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Monday, January 24, 2022

1st T20I: Heroes defy written script, India win by substitution method vs Australia

Coming in as Jadeja’s concussion substitute, Chahal upstages Aussies while unheralded Natarajan shines on T20I debut.

Written by Sandip G |
Updated: December 6, 2020 7:57:07 am
Indian teammates celebrate the wicket of Australia's Glenn Maxwell during their T20 international cricket match at Manuka Oval. (AP)

There were two contenders for the title of Destiny’s Child on Friday. First was Yuzvendra Chahal, ignored after the Sydney drubbings, he made the most of a lucky break as a concussion substitute after Ravindra Jadeja suffered a knock on the helmet. The second was T Natarajan, who left a telling impression in his debut T20I for the country, an adequate reward for the hardships he had waded through in life to reach this level. Their three-wicket hauls guaranteed that India got the better of Australia by 11 runs, after Jadeja’s cameo had turbo-jetted the visitors to a competitive 161/7, and left Canberra on a happy note.

Chahal’s entry angered Australia coach Justin Langer and he indulged in a raging discussion with match referee David Boon at the start of Australia’s chase. Jadeja seemed to have hurt his hamstring in the penultimate over and had the team physio strap his right leg. That didn’t prevent him from plundering 14 runs off the last three balls of the over. Then in the 20th over, a top edge hit his helmet, but the physio didn’t appear and the game continued without interruption as the left-hander hit two more boundaries. But between the innings, he was diagnosed with symptoms of delayed concussion and Boon agreed to a ‘like-for-like’ substitution. Langer probably believed the rule was misused and Jadeja had nothing more than a hamstring strain.

It would have angered the coach further when he saw Chahal rekindle his lost fizz. For much of the Sydney leg, he seemed woefully undercut and unusually over-experimental. Here, he was almost back to his best.

It’s the run-up that betrays Chahal’s state of mind. In Sydney, he was hurrying through his bowling action, an offshoot of which was a quicker release and less control over his deliveries. He would end up just tossing the ball benignly to the batsmen. But at the Manuka Oval, his strides were slower and shorter, with the even-paced rhythm of a well-oiled pendulum. The ball left his wrists smoothly, and danced and dangled in the air, before dipping on the batsmen. The controlled flight and devious dip mattered, as Finch would vouch. He was batting freely and thought he had the full blade behind a lofted drive, but his stride was not enough to reach where the ball eventually landed and he ended up miscuing it almost towards extra cover, where Hardik Pandya hurled himself at the ball after a 20-yard sprint.

READ | How Ravindra Jadeja battled pain to lift India in Canberra

The wicket was crucial on several counts. The Finch-D’Arcy Short alliance of 56 runs had put the Australians in the driver’s seat to chase down the target. It was also the time India looked frustrated on the field after dropping two catches, the second one by skipper Virat Kohli himself. The wicket not only brought India back into the game but also arrested Australia’s momentum, which they never recovered.

In his next over, Chahal delivered a bigger scalp. He coerced a false stroke off Steve Smith. It was dip that primarily undid Smith, though Sanju Samson’s catch deserves equal praise. Leaving a largely vacant space on the leg-side, Chahal tempted Smith into a leg-side swipe, which he does almost instinctively. It seemed destined to land in no man’s land before Samson galloped in and flung full-length forward to swallow the catch. The nemesis gone, India snatched the initiative.

But there still was Glenn Maxwell, who had been in irrepressible form. And pretty much Destiny’s Child in ODIs. But enter Natarajan, the left-armer with the smartest yorker in the country. Probably, Maxwell second-guessed that Natarajan would slither one on his toes and thought he could scoop or paddle a boundary behind the wicketkeeper. But Natarajan is not just a one-trick pony. He bowled the cross-seamer that landed on leg-stump and seamed away just enough to trap the batsman in front. The umpire unmoved, Kohli instantly reviewed, whereupon the decision was overturned.

Thus from 56/0, Australia capitulated to 75/3, the three wickets crucially being their match-winners. From thereon, India tightened the noose. Short and Moises Henriques, both capable batsmen, seemed to stabilise Australia. But Natarajan then chimed in with his second important strike of the day by removing the opener, Short, with another cross-seamer that lost its pace after pitching.

He thus demonstrated that it’s not only his yorkers that are to be dreaded but his variations too. What he lacks in speed, Natarajan makes up with his smarts. Then as if to remind that his most potent weapon is still the yorker, he produced a textbook one to demolish the stumps of Mitchell Starc, another fine executioner of the yorker.

READ | Concussion is strange, it worked for us today: Virat Kohli

In between, Chahal removed the dangerous Matthew Wade and Deepak Chahar terminated a defiant Moises Henriques to stub out the last lingering hopes of an Australian comeback. They ensured that Jadeja’s splendid work with the bat was not wasted. But for his 44 off 23 balls, India would have settled for a sub-150 total which Australia would have strolled past.

The all-rounder continued his irrepressible batting form with another thrilling exhibition of stroke-play. Poor Josh Hazlewood, his Chennai Super Kings colleague, who was plundered for a match-altering 23 runs in the 19th over. Jadeja was motoring at a run-a-ball 12 before ransacking 32 off his last 11 balls. Starc too was dished out some harsh treatment, as the Indian total soared in the last two overs.

A better death-over enforcer, if under-utilised, is difficult to find in contemporary cricket. It’s tempting to say that all the years spent with Mahendra Singh Dhoni has influenced Jadeja’s batting, especially how he paces his innings. All bodes well for India in the build-up to the T20 World Cup next year. In this light, Natarajan’s comeuppance couldn’t have been better timed either – India have been searching long for a yorker-emitting left-arm bowler, though Chahal would run away with the Destiny’s Child spectre in this game.

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