The tone at the Gabba was set when Virat Kohli put down Aaron Finch at short cover early on in the Australian innings. Even with his parody account on Twitter dishing out a rather funny quip, the mood on social media didn't lighten and you could sense Indian fans flipping out because Kohli just doesn't drop catches and the fact that he did felt like a sign of things to come in Australia.
Bowlers lost their lengths, Australian batsmen heaved massive sixes and everything that could go wrong, went wrong. Yet, India nearly managed to pull off a heist in the run-chase and if anything, it was a sign of how incredibly good the side really is.
Oily hands after eating food made from #SaffolaOil is not good for fielding. You miss catches & fielding like me & my boys. Make sure you clean your hands with #Lifebuoy soap & dry them with #BombayDyeing towel before taking the field else the #Kookaburra ball may slip. #AUSvIND pic.twitter.com/LHo7ESxr6i
— Virat Kolhi (@imVlkohli) November 21, 2018
More of that came to the fore at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) even with the game being washed out after one innings. What was staggering was the manner in which India's very same bowling attack ironed out nearly every single flaw that was flaunted in the first T20I. For starters, they hit the right length from the word go and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, at his beastly best with conditions aiding him, had Finch chasing one outside his off-stump first ball and edging behind. If not for a couple of dropped catches, Bhuvneshwar would have wrecked the Aussie top-order before the likes of Jasprit Bumrah or Kuldeep Yadav had even come in to bowl.
Khaleel Ahmed, still maturing into the player India want him to be, had erred with his lengths against Chris Lynn at the Gabba. The Sunrisers Hyderabad quickie was promptly clubbed for three sixes with the Australian, at his home ground, treating the Indian left-arm seamer like a net bowler, chastening him for probably turning up late for practice. Being one-dimensional is the most dangerous thing in T20s these days, whether you are a batsman or a bowler, and Khaleel failed to alter his pace or length at the Gabba. The management, though, kept their faith in him and reaped rewards.
Taking up the responsibility of sharing the new ball with Bhuvneshwar at MCG, akin to the Windies series at home under Rohit Sharma's captaincy, Khaleel wasted little time to showcase he had learnt from his mistakes. He planned to bowl full and wide against Lynn, a plan that was executed pretty well except for the one full toss that the Australian promptly dumped straight down the ground for a four.
Importantly, Khaleel varied his pace as well which meant Lynn had to generate most of the power from his bat to take on the slower balls. This he failed to do and Khaleel got him out with a wide, full, slower one that Lynn dug out to deep cover.
"I thought I could swing the new ball. And it would have been good if I could swing the new ball and get wickets for the team. That's the confidence they (team management) gave me. I knew I had to make full use of the opportunity. (Fortunately) I got wickets," Khaleel said after the match, stressing on how the management's faith spurred his self-belief.
When Maxwell walked out to bat, India had Bumrah ready for him. The Mumbai Indians seamer had dismissed Maxwell six times in 34 balls prior to this match and has given away just 38 runs. Containing Maxwell - Australia's most successful T20I batsman since the last World T20 - was the utmost priority for India, particularly after his match-winning knock at the Gabba, and the Bumrah ploy was well thought out.
In six balls at Maxwell on Friday, Bumrah gave away just three runs and beat his bat on three different occasions. The fidgety start ruffled the Australian but it was Krunal Pandya - who was drubbed for three sixes in an over by Maxwell in the last game - who got him out.
The left-arm spinner endured his worst T20 figures the other night against a rampant Australian batting unit but was back to doing what he does best. Krunal stuck to a stump-to-stump line, darted a few in early on and gave the impression that all he was looking for was containment. Just as Maxwell was starting to open up to the possibility of taking him on, Krunal slowed the ball and gave it more revolutions, turning one past Maxwell's defence to shatter the stumps.
All this while, the three most reliable bowlers in the side - Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar and Kuldeep - kept doing their bit with Australia, like most teams, realising the fact that it is better to let go off Kuldeep. Bumrah used more of the short pitched deliveries having quickly learnt that the square boundaries in Australia were hard to clear and more than 50 percent of deliveries were of that length. It distorted Australia's knowledge on Bumrah as in his initial spell you could see the Aussie batsmen were waiting for the fuller ball angling in from the 24-year-old seamer.
What worked for Australia at Gabba was that their big hitters aimed for the leg-side boundaries and Indian bowlers kept offering them the line and length to do so. At the MCG, more than 70 percent of all balls India bowled were outside the off-stump with nearly 30 percent of them well wide. More than exemplary discipline, it was also the sign of proper planning and immaculate execution.
Adjusting to the different conditions at the MCG compared to the 1st T20I at the Gabba, the Indian pacers have bowled slower and wider today to find more success. % Balls 132+ kmph: 1st T20I - 66%, 2nd T20I - 50% Wide of off stumps: 1st T20I - 14%, 2nd T20I - 30%#AUSvIND — The Cricket Prof. (@CricProf) November 23, 2018
India even planned out the perfect match-ups which meant Khaleel and Krunal got to avenge their nightmare at the Gabba, Maxwell had to play Bumrah early on and Carey, whose average against spin is remarkably worse than against pace, got loads of spin.
A year from now this match would remain as a washed out T20 in the scorecards but ask Khaleel or Krunal and they are likely to point this experience out as a paramount learning curve. That this Indian bowling attack can adapt quickly to conditions, learn from mistakes and execute it with minimal time to practice is a major takeaway and it needn't be surprising if this performance leads to some changes in the ODI bowling combinations as well.
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