Even though Mohali is thousands of kilometers away from Adelaide, and March 30 is two months away, both India and Australia are aware that results of this week will have a bearing on the outcome of that game between the two rivals.
The yellow-and-green brigade’s struggle against spin was supposed to start only after they landed in the subcontinent. But to the surprise of many, Australia batsmen got a taste of it in the first game of their build-up for the ICC World Twenty20 to be staged in India.
One of the features of the game on Tuesday was the inability of the Australia batsmen to work away R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. From the dug-out it must have looked easy when Ashwin bowled his first over with the new ball and captain Aaron Finch smashed him for 17 runs.
Even in Jadeja’s first over, at the end of the Powerplay, there was no indication of the struggle to come. Steve Smith and Finch focused on the ones and twos as they milked the left-armer for seven runs. At the end of the eighth over, the hosts were 82 for one, coasting at a run rate of 10.25 against the required rate of 8.91. And when Finch hit a four off Jadeja’s second delivery in the ninth over, things didn’t look good for India.
However, that was the last shot of domination in the Australia innings. Jadeja forced a leading edge to prise out Smith, who had raced to a 14-ball 21. Ashwin returned at the other end and tested Finch from around the wicket. It was too much for the Australia captain, whose awkward attempts to sweep from outside off-stump proved disastrous; not only did he fall leg-before, it sowed doubts in the dug-out.
It’s when the spinners are bowling with confidence that the Indian bowling unit looks the most potent. And that is when the best in MS Dhoni’s captaincy comes out. Travis Head and Chris Lynn may have been Big Bash stars but were out of depth during this passage of play. Even Shane Watson, the only one with the experience to take charge, found the going tough against Ashwin. Finch, Head and Watson were all out playing sweep shots. From 89 for one, Australia collapsed to 129 for seven.
In the ODIs, Australia had put pressure on the spinners with the use of feet and by hitting them straight. The sweep is very effective against the turning ball, but instead of getting on top of the bounce, a panic-stricken batsman can play it blindly.
“It might have spun slightly more and we probably didn’t expect that. And at the end of the day, when you are chasing 9-10 an over against world class spinners like Ashwin and Jadeja, it is always going to be tough. When you are ultra-aggressive against them, it favours them. If you are looking to maximize your attack on them, there is always going to be a chance, and tonight wasn’t the night,” said Finch.
In Adelaide, the India spinners bowled with the opposition under pressure chasing a big target. How Ashwin and Co fare when defending an average total, and how they do bowling first, will be the tests they have to clear next.