Rain. That’s the first word coming to mind when you wonder out loud why a second-string Australia was able to hold India to a 1-1 drawn result in the three-match T20I series.
Sure, the match in Melbourne was abandoned due to rain and there is nothing anyone could do about it. Yet, in two complete matches, India barely managed to scamper home in one game, thanks to the chase-master that is Virat Kohli. In Brisbane, when he failed to get going, India lost by four runs.
There is no denying that India were the better all-round side in this series. Kohli said so. Aaron Finch accepted it, and almost everyone admits it. But going into the Test series, Australia will hold their heads high in the manner they performed in the T20s, giving hope yet that all is not lost.
Shoddy fielding: India dropped two catches in Brisbane, another two in Melbourne, and one more in Sydney. There were almost as many mis-fields in the same matches. It is easy to recall this because of late the Indian team had never produced an effort so bad. So much so, to say that their fielding was below par would be an understatement.
To be honest, fielding in Australia isn’t easy. The grounds are big, and mostly oval in shape. The angles are different, and you have to cover more distance when running along the boundary. It is an allowance however for one game, but when your fielding is bad for three successive games, there is something wrong.
You can almost see why it was so. No Ajinkya Rahane, no Manish Pandey, no Suresh Raina, no Ravindra Jadeja and no Hardik Pandya. Even Rishabh Pant dropped a catch at the MCG, so you can say no MS Dhoni either. All five have represented India in limited-overs’ cricket this year, and the fielding levels with them in the side have been top-notch.
They were absent for different reasons, from injury to dropping, but the underlying point is this. Fielding wins you matches in T20 cricket – India have to select a side that is high on skill not only with bat and ball, but at the same time, doesn’t compromise on the fielding aspect either.
Virat Kohli’s captaincy: Selecting a team is the captain’s prerogative, and getting the selection right is his responsibility. With Kohli, things have never been crystal clear when it comes to selection matters. He is someone who likes chopping and changing. Surprisingly, he showed great consistency during this T20I series and didn’t make a single change to the playing eleven in three matches.
It was partly down to Hardik Pandya’s absence again. In a short time period, he has become such a vital cog in the captain’s plans that India rely on him completely for the fifth bowling option. That is an inherent problem for the Men in Blue. For a long time now, it has been felt that they need six options in T20I cricket, but for some reason that has never happened.
Kohli steadfastly believes in the four bowlers and one all-rounder theory. It could be seen in how Yuzvendra Chahal was left out throughout the series in favour of Krunal Pandya, who bats just that extra bit. Would you rather need a sixth bowler when things are going wrong, or do you need that all-rounder, a number seven bat when the top six have failed? It is a question Kohli wasn’t able to answer at least in this series.
The other noticeable ploy from Kohli was in copying what Rohit Sharma did during the Asia Cup and the recent T20I series against West Indies. Sharma used Jasprit Bumrah as first-change, and after the smacking in Brisbane, Kohli too adopted this approach in the remaining two games. It meant that even Khaleel Ahmed became indispensable, otherwise who would open the bowling with Bhuvneshwar Kumar?
There is a certain rigidity creeping in Kohli’s captaincy, especially in the limited-overs’ arena. It will be highly interesting to see how India’s ODI and T20I fortunes shape up in the next six months or so.
Rishabh Pant’s shocking shot selection: A common trait in three of India’s last four T20Is was Pant’s horrendous decision making. At Chennai, he nearly carried India home before slogging himself out and the match was almost tied. India had already won that series, so that shot was of no consequence, or so you would think.
He followed it up with a similar poor stroke in the run-chase at Brisbane, and this time it did cost India not only the match but also the series. His wicket was the point of no return in an otherwise seesawing game, and if he had just maintained his composure, perhaps India could have won this series 2-0. In Sydney, he played another loose stroke – first ball – to hand Australia the advantage in a tight chase.
It is vital to ascertain how Pant is treated in the Indian dressing room. Sure, he is given the freedom to play his shots and be aggressive. Nobody wants to curb that at a young age and that adventurous streak is what makes Pant stand out. But ever so often, you need the elderly statesmen to put an arm around the young star’s shoulder and ask him to think before he plays a shot.
At the moment, Pant looks like someone driving a car recklessly who makes decisions before thinking. A crash is imminent – can he pull up before it is too late?
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