Though India’s series-levelling win against Australia didn’t come in a full game as the Nagpur tie was reduced to eight overs-a-side, it surely would have helped calm nerves in the home camp.
Going into Friday’s rain-hit game, there were serious concerns about the state of the Indian team. While much of the focus was on the lacklustre bowling performances, the scrutiny around Rohit Sharma’s captaincy had also started. Unable to defend healthy totals in three big games this month, doubts had risen whether Sharma was losing his leadership touch.
At the Asia Cup, India lost to Pakistan after scoring 181. They also failed to defend 173 against Sri Lanka. After the Mohali loss to Australia, failing to defend 208, there seemed cause for worry. After all, it is just a month to go for India’s World Cup opener against Pakistan.
The BCCI’s objective in appointing Sharma in place of Virat Kohli was success in two World Cups—T20 in Australia and ODI at home in 2023. Kohli, despite his success in Tests, couldn’t lift an ICC trophy. As India lost the three games amid experimentation in the team, Sharma’s captaincy didn’t resemble how he leads Mumbai Indians. Easy going in IPL, he was animated, frantically gesturing and muttering or shouting instructions to teammates. The limited time to try out new things too hasn’t helped.
Sharma’s own excellent batting form should help. Responding under pressure is the real test of a leader. Eight overs-a-side is not a proper game but how it panned out for him will mean a lot to him. Chasing 91, he put on a batting show to score 46* off 20 balls, leaving the crowd spell bound. The performance and the win will help him regain poise.
India still doesn’t look like a team that can beat the best T20 teams regularly. At the T20 World Cup, the batting must fire on all cylinders. To improve India’s chance, it is vital Sharma is in form going into the tournament because when he is in good nick, it lasts for a decent period and he ends up dominating a tournament like his scoring five centuries in the 2019 World Cup. He seems to be entering that zone. In the last three-four matches, he has played with intent. A 16-ball 28 against Pakistan at the Asia Cup was followed by a 41-ball 71.
Dinesh Karthik, who hit a six and four to end the game, summed up Sharma’s knock in Nagpur. “To play such shots against the new ball, against top-class new ball bowlers, is not easy. It shows why Rohit is such a big player in world cricket, not only Indian cricket. His ability to play against fast-bowling is second to none and that is what makes him truly special.”
India and T20 World Cup holders Australia prepare for Sunday’s series decider, and the home team captain will walk out for the toss with a spring in his stride.
India versus Australia has always been riveting rivalry. They bring the best out of each other. For the hosts, there will be extra motivation to make amends for the defeat in 2019 when Aaron Finch led his side to a 2-0 win. Sharma is also on a streak of seven bilateral series wins.
For India, the decider will again be about solving the bowling issues. Spin is always India’s strength. At the last T20 World Cup in the UAE, it didn’t click and India were eliminated early. While there is bound to be some concern about main spinner Yuzvendra Chahal’s indifferent form, left-arm spinner Axar Patel has emerged as a potent replacement for the injured Ravindra Jadeja. Drafted into the World Cup squad only because of Jadeja’s injury, he took 3/17 in Mohali. He backed that terrific effort at Nagpur—his 2/13 in an eight-over innings was stunning.
On the other hand, after his lacklustre showing in the Asia Cup, Chahal was taken to cleaners in Mohali (3.2-0-42-1). At Nagpur, he was used for only one over after conceding 12 runs.
Chahal is still expected to play a key role in the campaign Down Under. The team think-tank will hope he uses the opportunity at Hyderabad to discover his confidence and rhythm.
Australia would have liked to clinch the series in Nagpur, but in terms of the larger picture, defending the World Cup title at home, getting a chance to test their players in a series decider will be invaluable. The World Cup will throw up challenging, do-or-die games, and the players will feel that pressure in the winner-takes-all game at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium.