel Australia to a solid total of 186/5 after Kohli won the toss and elected to field. Wade, benefitting from a denied DRS review on account of a mistake by the broadcast team, hammered 80 and his big partnership with Maxwell put Australia on the road to victory.
India lost KL Rahul to the second ball of the chase but Shikhar Dhawan and Kohli were again going well as they added 74 for the second wicket. But India lost three wickets in a clutch to Mitchell Swepson as Dhawan, Samson Samson and Shreyas Iyer fell in quick succession. Kohli then built up a brisk partnership with Pandya and 20 runs came off the 16th over bowled by Daniel Sams, which included 3 sixes. India needed another 56 runs off 24 balls at that stage and with the two together it looked doable.
But when Pandya fell to Zampa in the 18th over and Kohli followed an over later for a brilliant 85, it was all over for India. They subsequently lost a wonderful game of cricket by 12 runs, with Australia holding their nerves and managing to avoid a whitewash in the series.
What will definitely buck up the Men in Blue enormously, however, is the fact that they could rest both Shami and Bumrah, relying instead on a trio of young and untested pacers who held their own admirably, thus demonstrating exciting possibilities for future contests.
Don’t Drop The Baby
The fielding in this series was surprisingly ordinary considering the number of chances that went abegging, although some spectacular ones were taken as well. Former India captain Ajay Jadeja made a humorous reference to Kohli’s dropped catches, saying he was worried about the India captain dropping the baby. The comment raised a storm on social media but it, interestingly, has a history that goes back a long way. Although, it’s another matter that whether Jadeja was aware of it or not is not known.
A dejected Virat Kohli after dropping at Manuka Oval. Photo: AP
There was a joke about the Reverend David Sheppard who played for England in the 1950s, who perhaps being a little short of practice on account of his duties at the church, dropped a few catches. A cartoon in the Punch magazine depicted a horrified wife telling her husband who wanted their child to be christened by Sheppard, “No way, he’ll only drop the Baby,” or words to that effect.
And so, it’s on to the Test matches now and what an exciting contest that promises to be, especially if Pandya were to stay on.