“I think the middle overs while we were batting was the phase that cost us”
This was Virat Kohli’s assessment of the match in the post-match presentation today. Until this match in the series, middle-overs with the bat was a phase to worry for Australia. Today the tables turned. Australia paced their innings in the middle-overs - scoring 88 runs for two wickets. On the flip side, India, after a promising Powerplay, managed only 56 runs (losing three wickets), clearing the fence only twice.
Seven of those nine overs were bowled by spinners - Glenn Maxwell, Mitchell Swepson and Adam Zampa. In IPL 2020, Kohli had a fairly low strike-rate during the middle-overs. Today, though he recovered India from the early wicket of KL Rahul, Kohli went through the same pedestrian approach during the phase - 34 runs from 31 balls - as Aaron Finch kept the pace away. He did not receive support from the other end as well.
In an uncharacteristic innings, Sanju Samson struggled to get the spinners away and ultimately fell to the pressure of a soaring run-rate. Shreyas Iyer, the new man in, departed in the same over playing a lazy drive. After 55 runs in the Powerplay, India found themselves needing 76 runs from the last five overs - a feat that has not been achieved in the 15-year old history of T20I cricket.
Kohli, alongside Hardik Pandya, threaten to make the unprecedented happen. Feeding off Australia’s inexperienced death bowlers, the duo collected 33 runs from the subsequent two overs - with four sixes. However, the game was pulled by Australia through a spinner, as it was the case during the middle-overs as well. Adam Zampa's 18th over conceded the match two days ago but today, he sent his arch-nemesis, Pandya, back off the first ball to set the foundation for Australia.
43 off 17 was a daunting task even for Kohli. After a string of lives, the latest one of which came from Zampa's aforementioned over itself, he fell to an excellent catch by Daniel Sams at deep point. Kohli walking back at 85 was the game for Australia as India found themselves a specialist batsman short at the back end.
Australia’s leg-spinners flourished - Zampa one for 23 in three overs and Swepson three for 23 in four overs - but for India, Yuzvendra Chahal continued to have a miserable time in Sydney, going for 41 runs in his four overs. The most rueful memory for Chahal would be dismissing Maxwell off a no-ball. The moment came when Australia had begun their charge.
After an indifferent start which saw no batsman score a boundary except Matthew Wade until Steve Smith’s first four in the 10th over, the Maxwell-Wade partnership teed off in Shardul Thakur’s first over, 12th of the innings. Wade welcomed Thakur with a six and Maxwell added a four, completing 14 runs off the over. Chahal had conceded a four off a reverse-hit by Maxwell in the next over before inducing a top edge on a no ball. The over went for 13 runs. Chahal’s last over brought 15 more for Australia - consisting of two towering sixes by Maxwell himself.
Australia scored 88 runs in the middle-overs in this game, out of which 60 were scored in 32 balls during Maxwell and Wade’s time together at the crease.
India will feel they did well to keep Australia down to 186 when they looked set to breach the 200-run mark, given Maxwell and Wade continued their partnership for a majority of the death overs phase.
Wade's juggernaut was eventually stopped by Shardul Thakur who trapped the left-hander lbw for a well-made 80. There were only 16 runs from the last 10 balls after the partnership was broken. T Natarajan continued to add wickets to his tally, making a mess of Maxwell's stumps in the last over.
Maxwell's bowling contribution and a poor fielding night
Maxwell’s contribution was not limited to his fiery 54 with the bat. As stated above, he bolstered Australia’s spin attack as well. Bowling the first over, he lured his IPL skipper, Rahul into a false stroke, only to be caught by Smith at deep mid-wicket for a duck. He almost doubled his wicket tally in the next over enticing Kohli into a similar mistake. Kohli chipped Maxwell straight to Smith who spilled the chance on this occasion.
It was a night of inexplicable fielding errors. There were so many that it was tough to analyze the impact of each one of them. Rahul missed a straight forward chance to stump Smith in the 10th over. Although, Smith was out three balls later, Maxwell was dropped twice - at 38 and 54. Australia dropped Kohli at 9 with both Sean Abbott and AJ Tye spilling half chances off their bowling early in his innings. Kohli was let off by Wade in a missed stumping chance. The match fittingly ended with another dropped catch, albeit, without any impact on the result.
In between there were a couple of airborne saves at the boundary ropes by Samson and Smith to save a six each.
Coming back to Maxwell, he bowled a spell of one for 20 in his three overs. His bowling contribution allowed Finch to keep Sams to only two overs, the bowler who had conceded three sixes in the 16th over. Another trick India missed in their run-chase?