At this point in time, the Indian cricket team’s situation mirrors life: no sooner have you overcome a challenge than the next one crops up.
After India successfully sorted out their batting, with their top order now looking for boundaries straightaway, they would have thought it was time to breathe easy. But lately, their death bowling has started giving them headaches.
Since January 2022, 33 bowlers have bowled 20 or more overs at the death in T20 cricket. Among those, Harshal Patel (10.45) has the tenth-worst economy rate. Bhuvneshwar Kumar is somewhere in the middle with 9.54.
In the first match of the ongoing series, India posted 208 for 6, their highest T20I total against Australia. During their chase, Australia needed 55 from the last four overs but wrapped up the game with four balls still left in the bank.
Yes, the Mohali pitch was flat, the outfield lightning and the boundaries tiny, but there was hardly any dew. If India didn’t have the services of Jasprit Bumrah, Australia too were without David Warner, Mitchell Marsh and Marcus Stoinis.
India, though, have solutions in sight for the T20 World Cup, if not this series. Once Bumrah returns, it should solve half the problem. And while Arshdeep Singh is not in the squad for the Australia series, he could be tried in place of Harshal during the South Africa T20Is. With a death-overs economy of 7.16, Arshdeep is third on the aforementioned list.
Australia, meanwhile, will be pleased with their captain Aaron Finch showing signs of a return to form after a wretched time in ODIs this year. He took on Bhuvneshwar in the powerplay, smashing him for 22 off two overs to set the tone. Among other positives, Steven Smith, batting at No. 3 for the first time since last October, hit a 24-ball 35, and Matthew Wade once again demonstrated his finishing skills with an unbeaten 45 off 21 balls.
The visitors will be looking to seal the series in Nagpur itself, which will be another big boost in the absence of many first-choice players.
India LWLLW (last five completed T20Is, most recent first)
In the spotlight
If fully fit, Bumrah should replace Umesh Yadav for India. The hosts could also consider bringing in R Ashwin for Yuzvendra Chahal.
India (probable): 1 Rohit Sharma (capt), 2 KL Rahul, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Suryakumar Yadav, 5 Hardik Pandya, 6 Dinesh Karthik (wk), 7 Axar Patel, 8 Harshal Patel, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 Jasprit Bumrah/Umesh Yadav, 11 Yuzvendra Chahal/R Ashwin
Australia are likely to be unchanged, with Kane Richardson, who missed the first T20I because of a minor side niggle, still unavailable. In case they decide to rest one of Josh Hazlewood or Pat Cummins, Sean Abbott can come in.
Australia (probable): 1 Aaron Finch (capt), 2 Cameron Green, 3 Steven Smith, 4 Glenn Maxwell, 5 Josh Inglis, 6 Tim David, 7 Matthew Wade (wk), 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Nathan Ellis, 10 Adam Zampa, 11 Josh Hazlewood
Pitch and conditions
India’s practice session on Thursday was cancelled because of rain. On Friday, it’s expected to be mostly cloudy, with the temperature hovering around 25°C.
Stats and trivia
“I do not bat much in the nets, I practise separately, but from whatever I have faced, I can say Harshal Patel’s slower balls and his other variations are very deceptive. He has been working really hard on it. He has just come back from an injury, so let’s give him some benefit of that.”
Suryakumar Yadav on if batters are now picking Harshal’s slower balls easily
“Having some good experience playing in India, finishing off games, understanding how it flows and how to play, or when it kind of lines up in front of you. There can be an advantage of batting second in Indian conditions. That was a good experience, the IPL, to have drawn on the other night out there in the middle.”
Tim David on his IPL experience coming handy
Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo