What did the ODI World Cup not give you? Enough last-ball thrillers? Runs from Suryakumar Yadav and Josh Inglis? Wristspinners being carted around? Well, that’s why we have bilaterals…
A mere four days after Australia’s World Cup triumph, a bunch of their players stayed back – and others joined them – for a five-match T20I series, which started with a nail-biting game that ended with a last-ball six that didn’t even find a place in the scoreboard. Line-ups and fortunes changed so much that Steven Smith opened the batting, Ishan Kishan walked out at No. 3, and Inglis hammered Australia’s joint-fastest men’s T20I century. But some other things remained the same. Suryakumar’s domination was back as the format changed, India’s line-up still had just seven batters, runs continued to flow easily on an Indian ground, and even though the trio of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins flew back home, Australia’s bowlers found a way to bounce back and nearly take a 1-0 lead after India needed just 14 from 12 and seven from the last over.
The action now moves further south to Thiruvananthapuram, where the last T20I, in September last year, saw South Africa collapse to 9 for 5 in overcast conditions. It could be overcast again, given it rained on Saturday, and that could force the teams to change their plans and personnel.
If the ball does swing, Smith’s technical expertise at the top will be handy for Australia before the more hard-hitting batters take over. They would, however, want some more runs from batters apart from Smith and Inglis. The two of them accounted for over 80% of the runs that were scored by Australia in the series opener, though they faced 91 balls between them. Marcus Stoinis faced just six balls and he will be itching to smash the ball after managing just 87 runs in five World Cup innings. Australia will also rue not scoring more than 208 on a batting track after being 179 for 2 with three overs to go. That had to do with India’s quick bowlers, especially Mukesh Kumar, who sent down a mixed bag of slower ones, bouncers, yorkers and hard lengths to stem the flow of runs, capped by a stunning five-run last over.
India were in some trouble at both ends of their chase, especially where they nearly fluffed their lines by slipping from 194 for 4 to 208 for 8 before Rinku Singh’s last-ball six gave the packed house a smile to go back with, even though Sean Abbott’s no-ball robbed Rinku off that six. It is this brittleness in the lower-middle order that India will again be wary of, especially given their batting ends at No. 7, unless they change their combination. Will they bring in an allrounder like Washington Sundar or Shivam Dube (in swinging conditions) for legspinner Ravi Bishnoi, who leaked 54 in four overs, after just one game?
India WWWWW (last five completed T20Is, most recent first) Australia LWWWW
In the spotlight – Ravi Bishnoi and Marcus Stoinis
Ravi Bishnoi took home 13 wickets in eight games and gave away just 6.09 runs an over for Gujarat in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy while the World Cup was on. Among his highlights this year was the four wickets in Ireland in two games. He got just one T20I in the Caribbean, in which he went wicketless. He could, however, draw confidence from the 16 wickets he got in the IPL that played a crucial role in Lucknow Super Giants’ third-place finish on the points table. But there, too, he leaked 7.74 runs an over, and how he responds in the second T20I, keeping in mind the race for spots for the 2024 T20 World Cup in June, will be worth watching.
A batting average of 21.75 and a bowling average of 35.75 in six World Cup games must have made Marcus Stoinis desperate to show his A game in this series. He struck an unbeaten 37 off 21 to lead Australia’s chase of 191 to whitewash South Africa before the World Cup, but the main tournament saw him getting out in the latter stages of the innings when the team expected more runs from him than he scored, with a highest of 35 from five innings. The shorter format could free him up more, like it did for Suryakumar, and helping the team level the series could give him the lift he needs right now.
India may not make many changes since it’s a five-match series. What was a surprise, though, in the first game was slotting Kishan in at No. 3 when it was assumed he would be in a race for the opening slot with Ruturaj Gaikwad and Yashasvi Jaiswal. The possibility of swing could make India change their combination, and bringing in Dube for a spinner could be an option, but leaving out Axar Patel would be unfair and replacing Bishnoi with Dube would seriously undermine India’s bowling options. India’s other options outside the XI of the first T20I are Jitesh Sharma, Washington and Avesh Khan.
Australia don’t have a big reason to tinker with their XI either but their World Cup winners Glenn Maxwell, Travis Head and Adam Zampa have stayed back and will be slotted back at some point. Whether Head slots it for Smith or Matthew Short will be the question – whenever it comes up – and Tanveer Sangha’s expensive spell – 47 runs in four overs – wasn’t great for him or the team. The other players in their squad are Aaron Hardie and Kane Richardson.
Australia (probable): 1 Steven Smith, 2 Matthew Short, 3 Josh Inglis, 4 Marcus Stoinis, 5 Tim David, 6 Aaron Hardie, 7 Matthew Wade (capt, wk), 8 Sean Abbott, 9 Nathan Ellis, 10 Jason Behrendorff, 11 Tanveer Sangha
Pitch and conditions
Thiruvananthapuram has hosted just three T20I so far, and it hasn’t been easy for teams batting first, as the scores reflect: 67 for 5 (eight-over game), 170 for 7 on a slow pitch, and 106 for 8. Barring the rain-truncated first game, teams chasing won and that might be the better option on Sunday too, with rain around. It will remain humid in general and temperatures will be in the late 20s and early 30s.
The last time Australia beat India in a T20I was in September 2022, just before the T20 World Cup
Suryakumar and Maxwell are one century away from joining Rohit Sharma at the top for most centuries in T20Is (four)
Inglis’ 110 was the second time an Australia batter’s T20I century ended on the losing side. Shane Watson’s unbeaten 124 off 71 in Sydney in early 2016 was the first such instance – India were the opponents then too.
Inglis has smashed three T20 centuries in his career, and all of them have come outside Australia. The other two were for Leicestershire in the Vitality Blast in 2021. All his other five hundreds – four in first-class cricket and one in one-dayers – were scored in Australia
“I have played under Suryakumar Yadav’s captaincy in the IPL, when he captained Mumbai Indians for one match. He is very calm and clear in his thoughts. He is a very good captain. In the last match also he played really well in a tough situation and he managed [the players] well.” Tilak Varma on Suryakumar Yadav’s captaincy
“They are all pretty good players and may be try to keep them guessing, just to stay one step ahead which is hard to do at times. Maybe do what we can in terms of change in pace, line and length.” Jason Behrendorff on how the India batters, especially Suryakumar, can be restricted
Vishal Dikshit is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo