Jasprit Bumrah had been held back till the 16th over during Sri Lanka’s chase in the second T20 international on Friday. He justified his captain’s faith, returning with 2/17 in three overs. Ashish Nehra, on the other hand, did the damage upfront, accounting for Seekkuge Prasanna and Danushka Gunathilaka inside first four overs. The young and the old have gelled well to give Indian fast-bowling attack a major lift in the shortest format, so much so that Dhoni has retained the same bowling combination for five matches in a row now. Today, in the series decider also, the skipper will expect the pace bowling duo to deliver.
The pitch at the ACA-VDCA Stadium is bereft of grass and could be on the slower side. But Bumrah and Nehra have earned their captain’s confidence to be trusted with in all conditions. This hasn’t happened in Indian cricket since the 50-overs World Cup last year; when Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami and Mohit Sharma had played unchanged to share 48 wickets between them. After that, as Umesh suddenly lost control and Shami was sidelined for 11 months post a knee surgery, India started to struggle in limited-overs cricket. Their resurgence has coincided with Bumrah’s arrival and Nehra’s return. The two have forged a partnership, strong enough to keep Shami out of playing XI as and when he becomes match fit. The Bengal fast bowler has been included in the Asia Cup and World T20 squads, but he will have to earn his place. A fit Shami would have walked into the side a month ago.
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Today’s game is another opportunity for India to carry the momentum forward for the World T20, where the team would go in with a completely different set of pacers vis-a-vis the last World Cup. That Bumrah and Nehra collectively have taken 14 wickets in five T20 internationals is a reason for the change. It’s heartening that the Gujarat fast-medium bowler has adjusted to demands of international cricket as a duck takes to water. In Ranchi, Dhoni was once again asked about the emergence of Bumrah. The captain reiterated his views. “Always, whenever you come for a press conference, this is one topic that gets raised – about our death bowling; bowlers who can bowl yorkers. The good thing with Bumrah is that he has a bit of pace. He doesn’t have a normal action. Batsmen take time to get used to him. At the same time, his execution of yorkers is good. He is one of the guys (who) in whatever games he has played so far bowled well consistently. Especially when he has been asked to bowl in the last three or four overs, the death overs, he has executed well. (It’s) definitely a big positive for us.”
Nehra is at the fag-end of his career and can’t be picked in any other format apart from T20 because of workload issues. But his return, albeit in the shortest format, has also allowed the team to have a mentor in the fast bowling department. Ishant Sharma should have taken the role after Zaheer Khan’s departure, but his career so far is largely about undermining his own talent. It’s a positive that India have found a solution to their seam-bowling woes just before the World T20, especially with every other big team having at least one settled new-ball operator.
Australia will miss Mitchell Starc but they have Josh Hazlewood. New Zealand have Tim Southee and Trent Boult. Ben Stokes has progressed rapidly to become England’s x-factor. Pakistan can unleash Wahab Riaz. Dale Steyn will lead South Africa’s pace bowling attack with Kagiso Rabada in tow. Lasith Malinga is expected to be fit for Sri Lanka.