After the Asia Cup humiliation, India defeated the World T20 champs in scintillating fashion at Hyderabad to bag the series 2-1. It was the Clash of Titans and a series where teams wanted to fare well with an eye on the World Cup in October. Having lost the first game after setting a big target and winning the next match curtailed by rain, India needed something spectacular to clinch the decider. Chasing 9.5 runs per over target and losing the openers, it was Virat- King Kohli, who proved that his class is permanent and his lean batting form just an aberration.
The last few years for Kohli were possibly the worst phase of his career. With the dip in form came the brickbats which the former captain mentioned took a toll on him mentally. His frequent breaks before the Asia Cup had critics tearing their hair out suggesting that he play more games to gain his form back. But the right-hand batsman revealed that he was exhausted and needed time with himself to prepare.
As Kohli returned refreshed for the Asia Cup, he started shining, highlighted by the century against Afghanistan. And now the classy, match-winning fifty against the Aussies marked Team India’s 13th successful run chase in the format in 14 attempts since 2021. India also notched up their 21st T20I victory in the calendar year, the most ever recorded by a team in men’s T20Is breaking Pakistan’s record of 20 T20I wins last year.
Beyond the records and statistics, the biggest plus from the Australia series was Indian batting firing at almost full steam. Though India lost the series opener, Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul smashed superb half-centuries to help India score an impressive 208/6. In the truncated second game of eight overs per side, skipper Rohit Sharma hit a sparkling, unbeaten knock (46 off 20 balls) that took India to victory. Finally, in the decider, Virat Kohli played the sheet anchor role to perfection. Kohli’s well-calculated effort in combination with Suryakumar Yadav’s brilliant 69 helped the Indian team chase down a stiff target. Having regained his form, Kohli looked close to his best in the decider with the Aussies.
Besides Kohli’s welcome return, Suryakumar Yadav stole the show against the world champions. He began the series with an aggressive knock of 46 off 25 balls in the first game but was dismissed for a first-ball duck in the second. In the decider, however, he played perhaps the most outstanding innings of his international career till date. Given the quality and range of his strokes, Surya was superlative, smashing 69 off 36 balls with five fours and five sixes. The confidence and consistency of his power-hitting lend a special edge to Indian batting for the T20 World Cup.
If the batting unit is now firing like a well-oiled machine, the bowling attack remains a huge worry for the Rahul-Rohit think-tank. However, Axar Patel has plugged the massive void left by Ravindra Jadeja’s absence. Injury to India’s supreme all-rounder was a major headache for the World Cup but Axar’s fine spells against the Aussies meant that Jadeja’s absence wasn’t felt as much as was feared. By picking up eight wickets at an economy rate of just 6.3, Axar became the Player of the Series and seems a worthy replacement for Jadeja.
Axar’s terrific spells were, however, the only silver lining in the dark clouds around India’s bowling unit. In a high-scoring series, the limitations of the Indian attack stood exposed. After the Asia Cup jolt, the return of Jasprit Bumrah and Harshal Patel was expected to bolster the bowling attack. Though the duo showed glimpses of their skill, death bowling remains a grave concern. Bhuveneshwar Kumar’s bowling in three games was a major let-down, as in the Asia Cup. Leaking runs all through the series at an economy rate of 13, Bhuvi took just one wicket. If Cameron Green targeted him at the top of the order, he also struggled to find his yorkers in the death overs. With leg spinner Chahal also ineffective, the bowling unit needs to perk up rapidly if India hopes for glory at the World Cup.
Clearly, a lot of questions remain unanswered as far as Indian bowling is concerned.
The Men in Blue now compete with South Africa, a team they are yet to beat at home in a bilateral series. Temba Bavuma, the South African Captain, is coming back from an injury which will strengthen their batting. David Miller, who had a smashing IPL season, will be a huge threat at the end of innings – adding to the death bowling worries of India. In the absence of their explosive batsman, Van der Dussen, South Africa will also have an opportunity to fine-tune their already strong unit as they come to the series with winning momentum. For Indian batters, Rabada and Company are bound to be another tough challenge.
Both teams will seek to sharpen their strengths and work out the best team combinations in these 3 matches. These are the final few games before the teams head to Australia for the World Cup. The win against Australia gives India a winning momentum, one which they would like to continue as a tougher challenge would be to win the World Cup away from home. India has been dominant at home previously as well but fizzles out abroad on fast-bouncy pitches. Facing the tall South African bowlers will be an ideal preparation as the countdown begins for World T20 in October!