We've often seen India lose one series on a tour, but bounce back to make amends in another. Their ability to bounce back was once again on display as they crushed Australia 3-0 in the T20I series after a 4-1 loss in the ODIs.
A win that saw them zoom to No 1 in the ICC rankings from eighth. It was a dominant performance and the visitors showed great character especially after the doom and gloom of the ODI series loss. While the ODIs exposed India's frailties, the T20I series had more positives than negatives.
Here are the takeaways from the T20I series:
Top order is a force to be reckoned with
Dhawan's return to form has meant that India's top order has become a force to reckon with. The trio of Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli started the good work from the ODI series and converted into a dominant force in the T20Is. Rohit and Dhawan provided solid platforms which gave Kohli the freedom to go for his shots. Of the 572 runs, 415 runs were scored by the top order which is 73 percent of runs at an average of 59.28 and a brilliant strike rate of 149.28. Australian top-order, on the other hand, averaged 41 and that was the difference between the two sides.
Dhoni asserted the importance of the top order after the series: "What has been good in this series is how the top order has consistently performed. It is very difficult," Dhoni said in the post-match conference after 3rd T20I.
"When you are scoring lots of runs you get a lot of confidence, but at the same time, there comes a time when you put that extra pressure on yourself too. You may think that the law of averages will strike at some point. But they have carried it through the whole series, they always gave us a very good start. And it was always the top order," Dhoni added.
It's pretty much an established fact that India will depend on their top order to deliver the goods but the fact that the lower and lower-middle order hasn't been tested is a worry. I had analysed during the ODI series how India's biggest problem has been it's lower and lower-middle order and the finishing.
India never lost more than three wickets in an innings in this series. Yuvraj Singh looked a bit rusty when he finally got a chance to bat in the last T20I but recovered well. Suresh Raina got into the groove well but they were a part of the middle order in that game. Overdependence on the top order can prove to be problematic and hence, Dhoni will hope that as and when the lower order gets a chance, they get into the groove as soon as possible before the start of World T20.
Bumrah's emergence and bowling finally comes good
Throughout the ODI series, the one common sentence that most Indian fans uttered including MS Dhoni was 'We fell 25-30 runs short', despite scoring over 300 in four out of five ODIs. The bowlers' ineptitude only put more pressure on the batsmen. However, with the format, the pacers changed. The injury to Bhuvneshwar Kumar proved to be a blessing in disguise for India as his replacement — Jasprit Bumrah — stole the limelight. His sharp bouncers and ability to bowl yorkers at the death impressed Dhoni who went on to say that Bumrah was the find of the tour.
"The way he has bowled in the last three games was really good. What looks good is Bumrah as a potential player," Dhoni said after 3rd T20I. "He's looking really good, and even today he bowled the yorkers well."
Bumrah ramped up decent pace too and Shane Watson too was left impressed. “Even seeing him in the IPL for Mumbai Indians, he has done incredibly well for them,” said Watson. “He bowls at good pace and he is different from the way he swings the ball into the right-handers, bringing the brand new ball in. He is able to execute his yorkers very well, so there is no surprise that he has come into the Indian team and done very well.”
The return to form of spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja played a key role. In the first two T20Is, the spinners turned matches around after Australia had got blistering starts. They maintained a stranglehold on the Australian batsmen in the middle overs. In the ODIs, the spinners scalped just five wickets at an average of 92.80 at an economy rate of 5.94 while in the T20I series they scalped 11 wickets at 20.09 and 7.62. Throughout the ODI series, the bowlers — especially the pacers — didn't bowl to their fields and gave away at least one loose ball per over. But things had changed in the T20Is and Dhoni said that he felt in control as a captain when the bowlers executed their plans well.
“In the tour, especially from the Sydney ODI (fifth and final one), the bowlers have turned it around to some extent. The batsmen were still doing that job of scoring runs,” Dhoni said after the 3rd T20I. “This must be the only series where every time, people have scored 300 runs. I feel the batsmen were doing a really good job, but what happened was that the bowlers started chipping in more. The execution of yorkers was very good, and the batsmen also gave that extra 10 percent. After playing four or five ODIs, they knew they would have to give that extra 10 percent and that’s what they did."
The bowlers coming good is a huge welcome relief for Dhoni but the consistency needs to be maintained.
The bowling Powerplay problem
It was a good team performance by the bowlers but there were some chinks in the armour too. The new-ball bowling came under a bit of hammer. The inability to pick up wickets in the powerplay was a major concern. The pacers picked up just two wickets in three matches in the Powerplay and conceded 173 runs at an economy rate of 9.61.
It's the middle overs where the spinners used to pull it back for the visitors and then pacers at the death. Dhoni was okay with the seamers going for runs in the first six overs. “I was pretty sure about what I wanted to do. I was like, ‘I’m not giving spinners any overs in the first six’, Dhoni said after the 2nd T20I. "I knew they would hit a few boundaries to the fast bowlers but I thought the spinners will have a very good chance, even if the run rate was 10 an over for the first six overs,” he added. But there will be days when the spinners might have an off-day and that's when a good start with the ball will come crucial.
Fielding in the outfield and catching needs to improve
India is considered to be one of the best fielding sides in international cricket. However, in the T20I series, their fielding wasn't up to the standards they set. There were flashes of brilliance but they were laced with some 'school boy' errors. The fielding in the deep was lethargic and there were a lot of misfields.
Perhaps the big grounds exposed the weak-link which was carry-forwarded from the ODI series. But most-importantly, they let down with their catching. They dropped three catches in the second T20I at the MCG and in the final T20I too, Kohli dropped a catch — that of Watson who was on 56 and went on to make an unbeaten 124. It could have proved costly given the close finish.
Dhoni too had a roller-coaster behind the stumps, while he was electric with some of his stumpings, he missed a stumping in the second T20I and failed to collect some throws from the outfield cleanly in the third T20I - one of them a missed run out of Watson. India were lucky that the batsmen masked the fielding lapses but it's something which needs to be taken seriously as there will be days, especially in T20s, when fielding will win you matches.
Change in approach of the batsmen
During the Australia T20Is, a surprising yet refreshing change of approach was witnessed from the Indian batsmen. They took a fearless approach and weren't afraid to go on the attack right from the start. Over the years, the batsmen used to start off steadily and then go for their shots. But in this series, the batsmen were playing with a certain freedom. I had written about Kohli's change in approach after the 2nd T20I. However, even Dhawan and Rohit were aggressive starters. Factor this: Dhawan's career T20I striker-rate is 117.50 but he ended the series with a strike-rate of 148.97. Rohit's career strike-rate is 129.32, he finished with 136.19 and Kohli's career SR is 136.51 and he ended with a staggering 160.48.
Even Dhoni, who takes his time to get going, played freely and finished with a strike rate of 208.33. There definitely seems to be change in the game plan and it is paying them off well.
Biggest outcome of this series for India: drop in dot balls from the top three batsmen. Will have a significant impact on world T20 chances
— Harsha Bhogle (@bhogleharsha) January 31, 2016
Has Dhoni finally found the right balance?
There were a lot of chops and changes during the ODI series by India but in the T20I series, Dhoni played the same eleven in all the three matches. While Australia used 19- the most by one side in a series, Dhoni used just eleven. The team looked balanced. Dhoni's biggest worry was the bowling and one area where Dhoni was struggling in the ODIs was the part-time options. However, with Yuvraj chipping in with crucial overs and Hardik Pandya showing promise, it has provided Dhoni with some welcome relief.
With the experienced bowlers faltering during the ODIs, Dhoni wasn't afraid to go into the T20s with a fresh pace attack — Bumrah and Ashish Nehra. Umesh Yadav was benched. After the series, Dhoni words seemed to sound a warning for the experienced bowlers. “When we came over here, we did so with a bowling line-up that didn’t have that much experience. But we wanted to try different people because we have been trying the same few individuals and getting the same result,” said Dhoni. “So it was high time we gave chances to individuals who were doing well in the domestic circuit, and to see what really they have to offer." he added.
“When it comes to the fast bowlers, Bumrah and Ashish have done a good job in the three games they have played,” acknowledged Dhoni. “Hardik, as a package he is good. He is a very good fielder, and if he gives me the two overs I need, and the kind of batting he is known for — he looks like a good one to have as a third seamer. He can give me two overs, bat lower down and field well," Dhoni added.
Yuvraj and Raina provide good part-time options and their reliable presence provides Dhoni the confidence to go for his shots. Harbhajan Singh didn't get a game but he might be in contention for the World T20 given that it will be played in India. And probably, if Mohammad Shami gets fit, the selectors might have a look at him. Even Ajinkya Rahane might find it difficult to make it to the starting eleven. Dhoni's words in the presentation ceremony gave away every possible hint. "There might be one or two changes based on the conditions in the World T20, other than that, we look like a settled side and if everything goes well, this is what our T20 side will look like."