Guwahati loves sports. There is passion for football, but cricket is enjoyed equally, if not more. Despite that, the city has never been the go-to city to host major sporting events. There have been a few Indian Super League (ISL) matches in the recent past, but it has been seven years since India last played international cricket in the Assamese city. The fans have been starved of action. But all of that is now in the past.
October will be no less than a month of carnival for the sports fans of the North East. It has been learnt from a few local citizens that fans from across the North Eastern states are going to travel to Guwahati this month. And why shouldn't they, when the city is hosting the FIFA U-17 World Cup and a high-octane India-Australia T20I clash at the Barsapara Cricket Stadium? All over the city, there are banners of Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal welcoming everyone for the FIFA U-17 World Cup. The zeal is not only for the mega events. Guwahati is aware that they have an opportunity to showcase their organisational potential to the whole world.
The sports fever was visible during the 1-7 mauling of debutants New Caledonia by France in the FIFA U-17 World Cup. It didn't matter that India weren't playing; the atmosphere was electrifying. The Indian cricket team was also welcomed in Guwahati with the same intensity. Artists danced in front of the team bus at the Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport just as it was leaving for the hotel. A photo in which Hardik Pandya, Shikhar Dhawan, Manish Pandey and Axar Patel were wearing Assam's traditional headgear, known as a 'jaapi', also circulated on social media. The ebullience of the crowd would have made the Indian camp extremely happy.
Australia also got a rousing reception. It must have cheered up the Australians, who are low on morale, having been thoroughly beaten in the ODI series, and the first T20I in Ranchi. While, their situation is not as grim as New Caledonia, it is quite evident that the spirits have hit a trough.
After losing the services of their regular captain Steve Smith, the Aussies put up an insipid show in Ranchi. Much was being said about their potential to adjust to the Indian conditions, given that the majority of the squad had featured in the Indian Premier League (IPL), but their performance in Ranchi suggested something else. On a pitch that was playing slightly slow, the Australians refused to keep their ego aside and went for horizontal-bat shots, when the need of the hour was playing in the 'V'. The wrong approach had a bitter consequence as they lost the first game by nine wickets (on DLS method).
Their struggles against wrist spinners have been well-documented by now and unless both Shane Warne and Brad Hogg turn up at the practice for some rigorous net sessions and priceless advice, Australia's troubles are going to continue. One can't help but feel that there is a sense of anxiety in the minds of Australian batsmen against the slow bowlers. Aaron Finch did use the sweep successfully to defuse the threat, but Kuldeep Yadav outwitted him and had the last laugh.
The likes of Glenn Maxwell, Travis Head, Moises Henriques should follow Finch's lead and should look to upset the rhythm of the Indian spinners. For long, Henriques has been a reliable one down for Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) and the visitors might do well to play him there and avail the services of Maxwell down the order. The Australian bowlers were right on the mark. They stretched the Indian run chase of 48 till the sixth over but lacked the killer blow to seal the game. The visitors would do well if the bowlers manage to replicate a similar performance in the must-win clash.
Talking from the Indian perspective, the first T20I couldn’t have been any better. All the bowlers were among the wickets, while the batting department did what they had to quite efficiently.
What more can India do? Well, continue to be ruthless. From the moment Virat Kohli took over the captaincy from MS Dhoni at the start of the year, his focus has been on making India unbeatable. The Indian captain has often mentioned how he wants India to evolve as a clinical unit. And they have an ideal chance to do that in the second T20I: bask in Guwahati's sports fever, shrug off complacency, if any, and clinch the series.
Apart from the two teams, attention will also be on the Barsapara Cricket Stadium, in its first international match. During the 2016-17 home season, a number of tier II cities hosted matches. The experiment, unsurprisingly, was a success with fans turning up to even watch Test matches in huge numbers. Guwahati promises to be no different. The online tickets, which were from a range of Rs 500 to Rs 5,000, were sold out four hours after going live. The Assam Cricket Association, after seeing the demand for the tickets, also decided to sell 4,000 tickets to the general public on Sunday. All indicators point towards a jam-packed stadium.
An Indian win would of course please the supporters. But as a couple of fans said, they want the match to be competitive and won't mind even an Australian victory. Guwahati doesn't get to watch a lot of sports, so when they do, quality is what they want. Up to the Kohlis and Warners now.
India probable XI: Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli (C), Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya, MS Dhoni (WK), Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Kuldeep Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Yuzvendra Chahal.
Australia probable XI: David Warner (C), Aaron Finch, Moises Henriques, Travis Head, Marcus Stoinis/Glenn Maxwell, Daniel Christian, Tim Paine (WK), Nathan Coulter-Nile, Jason Behrendorff, Andrew Tye, Adam Zampa.
Follow all the live updates of the second T20I between India and Australia here.