How long a time can a week be?
One Sunday ago, on the back of two heavy defeats in three days at Sydney, India appeared to be facing a long summer Down Under.
Seven days later, with three wins in a row, India have sealed the T20Is on their return to the SCG – and made Virat Kohli only the second captain with the distinction of having won a series in all three formats in Australia.
Of course, the sternest challenge of their two-month long tour still awaits them, but there will be some wind in the sails of the visitors before they enter the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
Another win at the same venue on Tuesday, meanwhile, will complete an unbeaten year in T20Is for India, while also seeing them equal the longest unbeaten streak in men’s T20Is (12 games).
A look at the defining acts from the second T20I between Australia and India.
Natarajan: The real game-changer
On a day when the rest of the bowlers in the game went at 10.29 runs per over, T Natarajan conceded 20 in four overs.
On a day when the rest of the bowlers leaked a boundary every five balls, it took the 24th ball delivered by Natarajan for an Australian batsman to find the ropes.
“I thought Natarajan would have been Man of the Match, he gave us a target about 10 runs lower than it would have been,” remarked a somewhat surprised Hardik Pandya as he received the individual honours for the day.
And 10 might actually be a conservative estimate, given that the four other Indian bowlers went for 2/173 in their 16 overs; just break down the four overs bowled by India’s newest T20I bowler on Sunday, as it happened.
Natarajan got his first look of the day with Australia 46/0 in four overs – he conceded just one run, while removing D’Arcy Short.
His next was the ninth over of the innings, immediately after the fall of the dangerous Matthew Wade, and neither Steven Smith nor Glenn Maxwell took any risks in taking six singles.
In the 15th over, a combination of slower balls and low full-tosses kept Smith and Moises Henriques down to five runs.
And in the 19th – another clutch execution of the same bowling-type – even a last-ball four from Daniel Sams only meant an addition of eight runs to the Australian total, with the loss of Marcus Stoinis’ wicket. The four non-Natarajan overs at the death cost India 54 runs.
This was peak damage limitation by a 29-year-old still only a week old in international cricket.
This was the difference between chasing sub-200, or chasing 210+.
Patience powers Pandya’s punch
With nine balls remaining in the game, India were still 23 away from their target of 195. Hardik Pandya had faced 15 balls for 19 runs, his only boundary a chopped effort from the outside edge of his blade.
But as he’d already shown over the course of this Australian summer – and the IPL before that, and pretty much all along in white-ball cricket over recent years – he’s batting in a different dimension.
In IPL 2020, no one with more than one six had a better balls-per-six ratio than Pandya’s 6.2. Since the start of 2019, no one with more than 500 T20 runs has a better strike rate than Pandya’s 178.48 – and only Andre Russell has a better rate of hitting sixes (6.2, to Pandya’s 7.4). Even stretching the ambit as far back as 2017, the only batsmen with 1000+ runs in the format with a better strike rate than Pandya (162.43) are Russell and Thisara Perera.
When you’re in that category, there’s an extraordinary sense of belief in your ability to find the boundaries – and there was, given the absence of any gun bowlers, a sense of inevitability to the finish as it transpired at the SCG.
In the next seven balls – 4, 4, 1, 2, 6, 0, 6 – Pandya wiped out the contest.
“I’ve realised you always have more time than you realise in T20 matches,” he explained immediately after his heroics.
Pandya came into the big leagues armed with power. Sustained pyrotechnics in the years since have added the layer of patience that has been a hallmark of the gun finishers in the modern game. And it should come as no surprise to anyone who hasn’t been in cold-storage for the last few years that Hardik Pandya is elite.
India’s death domination the difference
That India have maintained their run of never having lost a bilateral T20I series of more than one game in Australia, with one game still left to play, boils down, quite simply, to the difference in the two teams’ batting displays at the death.
In 10 death overs across the two games, Australia have scored 99 runs for the loss of five wickets. India, in 9.4 overs, have amassed 118 while losing three wickets.
The ease of finding the boundaries at the clutch stage is, arguably, the most significant contributor to India’s series win.
Through Ravindra Jadeja’s sensational effort at Canberra, and Pandya’s punch at Sydney – along with two Shreyas Iyer hits worth their weight in gold – India have taken less than four balls, on average, to deliver a boundary in the death overs (10 fours and five sixes).
Australia, on the other hand, have only been half as effective – two fours and six sixes, giving them a balls-per-boundary ratio of 7.5.
Given that the hosts have been the marginally better of the two sides in the first 15 overs, this is precisely where the series has been won by the visitors.
India has been a level above Australia when it comes to batting in the death overs this series. pic.twitter.com/SweORPqZBN
— Clive (@_vanillawallah) December 6, 2020
Smith’s go-slow proves costly
46 runs off 38 balls, in more cases than not, is a disappointing T20 innings.
A scoring rate of 7.26 per over, while consuming nearly one-third of the balls in a team score of 194? Debilitating.
Doing so after walking in at 47/1 in 4.3 overs – and scoring 30 from your first 30 balls? Damaging.
The irony? This knock came from someone who had hit 62-ball hundreds in successive ODI outings at the same venue against the same opposition just a week ago.
The go-slow, ‘anchoring’ route has been the bane of many an Indian top-order batsman in T20s in the recent past. On Sunday, Steven Smith – so often the scourge of Indian bowling efforts at the SCG – slipped in a similar slide.
From the point Smith came in to bat till the end of the 15th over, Australia added 85 runs in 10.3 overs. Smith had contributed 30 from 30 balls, at six per over; the remaining 33 balls had accrued 55 runs, at 10 per over.
One can budget for the added sense of responsibility Smith may have felt in the absence of both Aaron Finch and David Warner in the XI, but as some of his Indian counterparts might attest to, too much ‘responsibility’ can be hurtful to a T20 team’s cause.
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Labuschagne, however, credited the Indian bowlers for being disciplined early on and hardly giving away any scoring opportunities.
Despite the lack of Test experience, all bowlers did an admirable job. Taking five wickets on a placid Gabba pitch was a terrific effort, but as they discovered during the day, it only gets tougher with each spell in Test cricket.
The short ball to get rid of Steve Smith was his favourite among the 13 wickets in the series, along with the dismissal of Marnus Labuschagne.