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Australia v India

Natarajan’s arrival to missing Dhoni – the takeaways from India’s T20I series win in Australia

by Manoj Narayan 3-minute read

India secured a 2-1 series win in the T20Is in Australia, and with less than a year to go for the T20 World Cup 2021, there were plenty of takeaways. Manoj Narayan picks out five talking points.

After the limited-overs leg of India’s tour of Australia, one thing was certain: the sub-continental giants are a much better T20I outfit than an ODI one, and that’s perhaps testament to the wider-effect of the IPL.

However, with the T20 World Cup 2021 set to be played at home in less than a year, the three-match series in Australia provided plenty to ponder for anyone with an affiliation to India.

Wins in the first two T20Is by margins of 11 runs and six wickets might have rendered Australia’s 12-run victory in the final T20I meaningless, but in the larger scheme of things, there was plenty to take away. We look at some of the more pertinent points below.

Natarajan hides wider depth issues

Easily the find of the series, the T Natarajan was the best bowler across both teams in the three T20Is. He was the highest wicket-taker with six wickets, and his incredible return of 2-20 in the second T20I – a match in which a total of 389 runs were scored – had the likes of Glenn McGrath in awe. All this in his maiden tour for India. The fact that he’s a left-arm pacer – the one area that India’s bowling department lacks depth in – only added to his stock. If he can keep up this level of performance, he’ll significantly improve India’s chances at the T20 World Cup next year.

Unfortunately, the rest of the pace attack didn’t really give much cause for cheer. India rested Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami for a majority of the series, giving Deepak Chahar and Shardul Thakur a chance to stake their claim for more regular outings. Chahar claimed just the one wicket in three matches, and while Thakur was unlucky to only get two, given the number of drops off his bowling, his economy rate of over 10 made for painful reading.

The World Cup is a while away, and there might yet be more Natarajans emerging in the interim to add depth to the pace attack. Chahar and Thakur need to do better to keep their place.

Roaming Rahul

KL Rahul did well as a T20I opener alongside Shikhar Dhawan. His half-century in the first T20I laid the foundation decent total, and he was involved in a 56-run opening stand with Shikhar Dhawan in the second T20I as India chased down 195. It was a role he performed to great success when India toured New Zealand at the beginning of the year, and also one in which he excelled for Kings XI Punjab in the IPL. However, what happens when Rohit Sharma returns to the XI? If Dhawan continues in current form, it may well mean Rahul is shifted back down the order again.

That’s testament to Rahul’s skill and versatility, but the other side of the story is that, in his sixth year as an international cricketer, Rahul is yet to cement his spot or role in all three formats. Part of that is down to his flexibility, but there is also something to be said of his inability to nail down that spot. The management must take part of the blame too. Surely a player of his calibre is better off without having his remit changed every series.

He is 28 now, and should be at his theoretical peak. He clearly functions well with a defined role – his performances in the IPL show that. It’s time his place in this Indian team is clearly defined.

All-round problems

India’s victory in the T20Is shouldn’t mask the sudden, but significant, problem India have with a dearth of all-rounders. It was evident during the ODIs, and came further to light when Ravindra Jadeja, who scored a brilliant 44* in the first T20I, sat out of the rest of the series through injury. It meant India only had Washington Sundar as a player who could be bracketed under the all-rounder category, and that too at a stretch.

The absence of an out-and-out pace-bowling all-rounder was evident during the ODIs, in which India were beaten 2-1, so much so that Hardik Pandya – a natural all-rounder who has had to abstain from bowling as part of his recovery from a back surgery – had to chip in with a few overs on occasion. In the shorter format, the issues weren’t as clear-cut, but there were occasions when, with the likes of Chahar struggling, Kohli would have wished for a part-time bowling option to turn to.

Perhaps after the next IPL, a few options will emerge.

Spinners go missing

Chahal picked four wickets in the T20Is, but most of them came during an appearance as a concussion substitute in the first T20I, when he picked up 3-25. He’s been expensive since, with an economy rate of 9.75. Sundar’s economy of 7.08 wasn’t in keeping with his career T20I economy of 6.95, and his two wickets only accentuated that.

Kuldeep wasn’t even selected in the T20I squad, while R Ashwin remains mysteriously excluded from white-ball formats. All of which has led to the question: Is Dhoni being missed? Kiran More, the former India wicketkeeper, certainly thinks so.

‘‘During Dhoni’s time, he was constantly giving advice to bowlers on what length or line to bowl, albeit mostly in Hindi,” he told India Women’s coach WV Raman on the Inside Out podcast. “Now that Dhoni is not there behind the wickets, India’s spinners are struggling – you will see Kuldeep or Jadeja are no longer the same bowlers.”

The wicketkeeping conundrum

India’s activities behind the stumps once again drew interest. Rahul donned the big gloves throughout the three-match series even as Sanju Samson, a specialist wicketkeeper, manned the deep boundaries.

It was the same in New Zealand earlier this year, when Rishabh Pant failed to make the team and Rahul took the gloves, even though Samson was in the XI. Now Rahul has only ever been a part-time wicketkeeper. He performs the role more than satisfactorily, and if he assumes the role, it allows the team some leeway in combinations.

However, when Samson is in the XI, why not have the more natural wicketkeeper don the gloves? Does the management now see Rahul as more than a stop-gap wicketkeeping option? Is the hope to convert Rahul into a full-time wicketkeeper? What does this mean for Pant and Samson? Plenty of questions, the answers for which we’ll have to wait and see.

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