Back in 2016, when India white-washed Australia in the three-match T20I series, Hardik Pandya was a rookie finding his way in international cricket. Four years later, he is India's biggest match-winner. Tonight, it took a power-packed innings from him again for India to trump Australia.
It will be unfair to say that it was Hardik’s effort alone that won the game for India. In a team filled with conservative batsmen, the top-three batted with unseen fearlessness. KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan got India off to a great start while chasing a big target. Virat Kohli himself played a crucial cameo hitting unorthodox cricket shots when needed.
If India found Jasprit Bumrah in this very country in 2016, it is fair to say that in 2020, the discovery of the Australian tour is T Natarajan. In a 10 runs per over game, he gave away only 20 runs while fetching two wickets for himself.
While the two sides matched each other out during most of the game, including a team dot ball count of 32, Australia had a subpar middle-overs phase.
Before this game, Australia had a middle-over run-rate of 7.2 in 2020, well below the better white-ball teams. Tonight, after a brisk start in the Powerplay, Australia scored 73 in this period that led to – as Hardik suggested after the game as well – 10 runs short.
A no-ball that changed the dynamics
For the first 2.3 overs of their chase, India had no boundaries and put up only 13 on the board. The Australians bowled better lengths along with being aware of the hitting zones of the two batsmen. Aggressive shots by KL Rahul could only reach the fielder at deep point while Shikhar Dhawan failed to pierce the offside ring. Then a no-ball by Andrew Tye changed the picture.
Rahul smacked the free-hit ball with a signature hit over the cover fence. Dhawan danced down the track to the last ball of the same over to get an outside edge that flew past the empty slip cordon for a boundary.
Australia did not let any of their pacers bowl two overs in a row throughout the game. Choosing to start with different bowlers in each of the first four overs, they bowled Glenn Maxwell in the fourth over. That over cost Australia 19 runs and helped India overcome the early jitters and hit the asking rate.
The pair did not spare Sean Abbott as well hitting him for 13 runs after he had bowled a decent first over. Tye undid his no-ball error with a brilliant over. He foxed Rahul with a knuckleball to start with. Attempting the hit over cover-point again, Rahul skied the ball in the hands of the fielder at the deep, but this did not stop India from having a great start.
Kohli’s brilliance pulled the middle-phase in India’s favour
For the major part of this phase, it felt like India was falling behind the game. A switch in gears by Kohli changed the picture.
It was the same old story to begin with as leg-spinners seemed to choke India's top-order batsmen. Dhawan and Kohli added 34 runs in the first five overs after the Powerplay, well below the rate needed.
In what turned out to be an advantage for India, Dhawan top-edged the slog sweep in the 12th over by Adam Zampa. Until his dismissal, Kohli was on 11 off 12 balls. Having had enough of the leggies dominating him, he manufactured a shot out of nowhere in the same over. Dancing down the track, Kohli hit a turning length ball over the cover fence for a six.
Sanju Samson's presence at the crease further added to the much-needed fearlessness. He slashed Daniel Sams past point in the next over for a boundary and then pulled a rising next ball with disdain over the leg side fence. Mitchell Swepson ended his cameo in the next over, having him caught at long-off.
Then came the over that changed the picture. In an 18-run 15th over, Kohli hit two fours, one to the leg side and one to the third man fence off an outside edge. But, the shot of the over was an uncharacteristic scoop off a wide ball by Tye. Executing it as if playing it for a lifetime, Kohli cleared the fine leg fence with ease. That over reduced the deficit for India to 54 off the last five.
Enters Hardik Pandya
Kohli had set-up India's innings in the 15th over. However, Sams turned it back to Australia's way getting Kohli out off a wide slower ball. Reaching out to it, Kohli got an outside edge that went into Matthew Wade's gloves.
At the end of that over - the 17th of the innings - the equation for India was 37 off 18 balls. At that point, Hardik was yet to accelerate.
In the next over, Shreyas Iyer hogged the strike but made inroads for India. Keeping his head down while hitting a spinner straight, he hit Zampa for a 111-meter six. After Zampa pulled his length back, he cut him through the offside to reduce the target to 25 off the last two.
In the 19th over, bowled by Tye, Hardik made contact only once off the first three balls. When it seemed like probably not his night, a change of bat turned his fortune. He scored 23 in the next seven balls to win the game for India with two balls to spare.
Hardik collected two fours off Tye in the second half of the 19th over. With 14 needed in the last over, Hardik hit Sams for two sixes, once down the ground and to deep midwicket next to give India an unassailable 2-0 lead.
Wade back where he belongs
As we suggested in the preview, Wade has been one of the most aggressive opener in the BBL. That spot has been unavailable in the Australia set-up due to the presence of Aaron Finch and David Warner. Hence, Wade had to be content with playing at six and seven where his returns have been sub-par (a strike-rate of under 100).
On the day he was leading the side as Finch was out injured, he opted to bat at his preferred spot. And the impact was immediate.
It is worth mentioning that Indian pacers were mediocre to start with. With swing as his main weapon, Deepak Chahar was too short in the first over in addition to offering width. Wade obliged by hitting him for three boundaries, each in different areas.
Shardul Thakur committed the same error to start the third over. However, batting with an aggressive mindset, Wade was severe on Washington Sundar, slog sweeping him for a six in what was otherwise a decent over.
The same was not true for Sundar in the fourth over that went for 15 runs. Bowling short he allowed both Wade and D'Arcy Short hit two well-timed boundaries.
After Short’s dismissal, Wade continued the counter-attack in the last over of the Powerplay, hitting Thakur for three fours. Wade reached his half-century in 25 balls in the seventh over of the innings.
Wade then learnt a lesson on game awareness in the next over. Getting a leading-edge off Sundar, the ball lobbed to Kohli at cover. It was as easy a catch as it can be and Wade shared the opinion. Having left his crease, he bowed his head down assuming that Kohli will catch it. He didn't. Juggling with the ball, Kohli floored the catch but, to his luck, Wade was not ready to reach back at the crease and was run-out.
Natarajan shines once again
In just his third international game, Natarajan has demonstrated that there is much more in him than just being a yorker specialist. He was comfortable with his slower ones and short balls. The only thing left to add to his armoury are balls that swing, something that will need a different country than Australia to excel in.
The left-armer from Chinnappampatti gave India their first wicket. Attempting a pull off a ball that bounced head-high, Short found Shreyas Iyer at deep midwicket, who was not right back at the boundary and had to backtrack to hold on to what was a spectacular catch in the end.
After the Australian looked set to get a high score, Natarajan bowled a brilliant 19th over that went for eight runs. He also dismissed Moises Henriques with a well-executed cutter. To suggest how well he bowled tonight, that was also his most expensive over.
Apart from Natarajan, it was a forgetful night for other Indian bowlers. Glenn Maxwell and Steve Smith dug into Yuzvendra Chahal who had a complete contrast from a man of the match performance the other night. The Australian batsmen hit him for five sixes as he went for 51 runs in his quota. Being too short throughout the day, Deepak Chahar bowled a 17-run last over and ended with a spell of 0/48.
However, all this did not cost India the game at the end. After losing the first two ODIs, India have won three games in a row and lead the white-ball leg 3-2.