FEBRUARY 25, 2019
Visakhapatnam – Two-paced pitches can do strange things. Long tails can do strange things. Those two ingredients combined in Visakhapatnam to produce an intriguing low-scoring thriller, and in the end it was Australia who shaded a tight contest between two imperfect teams.
It came down to the last ball, with two runs needed, and Pat Cummins, who had just slapped the previous ball, a wide full-toss, to the cover boundary, kept his head to complete the job. Umesh Yadav sent down a good ball, in the blockhole, and Cummins nudged it down the ground towards long-on, knowing the fielder was too deep to sprint in off the boundary and cut off the second run.
It probably shouldn’t have come to that. At one stage, Australia needed 38 from 40 balls with eight wickets in hand and two batsmen at the crease on 56 and 31. But Glenn Maxwell, who had until then chosen his shots wisely, went after a wide legbreak from Yuzvendra Chahal. This ball had been Chahal’s recipe for repeated success against Maxwell when Australia last toured India for a limited-overs series, and once again Maxwell miscued his big hit, picking out long-off.
From there, a combination of tight bowling, inexperience (Peter Handscomb was on T20I debut, Ashton Turner was playing only his fourth game) nerves (a terrible mix-up cost the set D’Arcy Short his wicket on 37) and Australia’s lack of batting depth (they picked four frontline quicks and a specialist legspinner, which meant Nathan Coulter-Nile was their No. 7) brought India right back into the game.
Playing his first international game, Mayank Markande conceded only five off the 18th over. Then, with Australia needing 16 from 12, Jasprit Bumrah bowled a staggeringly good 19th, giving away just two runs while also bouncing out Handscomb and cleaning up Coulter-Nile with a leg-stump yorker.
That left Cummins and Jhye Richardson, two fast bowlers who were yet to face a ball, needing 14 off the last over, and both showed a clear head under pressure while Umesh was just marginally below his best.
If Australia’s quicks played an important role with the bat, they were utterly key with the ball in keeping India to 126. India began well, with KL Rahul staying leg-side of the ball and freeing his arms to pepper the off-side boundary during the Powerplay. Virat Kohli, playing his first competitive match in nearly a month, also looked in bright touch, and the two added 55 for the second wicket at close to nine an over.
Kohli’s dismissal off Adam Zampa in the ninth over, however, began a drastic slide. Rishabh Pant was run-out by a brilliant bit of athleticism from Jason Behrendorff at backward point, and Coulter-Nile kept hitting an awkward length – not full enough to drive, not short enough to pull – and getting the ball to do unexpected things off the pitch. One held up and Rahul spooned a catch to mid-off, another cut in off the seam to bowl Dinesh Karthik, and then a miscued pull cost Krunal Pandya his wicket.
At 100 for 6, India suddenly had five overs left to play with no one of remotely recognised batting ability to partner MS Dhoni. The boundaries had dried up quite a while ago, and now Dhoni began refusing singles to the deep fielders. It was a sensible idea, given that he needed to be on strike as much as possible to try and capitalise on the rare loose ball or manufacture a boundary from somewhere. Coulter-Nile, Richardson and Cummins, however, kept hitting the pitch on that in-between length, kept getting the ball to stop or skid, and gave him almost nothing to hit save a wide full-toss that he launched beyond the cover boundary in the final over.
That was the only boundary India managed in the last 81 balls of their innings. That was where Australia won this game, even if they only just scraped through in the end.