1st T20I: Jadeja sets it up, super-sub Chahal seals it
A series that was originally meant to be a warm-up to the T20 World Cup in Australia became an opportunity to experiment for both sides with the global event pushed back to 2021. That is the only rationale India can cite on why they didn’t play their attacking T20 spinner Yuzvendra Chahal, with 21 IPL wickets behind him.
But who would have thought when Virat Kohli handed over the team sheet at the toss, that it would be his wiry RCB leg-spinner who would play a part, and a crucial one at that, in India’s 11-run win at the Manuka Oval in Canberra on Friday.
At the innings break, match referee David Boon went with the rule book to allow Chahal to come on as a concussion substitute for Ravindra Jadeja. The all-rounder was hit on the helmet in the final over by fast bowler Mitchell Starc, but was visibly more troubled by a hamstring problem for which he was attended to by the team physio earlier.
Chahal, like he often does, was the first amongst the wickets, getting Aaron Finch and Steve Smith. Finch fell to a looped-up leg-break and Smith was out, failing to clear the boundary. India’s other bowing hero was none other than the find from Chinnappampatti village in Tamil Nadu—left-arm pacer T Natarajan. He first got the dangerous Glenn Maxwell, who was beaten for pace in the 11th over. A cross-seamer got opener D’Arcy Short, caught at long-on. A perfect yorker, to keep with his reputation, sent back Mitchell Starc in the 19th over and sealed the issue. Natarajan filled in successfully at the death for the rested Jasprit Bumrah, no mean feat.
It wasn’t a perfect outing for India though defending 161, after a listless effort in the opening powerplay. The Australian openers raced to 53, until they gave two chances in the seventh over by Deepak Chahar. Manish Pandey and Kohli spilled the catches as India’s poor fielding continued.
Starc rediscovered swing that was missing for most of the ODI series, clocking mid-140s, and his late away movement cleaned up Shikhar Dhawan early.
IPL orange cap holder KL Rahul came out in the same avatar. A pulled six off Sean Abbott in the final over of powerplay underlined that form. He kept up the tempo in his 51, but like the other batsmen, got out at the wrong time.
Before that, Australia’s second leggie, Mitchell Swepson, bowled a scrappy over which included a slap-pull for four by Rahul. But he got one to grip and shoot up, and it ballooned back to him. That was Kohli’s wicket. Apart from losing out to an unfancied bowler, it would also fuel the theory that he is shaky against leg-spin in the shorter formats. It was the only over Swepson bowled.
The choice of Sanju Samson over Shreyas Iyer was the Indian think tank’s bid to avoid picking batsmen of the same mould. Samson batted like he can, but 23 off 15 may not be enough if he aspires to be a regular in the playing eleven.
India’s struggle in the middle overs was acute, managing only 62 off 10 before Jadeja’s onslaught. He has played a lot with MS Dhoni, and farmed the strike in the 19th over despite a capable Washington Sundar at the other end. He launched into Josh Hazlewood in the 19th over, collecting 23 runs. Another 12 came off Starc, eight off boundaries after being hit on the helmet. India scored 57 runs off the last four overs. And Chahal and Natarajan made sure they were enough.