Having ended their long barren streak in Australia with a thrilling one-day victory in Sydney, India will strive to build some much-needed limited-overs momentum when their Twenty20 series Down Under gets underway in Adelaide on Tuesday. Staring at the prospect of a series whitewash after four straight defeats, India finally delivered on some promising performances to snatch a six-wicket victory with just two balls remaining.
It had appeared their chasing down of Australia’s total of 330 in Sydney might go the same way as their failed pursuit three days earlier in Canberra. Just as then, India had made a strong start, only for crucial wickets to fall and derail their innings. But this time around, Manish Pandey offered an exciting glimpse of his future by firing a century to secure India’s first victory in Australia, in any format, for nearly four years.
Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni played a supporting role in the victory, too, firing a crucial six in the final over before getting out. But the veteran will know that it will take much more than that innings and a single consolation victory to win over his substantial number of critics. Since walking away from the captaincy of the Test team 13 months ago, the 34-year-old has struggled in charge of the limited-overs squads and has faced calls to step down. But he has been given the backing of his bosses at least through until the World Twenty20 -- an event which now firmly takes center stage.
The showpiece competition gets underway in India less than two months’ time. And India’s preparations in cricket’s shortest format are now limited to the upcoming series in Australia as well as a recently announced series with Sri Lanka next month. Dhoni and India are badly in need of discovering some positive impetus before they begin their attempts to win the trophy for the first time since its inaugural edition, in 2007.
India finished runners-up in the most recent competition two years ago, but since then have only win one of their last five matches over 20 overs. While a victory on Saturday was able to see India cling to second place in the ODI rankings, they have slipped down to a lowly eighth in the T20I list. Australia, meanwhile, are second, and would go clear at the top with a win when the series gets underway on Tuesday at the Adelaide Oval.
India’s preparations for the series have been disrupted by a number of withdrawals from the original squad. Mohammad Shami’s injury ahead of the one-day series continues to rule out the pace bowler, and he will be replaced by Jasprit Bumrah. The T20s were set to be the 22-year-old’s debut in international cricket, however a late call up for the final ODI in place of the injured Bhuvneshwar Kumar gave him a surprise chance to make an earlier impression. And he grabbed it with both hands, taking two wickets at the cost of just 40 runs from his 10 overs to be the pick of India’s bowlers.
“The very first game he played he bowled well with the semi-new ball, he bowled well in the middle overs, and he bowled well for us at the death, also.” Dhoni said of the Gujarat youngster after his performance in Sydney. “Those are the kind of bowlers we’re looking for; he’s got the variations, he has got a slightly awkward action.”
Kumar’s absence with a fractured left thumb will be covered in the T20 squad by all-rounder Rishi Dhawan, while Ajinkya Rahana, who split the webbing on his right hand while fielding in the fourth ODI, will be replaced by Gurkeerat Mann Singh.
T20I squad: Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Gurkeerat Mann Singh, Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni (Captain), (Wicketkeeper), Suresh Raina, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Jasprit Bumra, Harbhajan Singh, Umesh Yadav, Hardik Pandya, Rishi Dhawan, Ashish Nehra.
T20I series schedule
1st T20I: Jan. 26 at the Adelaide Oval (2:38 a.m. EST)
2nd T20I: Jan. 29 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (3:38 a.m. EST)
3rd T20I: Jan. 31 at the Sydney Cricket Ground (3:38 a.m. EST)