Watch cricket expert Ayaz Memon's post-match analysis above.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni is back home. And it showed.
After Pune’s green mat, Ranchi, where the Team India captain resides, offered familiar conditions that he and his men thrive under, and the hosts put the horror show of first T20I behind them with a 69-run thrashing of Sri Lanka in the second T20I.
The series is now level and the teams head to Vishakapatnam on Sunday for the decider.
Here are the talking points from the second T20I.
Shikhar Dhawan has turned it around
After the back-to-back defeats in Australia in the first two ODIs, yours truly had argued that Dhawan's time at the top of the order was done, and Dhoni would do well to realise that persisting with him is affecting the team balance and in turn, the results.
That was after a run of scores that read 23, 23, 13, 7, 60, 9, 6 since the beginning of the South Africa series last year. Since then, in the 8 innings he has played, Dhawan has made a blistering 42, three fifties, and a magnificent hundred in Canberra.
Is that a humble pie I smell? Delicious.
Ever since the laboured 91-ball 68 in Melbourne, Dhawan has looked in imperious touch, swatting the ball around with trademark authority. When Dhawan is driving and cutting well on the off-side, and playing the pick-up flick over square leg, there are few batsmen as destructive as the Delhi opener.
In Ranchi, against the inexperienced Sri Lanka bowling attack, he was at his marauding best. From the moment he flicked Thisara Perera off the fifth ball he faced that went soaring over the fine-leg boundary, Dhawan seemed like a man bursting with confidence.
That six was followed by another in the next over ‑ a rare sweep. The next over from Kasun Rajitha saw Dhawan play three sweetly timed cover-drives for a hat-trick of boundaries.
Dhawan, who has a quite ordinary T20I record for an attacking strokeplayer, took the first step towards correcting that with his maiden 50 ‑ at a strike rate of over 200.
It’s not often that Rohit Sharma is a spectator from the non-striker’s end but in Ranchi, he let Dhawan take the center-stage and played second fiddle.
Tariq Engineer, in this article for Firstpost, wrote that an in-form Dhawan is an asset to Dhoni ‑ he will win you matches single-handedly.
For Dhawan, however, consistency is the biggest enemy. But this run, thanks to the team persisting with him, comes at a crucial time.
Dhoni ‘experiments’ with an unchanged XI
With the series on the line ‑ inconsequential bilateral it may be ‑ it was always going to be a unchanged side in Ranchi. Quipping that experimentation is a banned word in Indian cricket, Dhoni said after the match that he wanted to try different combinations.
Without upsetting the balance, Dhoni tried out a few crucial options that would prove handy for the big one ‑ the World T20. He opened the bowling with Ravichandran Ashwin, which is not really a surprise, but he did not give the ball to Jasprit Bumrah till the 15th over. Having spoken about his abilities to bowl the yorkers at the death, Dhoni gave him a chance to show what he can offer in the Dwayne Bravo-at-CSK type role. Bumrah did not disappoint, sending in some sharp yorkers, varying his pace and even breaking the stumps in a spell that read 3-0-17-2.
He's proving to be quite a find.
Earlier, with the game at a point where India’s run rate was beginning to sag after a 37-ball partnership of 47 between Rohit and Ajinkya Rahane, Dhoni decided to send in Hardik Pandya at No. 5. In his fifth T20I, Pandya got the first real test to show his hitting prowess on a track that would be similar to most in the World Cup.
And he aced that test with a 12-ball 27 that reinjected the momentum back into India’ s innings and took them beyond the par score. The second of the back-to-back sixes he hit in Sachithra Senanayake's over was a standout shot ‑ a flick to midwicket with his powerful forearms fully flexed.
“It was an opportunity for him to see international cricket closely,” Dhoni said. “This is what he is known for. He can go in and play the big shots straightaway. So in the coming games whenever we give some opportunity, we would like to give every player some kind of batting so that going into the T20 World Cup, everyone has some kind of exposure when it comes to batting.”
Tougher tests await, but Pandya is a crucial piece of the Indian T20 jigsaw ‑ someone to play the big shots from the word go ‑ and this innings would have warmed Dhoni's heart.
Now if the same could happen with Yuvraj Singh.
Excellent fielding on a dodgy outfield
It seems like this series is being played with colour codes. After the green of Kanpur, it was all brown in Ranchi ‑ a bone dry, batsmen-friendly pitch and an outfield that matched the 22-yards in colour. Given the match was moved there from Delhi with short notice, the outfield was unprepared, bumpy, filled with sand. There was talks of how that will affect the players, who could have been forgiven for cutting down the risks with the World Cup on the horizon.
But both sets of players showed there is no such thing as ‘taking it easy’ at the international level. From Dushantha Chameera’s full-stretch diving caught and bowled to Rohit Sharma’s nearly sensational diving scoop off the ground (look at that replay to see the amount of dust and turf that came off the ground!) both teams were razor-sharp on the field.
On that note, it would be remiss not to mention Dhoni’s stumpings. The returning Tilekaratne Dilshan was the danger man for for Sri Lanka . But off the first (legal) ball of the innings, Ashwin beat him outside the off-stump and before Dilshan could even blink, the bails were off.
And then it was Dinesh Chandimal - the captain, the man in form. If Dilshan’s stumping was quick, this was done with astonishing alacrity. Chandimal’s foot was in the air for barely a moment.
“Being a bit unorthodox behind the stumps really helps, but credit to the bowlers for beating the batsman,” said Dhoni with a wry smile post-match.
The helicopters might not be flying off Dhoni’s bat anymore, but his glovework is getting only better with every passing season.
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