The format may change, but some things in Indian cricket appear to remain the same. One of them is lack of batting depth; one can’t expect too many runs after No.7. This is what held Virat Kohli and KL Rahul back in the middle overs of last Sunday’s World Cup final, and it almost turned the tables on them in the first T20I against Australia in Vizag on Thursday.
They needed 15 runs in 14 balls with five wickets in hand when skipper Suryakumar Yadav got out after a 42-ball 80, but the team almost managed to fluff its lines; had it not been for Rinku Singh’s presence in the middle, they probably would have lost, even against an Australian side missing its whole first-choice bowling attack.
Surya, Rinku and Ishan Kishan ensured that India chased down their highest-ever successful chase in T20Is to take a 1-0 lead in the five-match series, but as the T20 World Cup in West Indies and USA draws near, the team’s think tank and selectors need to unearth a few bowlers who can bat and a few specialist batsmen who can provide a few useful overs.
Otherwise, it may be a case of once bitten, twice shy. The top and middle order may be forced to play with the handbrake on, burdened by the knowledge that they can’t rely too much on the lower order.
The likes of Yashasvi Jaiswal and Ruturaj Gaikwad will be persisted in the second game in Thiruvananthapuram, and if the duo as well as Surya and Ishan are expected to provide the impetus at the top, it will be down to the likes of Rinku and Tilak Varma to provide the required flourish at the end. On the eve of the second T20I, Varma expressed mild disappointment at not finishing off the game after batsmen ahead of him had set it up.
The selectors are trying out players with an eye on the major ICC event six months down the line, and Hardik Pandya is expected to return to the line-up once he recovers from his ankle injury. Finishing innings and games is a valuable skill, and it could provide anyone’s chances a big boost.
Tinkering with the balance of the XI by bringing in someone like Shivam Dube may weaken the bowling. Washington Sundar can be a viable option, but with overcast skies and some rain predicted on match day, weakening the seam-bowling line-up may be a risk for the second T20I.
World Cup winners Josh Inglis and Steve Smith scored the bulk of the runs for Australia on Thursday, and they have some heavy artillery in the form of knockout hero Travis Head and miracle man Glenn Maxwell, as well as leg-spinner Adam Zampa – the second-highest wicket-taker in the recent tournament – in the squad.
Tanveer Sangha is Zampa’s understudy and still learning his craft. He had a difficult game in Vizag, conceding 47 in four overs as Ishan got hold of him in a favourable match-up, though the leggie did get two left-handers out.
The Australians are still searching for a way ahead in T20Is. To start with, they need a full-time captain. Their elite fast bowling troika – Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood – was at the forefront when they became world champions in the format a couple of years ago. David Warner, winding down his international career, would look to have a crack at another world title, and the Smith situation needs a resolution: does the Test legend fit into the Aussie T20 line-up, and if yes, where?
In the first game, they didn’t use their batting resources to the fullest – stand-in skipper Matthew Wade, who was one of the key components of their victorious campaign in the UAE two years ago, didn’t get to bat while Marcus Stoinis wasn’t in the XI – and they would like a bit more teeth in their bowling. The latter may add a bit more muscle, literally and figuratively, to the side, and Kane Richardson is an experienced option to bolster the bowling.
In the T20 format, bowlers inevitably go for runs, some more than the others on any given day. It was the relative economy of Mukesh Kumar and Axar Patel on Thursday – the seamer conceded just five runs in the 20th over – that proved crucial in the final analysis. But it’s always useful to have bowling options when one or more of the frontliners prove expensive. Batsmen always look to target one or two bowlers in the opposition, and it’s always beneficial for the fielding captain to have something up his sleeve.