Post-match at the SCG, MS Dhoni downplayed the T20 whitewash. He was the first Indian captain to achieve the feat Down Under. But typical to his style, ‘Captain Cool’ kept his emotions in check.
Deep inside, Dhoni must have been very pleased with the way his team played in three T20 internationals against Australia. Yes, the hosts were not full-strength – Mitchell Starc of all people was sorely missed. Still, hammering Australia in their lair was a huge achievement. The success has set the tone for the World T20 that India would be hosting in March-April.
Dhoni credited the win to a settled bowling unit – a rarity in Indian cricket. The batters had been in fine fettle right from the start. Rohit Sharma scored 441 runs at 110.25 in five ODIs, Virat Kohli made 381 at 76.20 and Shikhar Dhawan, too, chipped in with 287 runs at 57.40. But India lost the 50-over series 4-1 because they failed to defend totals of 309, 308 and 295, and imploded from 277/1 to lose in Canberra.
In the fifth ODI in Sydney, India started to turn the corner. Manish Pandey’s match-winning 104 not out had been the x-factor but Jasprit Bumrah was the real positive. Fast-tracked into international cricket, the young Gujarat seamer made a serious impression with 2/40 in 10 overs. To be fair, he was the difference between the two sides in that game.
Bumrah’s inclusion has proved to be a real shot in the arm. Mohammed Shami’s hamstring injury ahead of the first match of the tour was a big blow. It robbed the team of control. Bumrah helped India regain it. At last, Dhoni had someone at his disposal who could bowl yorkers. The fast bowler’s unorthodox action made things a little tougher for the Aussies.
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“He’s looking really good and he bowled the yorkers well. I have always said that to be successful in the shorter formats you have to execute the yorkers,” the skipper lavished his praise.
The selectors had brought back Ashish Nehra and Yuvraj Singh for the T20s. The two old warhorses took time to settle down but showed character. In a dead rubber, Dhoni’s made the right call to send Yuvraj ahead of him. The left-hander, on his return to international cricket after two years, didn’t get a chance to bat in the first two matches. An imposing top-order had cast a spell over the opposition. So it was important to have a look at him with an eye on the World T20. Yuvraj looked clueless in the first nine balls he faced. Then he exploded in the final over to take India within touching distance. Under pressure, Yuvraj didn’t panic. Someone less experienced could have easily choked.
The 34-year-old needs more batting-time to be in top shape. With Virat Kohli rested for three home T20s against Sri Lanka, he’s expected to get that.
A quality seam-bowling allrounder remains elusive but Hardik Pandya contributed well in his role as third seamer. From India’s point of view, it would be important that he gets an opportunity to bat under pressure against Sri Lanka. The Gujarat man has had the reputation of a marauder.
The T20s in Australia helped India find the core for the World T20. As Dhoni said, there might be one or two changes, but this is basically the squad for the ICC event. India will go there as the No. 1 T20 side in the world if they don’t let the momentum slip. At home, they will start as top favourites