India came out of a hole in the first T20I against Australia. Thanks to a recent law in cricket that allows a ‘like for like’ replacement for concussion.
Outside its currency - runs and wickets - cricket is a complicated sport to explain. Definition of certain rules, even with a fair motive, increases the complication. Adding ‘like for like’ while offering a replacement for concussion is one such added complication. Unless the concerned player is a right-handed batsman or a right-arm pacer, teams, in general, will find it difficult to find a player in their squad who fits the definition.
In case of Ravindra Jadeja, the two like for like replacements in the country – Krunal Pandya and Axar Patel – were back home probably watching the drama unfold from their couch. Much to Australia’s dismay, India replaced Jadeja with Yuzvendra Chahal, a leg-spinner.
It turned out to be the ideal ‘Super Sub’ for India. Jadeja’s contribution with the bat and Chahal’s with the ball made the biggest difference to the result. Until their efforts, Australia seemed to be cruising all along in both innings.
It was not just the choice of the substitute player that irked the Aussies. While batting, before Mitchell Starc hit him with a bouncer in the 20th over, Jadeja seemed to be battling a hamstring injury. Also, as the protocol suggests, a doctor did not come out to check on him. Without that blow, Jadeja might not have bowled and India – playing with five bowlers – would have been a bowler short. Instead, they were able to amend their selection mishap of not playing the leggie in the first place on a helpful wicket.
What does Jadeja’s absence mean for India?
What transpired during the mid-innings angered the Aussies. What it resulted in at the end of the game should lift them. The concussion ruled Jadeja out of the remainder of the T20I series. For India, he was the only irreplaceable player in the squad, unless of course they can chance a Super Sub again.
Hardik Pandya and Jadeja have been the two players that have scored runs at the tempo matching or topping Australia so far. With Hardik not bowling, Jadeja is the only genuine all-rounder with handy international experience in the squad. His absence will result in Washington Sundar – who has faced 21 balls in eight innings in T20Is - batting at seven. His overall T20 strike-rate is 122.2, not inspiring for the position he will bat at.
Judging by his form and temperament, there was a case for promoting Jadeja up the order had he been fit. This would have offered a break from an assembly of right-handers in the middle-order and helped counter leg-spinners during the middle-overs. India can try the same move with Sundar, but it seems unlikely due to the rigidity in the current think tank.
India have replaced Jadeja with Shardul Thakur. He has used the long handle well in the past but that has been against Sri Lanka at home. Not a ‘like for like’ comparison to the Aussies in their backyard. Also, for Thakur’s inclusion, there will be a toss-up between him and Mohammed Shami as even this shallow think tank will not commit the same mistake of not including Chahal in the XI again.
India should not hesitate to include Thakur. Playing without either of Jasprit Bumrah or Shami would have had no buyers ahead of the tour. However, the wickets so far, especially at the Sydney Cricket Ground – the venue for the second T20I – have offered no assistance to their type of bowling.
The issues with Australia
Despite crying foul on India’s concussion sub, Australia will know that they did not play smart cricket to counter the challenge. They are yet to figure out the areas to bowl at Jadeja, something they would not have to worry about as of now.
Moreover, after getting off to a great start while chasing a modest total, they threw away the initiative by succumbing to Chahal’s dangling carrots. After dropping dollies when the pacers were bowling, the Indian fielders lifted the side with some spectacular catches off Chahal.
While batting, Australia were on course till the end of the Powerplay, being 53/0 and the required-rate being 7.78. There was an implosion after that.
While Chahal was the wrecker-in-chief, he has Deepak Chahar to thank for pressuring the Aussies to attack. Bowling the seventh over, Chahar gave away only one run that propelled the asking rate to 8.3. He would have dismissed both the openers had India were professional with their catching.
What led Finch to attack Chahal was a deceleration by D’Arcy Short at the other end. After the Powerplay till Finch’s dismissal, Short scored one run off six balls. Scoring 18 off 14 in the first six overs, he scored 16 off the next 24 which seized the momentum away for Australia.
From what we have observed from his T20 career so far, Short is an anchor adept with building the innings. With Finch and Steve Smith already in the side, Australia do not need another anchor at the top-order.
Also, Australia are playing Matthew Wade lower down the order, away from his preferred position as an opener. He has batted at six and seven in most of his T20I innings (14) and averages 11.45 and has a strike-rate of 94.
This brings us to a broader issue with Australia’s T20 squad. All their wicket-keeper batsmen who have done well in the Big Bash League – Alex Carey, Wade, Josh Philippe, Sam Harper and Josh Inglis – have been openers. A position that will be unavailable once David Warner is back. For the time being, Australia will be better off with Wade batting as an opener instead of Short.
Batting in the first 15 overs in BBL since 2019, Wade has a better strike-rate than Short (156.2 vs 130.3). In addition to this, he is among the most destructive openers in the tournament when it comes to batting in the middle-overs (Overs 7-15).
As for who should take Wade’s position at six, it is unlikely for Australia to find the answer within their current squad and will have to do with a makeshift arrangement.
Australia: Aaron Finch (c), D'Arcy Short, Steven Smith, Moises Henriques, Glenn Maxwell, Matthew Wade (wk), Sean Abbott, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Adam Zampa, Mitchell Swepson
India: KL Rahul (wk), Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli (c), Sanju Samson, Manish Pandey, Hardik Pandya, Washington Sundar, Shardul Thakur, Deepak Chahar, T Natarajan, Yuzvendra Chahal