Krunal Pandya is a smart cricketer. On Wednesday, he had just come out to bat in a pressure situation. He hit the first ball into the outfield, ran the first run hard and finished the second by diving full stretched on his stomach and holding his bat by the tip of his fingers. As he dived, his left glove gathered all the moisture that was prevalent on the grass. With India needing 11 off the next five balls, he needed to swing hard, and didn't want to lose the grip on the bat. So, despite being out there for just two minutes, he asked for new gloves. The crowd booed, even a couple of commentators standing in the passage of the press box exclaimed - "why does he need gloves, he just ran out there".
But such is the cricket awareness of Pandya. In the end, he didn't get the job done with the bat and had a disappointing outing with the ball. It is T20 cricket and Pandya is still raw to the international game. It is difficult to criticise him on back of one performance. In the IPL, playing for the Mumbai Indians, he rarely endures bad outings and a lot of that is largely due to the fact that he is not expected to bowl four overs in each game. He is the fifth or even the sixth bowling option. On Wednesday, however, India's playing XI left him with no other option. Pandya had to throw down 24 deliveries. In the end, he ended up conceding 55 from his four overs.
T20 cricket is about finding the weakness in the opposition and then exploiting it. Australia after running their eyes down India's playing XI would have realised that they didn't have a sixth bowling option. If one of the five bowlers endure a poor outing then India had no one to fall back on. India took a risk with finger spinners but they rarely do well at The Gabba in the Big Bash. There is hardly any turn and the short straight boundary at the Vulture Street End means it is impossible for a finger spinner to stop the onslaught.
On the flip side, Australia had Glenn Maxwell and D Arcy Short as backup options in case a frontline bowler goes for runs. Importantly, they had four fast bowling options and the backup artillery was for leg-spinner Adam Zampa. India, meanwhile, had to bowl eight overs of spin and Australia was always going to target those overs.
Add Khaleel Ahmed to all of this, another front-line bowler having a poor outing means the lack of backup options were exposed even further. Khaleel and Pandya between them went for 97 runs while the other three in Kuldeep Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and Jasprit Bumrah conceded 61 in 10 overs together.
India were not helped by the timing of the rain either. Virat Kohli would have got Bhuvneshwar to complete his quota had he known about the minor storm approaching the Gabba, but one cannot presume such things.
India took a gamble and it didn't pay off. They wanted depth in the batting rather than opting for five front-line bowlers. The problem India have is that out of Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar, Kuldeep, Chalal, and Umesh, none are capable of hitting the big shots. India now have a headache - should they keep backing Pandya or even a Washington Sundar or play Yuvendra Chahal and have no sting in the batting order down from No 7. T20 is about gambling at times and Pandya IPL's performances warranted him to be thrown into the deep end. Unfortunately, Pandya suffered, Khaleel also suffered and India's poor team balance was exposed.
At the same time, Australia must be complimented for the way they approached their innings. Chris Lynn took it upon himself to attack the first weak link in the Indian bowling that was Khaleel. The inexperienced left-arm pacer went for 20 in the eight over of the innings as Australia started to gain momentum. Then knowing that Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar will be introduced at the end, Maxwell along with Marcus Stoinis chose the right time to launch themselves against Pandya. It was smart and calculated batting by two men, who now have an abundance of T20 experience.
India are now 1-0 down in the series and only have two days to regroup and find out a better balance. The weather forecast for Melbourne for the second T20I on Friday is also slightly bleak with showers expected. There is only so much India can plan around the weather, but one thing they would have realised is that wrist-spinners succeed on any type of surfaces and with Chahal up their sleeve, it might be wise to play five proper bowlers. Fiddling with all-rounders and especially spin bowling all-rounders might be the best option during the third T20I at Sydney.
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