In the end, the home team supporters went away happy, marveling at India’s dazzling batting as they pulled off the tall chase to win the third T20 against Australia at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium.
But, inside the India dressing room, while there was relief at the result, there would have been a few creased brows over the performance. The main worry in the build-up to the T20 World Cup has been the pace bowling department and at the end of the Australia series, the concerns remain.
Australia, as the defending T20 World Cup champions, were expected to provide a tough test and Sunday’s third T20 game was an ideal example of why. India’s pace unit actually bowled a lot better than they have done in a while but the fact that the Australia batters were still able to find a way to get to 186 was a lesson that even their good may not be enough. At next month’s global event, which will be played Down Under, the Indian bowlers have to find a higher level if they are to help the team’s chances.
First, Cameron Green didn’t allow the new ball bowlers to settle down with a stunning assault to help take the total to 62 for two in the first 5 overs. India gave away nothing in the middle overs, bowling the next 12 overs for 78 runs and five wickets.
Then, Tim David and Daniel Sams came up with a calculated assault in the slog overs to push the total to 186 for seven by scoring 46 runs for one wicket in the final three overs.
On most days, that would be a winning total, especially when you remove the opposition’s openers with just 30 runs on the board. The enormity of the task was not lost on captain Rohit Sharma. He knows an innings like Yadav played on Sunday, can’t be repeated every other game. It was a rare gem which got India through on the day and papered over the cracks in the team combination.
Addressing the media later, Rohit admitted India was still not at the desired level. “There are a lot of areas, particularly, our death bowling coming to the party. Those two (Harshal and Bumrah) who came in are coming after a long time. Knowing their (Australia’s) middle and lower order is tough to bowl at. Don’t really want to look into that. They are coming after a break; they will take time. Hopefully, they can get back in the groove.”
In T20 cricket, the margin of error is very small. It is not just about getting in two good overs… the main bowlers have to be able to deliver four consistent overs. Bhuvneshwar Kumar came under pressure in his first three balls when he was taken for 12 runs by Green, and then in the 18th over he was put under the pump by David, to concede 21 runs. It bloated his figures to 3-0-39-1. Spearhead Jasprit Bumrah also came under pressure. Bowling the crucial 19th over, he was taken apart for 18 runs. For the first time in his career, he ended up conceding 50 runs in four overs. At Mohali, Bhuvneshwar had gone for 52 runs and Harshal 49 runs.
Harshal bowled a fine 20th over but that he was used only for two overs by Rohit suggested that he is still some way off from his best for the captain to trust him fully. All-rounder Hardik Pandya, introduced after the powerplay in the 7th over when the field restrictions are off, had figures of 3-0-23-0.
India’s main worry surrounds Bhuvneshwar. He knows the Uppal stadium turf better than anyone, having played most of his IPL cricket for the Hyderabad franchise. On a familiar turf, he was expected to lead the way. He started well but the innings didn’t end well for him, putting a question mark over his role as an option in the death overs. India may be better off giving that responsibility to Bumrah, Arshdeep Singh and Harshal Patel.
“With Bhuvi, it’s important that we give him that space. We know he has had more good days than the bad days in the last so many years… Of late, he has not had the kind of performances you would want but that could happen to any of the bowlers. It is not easy to bowl at the death,” said Rohit.
“We are working on some execution plans, hopefully we can give him some more options to bowl in the death and then he will be as good as before. I don’t see he is short of confidence whenever I speak to him. We want him to come back as quickly as possible. As a team we believe in his ability. It is time for us to show faith in him and keep backing his skill set and what he wants to execute. From our side, we are trying to work out what other things we can do. When you are bowling at the death you can’t be predictable, you need to have options to bowl on both sides of the ground (wicket) and set the field accordingly. Those are the things we are talking to him and for someone like him it will be easy to grasp the knowledge that is out there.”