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Maxwell magic trumps Gaikwad ton as Australia keep T20 series alive with big chase | Cricket News

The silence at Guwahati as Glenn Maxwell smoked the final delivery of the match for a boundary, with two needed off that ball in Australia’s chase of 223, said everything about the evening for India. Despite making their third successive total of 200-plus (222/3), courtesy a spellbinding unbeaten 123 by Ruturaj Gaikwad, another special knock from Maxwell – a 48-ball 104 – helped Australia keep the series alive with two matches to go.

For India, this was a night where their batsmen and bowlers showed the road they had to take in the lead-up to the next T20 World Cup in June-July.

For two teams still suffering the hangover of the World Cup that ended less than 10 days ago, the T20I series has been all about giving chances to fringe players with an eye on the future. From an Indian point of view, there is already plenty to take home, especially with regards to their batting, but this was another outing where the second-string bowling attack showed they haven’t made as much improvement as the batting unit. Seamers Arshdeep Singh, Prasidh Krishna and Avesh Khan have tasted international cricket before, and in a series in which they were expected to step up in the absence of Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj and Mohammed Shami, they have given more reasons for the selectors to go back to the experienced trio.

Of course, the conditions throughout this series have been batting-friendly, and Tuesday was no different. But after having Australia at 134/5 in 13.3 overs, it was in the last six overs that the bowlers collectively lost the plot. Arshdeep, who was once the talk of the town thanks to his precision in delivering yorkers, gave away 9 and 16 runs in his last two overs. Avesh gave 13 in one. Prasidh seemed to have got things back in control by providing just 6 off his third over in the 18th, but the next one by Axar Patel which went for 22 put the pressure back on him with 21 needed off the last over.

No bowler has conceded as many in a final over off a T20I to lose a game. But pressure does strange things, especially when one faces a batsman like Maxwell, who is now making it a habit to win games from improbable situations.

This was as good as his dream knock at the Wankhede – without which Australia would have been hard-pressed to even make the semi-finals. After Matthew Wade picked up a boundary and a single off the first two balls, the equation for Australia, or rather Maxwell, was 16 needed off four. India and Prasidh needed yorkers, it didn’t matter what line, but it was the only delivery that could have kept Maxwell quiet.

Festive offer

Instead, Maxwell received a full one on off, allowing him to free his arms and he muscled it over deep cover for a six. Next up he received a short one with plenty of width, prompting Maxwell to slice it for a boundary. Then he got the biggest gift of the night, a full-toss. Reciprocating a bit of kindness, he just deposited it for a boundary to bring up a record-equalling fourth century in the format. The only interest ahead of the last ball was how far and where this would travel as Maxwell got Australia home with a straight hit to the boundary.

Silver lining

If the bowlers endured another horrid night, India’s batsmen showed they aren’t missing any of the bigwigs. This was another power-packed performance by a batting unit that sent another reminder that they have all the ingredients to make this Indian team look formidable not just on paper. If Maxwell’s innings was all about brute power and violence, Gaikwad’s 57-ball 123 was the opposite. A compact batsman who has traces of an era gone by, Gaikwad is the least flamboyant of the lot. But beyond the classic, textbook shots, he is as destructive as others, and has the game equipped for all conditions. His biggest trait so far is that, if he gets going, it isn’t easy to stop him and once he gets a big score early in a series, he is known to build on it. It has been the story of his career in domestic cricket and IPL.

For a batsman who is known to take a bit of time at the start, his innings on Tuesday was no different. Opening the innings, he was 22 off 22 balls when Suryakumar Yadav departed in the 11th over after making a characteristic 39 off 29 balls. It appeared as if his innings was going the same way as what unfolded in Thiruvananthapuram, where Gaikwad had only 58 runs off 43 deliveries when he was dismissed in the final over. In a game in which India amassed 235, he was the lone one to have a strike rate below 140 as even Rinku Singh’s 9-ball 31 outshone his effort. But on Tuesday, after Surya departed, Gaikwad seamlessly pressed on the accelerator, dominating the unbroken 141-run fourth-wicket stand with Tilak Varma, who contributed 31.

When Shubman Gill returns, there is no guarantee that Gaikwad could keep his place as India are inclined towards partnering the former with Yashasvi Jaiswal. But Gaikwad is doing what he knows best. Scoring runs and being in contention at any given point.

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