It was a sight Indian cricket fans haven’t seen in a while — the Indian bowling attack coming good.
An all-round performance against the mighty Australians earned India an emphatic victory in the first T20I at the Adelaide Oval. After a dismal ODI series that ended in a consolation win for India at Sydney, the three-match T20 series was supposed to be India’s oasis in the summer Down Under. Dhoni and Co have taken the first step in the right direction.
Virat Kohli again showed why he’s considered one of the best batsmen in the world in any format of the game. His 90 of 55 was the spine of the Indian innings that helped put up a daunting target. India had started off strong thanks to Rohit Sharma fireworks. But when comeback man Shane Watson clipped India’s openers in his first over, it was Kohli and another comeback man Suresh Raina who powered India to 188, with a deadly little cameo from Dhoni in the last over.
But Indian bowlers served up the surprise, as the seamers and spinners contributed in equal measure to bowl out Australia for 151. Two wins on the trot for India and finally, a bit of momentum for Dhoni's side.
Here are a few talking points from the match:
“Old dog, new tricks”
Right after the toss Dhoni said that the side needed a bit of experience. The young ones were tried out in the ODI series with mixed results. One can’t really gauge players in a matter of five games, but one can’t really chastise Dhoni for falling back to his old horses as well. After all, they have seen battles and lived through them.
Although Harbhajan didn’t make the cut, but no one minds a healthy dose of nostalgia. And frankly, Yuvraj Singh, Ashish Nehra and Suresh Raina still have a lot to offer this Indian side. To see the bunch of men of who conquered the world in 2011 back on the field together, to see if they still got it, makes for an irresistible sports narrative.
Australia weren’t missing their share of veterans either. Shane Watson and Shaun Tait donned the yellow and green and some shade of Black with KFC plastered in front. (Seriously, what was that Australian jersey all about?) Maybe the hosts were looking for the same thing as the men in blue — “old dog, new tricks”. It is sort of unnerving and comforting at the same time that teams have called upon the old ahead of the main event of the youngest format of the game — the World T20.
For Australia, Watson proved the star with the ball but couldn't bail his team out during the chase. Tait’s tricks, however, looked the same old. The 32-year-old pacer was as inconsistent and irregular as ever and was rightly punished for it.
We didn’t get to see much of Yuvraj on the day, Kohli and Raina made sure of that. He did bowl an over and took a spectacular catch of Chris Lynn, plucking a bullet out of the air. While his abilities on the field remain much the same, Yuvraj true test will come with the bat. Time will come in the T20 series when his specialty — bailing India out with a brilliant knock — will be needed. And everyone wants Yuvraj to come good as much as the man himself.
Ashish Nehra bowled four overs, gave away 30 runs and got the wicket of Kane Richardson. It wasn’t a comeback that makes headlines, but he did bowl well in patches. But Nehra, who hasn’t played for India since 2011, is a valuable addition to the Indian squad in the shortest format of the game, like Dhoni said after the match.
Further matches will tell more of what Nehra can still do with the ball, but Dhoni will be glad to have someone who can bowl to a plan with control.
Raina too made a point with his bat on the day, hitting an important 41 runs off 34 balls.
The batting machinery
India started off with a bang. Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan strut through the first four overs, finding boundaries at will. Even after being dropped the previous over, Rohit didn’t put a check on his buccaneering and it was “old dog” Watson who struck in the first ball of his first over. Four balls later, Watson had claimed the other opener as well.
But like clockwork, it was Kohli whose bat spoke the loudest. He came in after the opening pair fell and picked up where he had left off in the ODI series. Australian bowlers, spinners Travis Head and Cameron Boyce included, didn’t come close to troubling the Indian Test captain. Raina, in bid to prove his worth, ably played the sidekick. It is such a treat to watch Kohli once he gets going and he put out a feast on the occasion, exhibiting elegant strokeplay. Kohli in fine nick can be anything but jarring.
Dhoni delivers, coolly
India crossed 130 at the end of 15 overs, with Kohli and Raina on the crease and Yuvraj and Dhoni to follow. One would expect at least 180 from there, but one would also expect India to trigger the domino effect, especially with the iffy lower-order the team is sporting these days. But it didn’t happen. Raina departed on 41 but not before hitting a huge six over mid wicket in his typical down-on-one-knee fashion. Then in came under-fire skipper MS Dhoni in the last over. Many have been saying that he is done as a captain, and some are saying that he is even done as a batsman. But his 11 off 3, that included a six and a four, suggests otherwise.
Three balls hardly indicate a shift in batting form, but a match was enough to know that he is still captain cool. Dhoni played his cards well, and it paid off. The spinners came through after Australia go off to a flier and Jasprit Bumrah sparkled again. Dhoni even backed debutant Hardik Pandya after the lad went for 19 in his first over that included five wides. But the Baroda all-rounder, who didn’t get a chance to bat in his firebrand manner, justified Dhoni’s trust and ended up picking two wickets.
Back in the side after five years, Nehra didn’t have the best of starts as well. It was 22-year-old Jasprit Bumrah who came close to troubling the Aussies early on. Bumrah had impressed in his ODI debut, picking up two wickets and Dhoni showed his faith in him by handing him a T20I debut as well. When Ashwin and Nehra had been smacked around a bit, Bumrah ran in for his first over and gave away only 3 runs. He ended up with the figures of 3 for 23 from 3.3 overs, including the scalps of David Warner and James Faulkner.
With Umesh Yadav's penchant for inconsistency, Bumrah looks like an option to go ahead with for not just the World T20, but beyond.
Back in comfort zone
Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja proved to be the difference-makers. After Australia's strong start, the slower bowlers took charge. Ashwin, who got the nod ahead of Harbhajan, was introduced in the second over itself. He went for 17 runs as Aaron Finch raced away to 20 off 12. Warner hadn’t even started yet. Ashwin has had a forgettable tour down under and it didn’t seem like it was going to get any better. But he came back strong and dismissed Finch and Watson later on. Jadeja was good throughout, giving away mere 21 runs from his four overs. He picked up the wickets of Steve Smith and Travis Head, crippling the Australian middle order. From there on it was never Australia's game to win.
India's comfort zone lies in the spin attack coming through in the middle overs. They slow the batsmen down, break the rhythm and send a few players packing and put pressure on the batting side.
MS Dhoni loves that and would have been glad to be back in that comfort zone.