Finally, there is some excitement in the India vs Australia encounters as the T20I series has come to life with Australia clinching the 2nd T20I in Guwahati to draw level 1-1 in the three-match series. The two sides go into the decider in Hyderabad on Friday and we could be in for an intriguing contest.
The tour of India has been a difficult one for the Australians — who arrived on Indian shores without two of their key pacemen in Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood — as they got walloped 1-4 in the ODI series, before losing the first T20I in Ranchi by nine wickets. However, they pulled things back in style in the next T20I in Guwahati, outplaying the hosts in all departments to record an eight-wicket win and level the series, boosting their hopes of flying back home with at least one trophy.
The stars of the Guwahati win for the Australians were Jason Behrendorff—who won the Man of the Match award in only his second international appearance—and the pair of Moises Henriques and Travis Head, and there is little doubt that the spotlight will once again be on them in Hyderabad. As far as the Indians are concerned, their feathers have been ruffled for the first time on this tour, and it is only going to fire captain Virat Kohli up even further as he sets out to establish his supremacy on the opponents once again.
It was a near-perfect performance from the Australians in the second T20I, so it is unlikely that captain David Warner will announce any new names at the venue he is all too familiar with due to his stint in the Indian Premier League.
While Warner and Aaron Finch, who recently shared a 231-run partnership in the Bengaluru ODI, failed to get their side off to a decent start by falling cheaply, everyone else stood up when the chips were down. Henriques did a brilliant job taking over the No 3 spot from Glenn Maxwell, who has had a forgettable tour so far, and the Australian team management is likely to persist with him at that spot for the series finale. While Behrendorff did the early damage in a sensational spell, finishing with figures of 4/21, others such as Adam Zampa stepped in and maintained the pressure on the hosts, never allowing them to stitch a partnership that could have taken India to a competitive score.
India, on the other hand, have a few questions to answer. The top-order has looked shaky in the face of a testing spell, as was the case in the Champions Trophy final earlier this year, as well as in the first ODI in Chennai (in which Nathan Coulter-Nile's heroics helped reduce India to 87/5 at one stage). Rohit Sharma might have registered a memorable century at Nagpur, but he needs to negotiate the pacers better early in the innings, especially when the pitch is offering the seamers some support, which would also apply to the likes of Shikhar Dhawan, Kohli among others.
The bowlers too didn't capitalise on the dream start that Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah gave their side after dismissing the Australian spinners cheaply. The loss might have served Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, the wrist spinners who were enjoying some kind of a dream run so far a rude wake-up call.
However, given the crunch situation that they face at the moment, they are likely to stick to their best guns. Which probably means that veteran pacer Ashish Nehra, who recently announced his decision to retire from competitive cricket, might not get the call-up in the final T20I, and will have to pin his hopes on the first T20I against New Zealand in New Delhi to sign off on a high. As far as the Indian batting unit goes, Dinesh Karthik might be favoured to replace Manish Pandey in order to shake things up in the middle order.
The first T20I nearly got washed out after rain held play up for quite some time at the JSCA Stadium in Ranchi, and there was a forecast of a shower ahead of the second match. The meteorological department's prediction going into the series finale is no different, as a report talked about the possibility of light to moderate rain on Friday. While there were a few spells of rain in the last couple of days, curator YL Chandrasekhar has maintained that it won't affect the nature of the wicket, which traditionally favours seamers and on which 160 is considered to be competitive.
Both players and fans however, will hope for clear skies so that the series gets the fitting conclusion that it deserves.
India: Virat Kohli (c), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Manish Pandey, MS Dhoni (wk), Kedar Jadhav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Hardik Pandya, Dinesh Karthik, Ashish Nehra, KL Rahul, Axar Patel.
Australia: David Warner (c), Moises Henriques, Aaron Finch, Daniel Christian, Glenn Maxwell, Jason Behrendorff, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Tim Paine (wk), Travis Head, Adam Zampa, Andrew Tye, Kane Richardson.
Venue: Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium, Hyderabad.
Time: 7 pm IST | 1.30 pm GMT