Hardik Pandya held on to his nerves in the last two overs of the Indian innings to help Team India chase down a stiff 195 in the second T20 International against Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Despite not being at his fluent best initially, Pandya smoked two fours and two sixes in the last two overs to remain unbeaten on 42 off 22 balls as the Men in Blue clinched the series 2-0, with a game to spare. This was Team India’s ninth successive T20I win. The side, under skipper Virat Kohli, now have T20I series wins in South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia, which makes him the first captain in the world to achieve the feat.
Despite the asking rate at over 9.5 an over right from the start, the Indian openers did not let the pressure get to them as they started off with the right intention. KL Rahul and left-hander Shikhar Dhawan piled on 56 runs in the first 6 overs, which not only put the pressure back on the Aussies, who were without skipper Aaron Finch, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood for the game, but also helped India gain a huge advantage. Glenn Maxwell was taken apart by Dhawan, while Andrew Tye kept bowling loose deliveries to Rahul, which allowed Team India the ideal start.
Even after the openers were sent back, the visitors ensured that the asking rate never climbed to unachievable numbers. Kohli, who takes a few deliveries to get his eye in in the format, played against the norm as he attacked right from the word go. Coming in to bat after the dismissal of Rahul, Kohli began proceedings with a shot over sweeper cover and made headlines with a scoop shot, that won high praise from his Royal Challengers Bangalore AB de Villiers, who has perfected the particular shot. Kohli continued the carnage with a knock of 40 that came in 22 balls. Though Dhawan fell while trying to dispatch Adam Zampa, for 52 off 36 balls, and Sanju Samson departed soon after for a 10-ball 15 after looking good in his brief stay, the Men in Blue were never behind the Required Run Rate, which allowed Hardik Pandya and Shreyas Iyer to get their eye in and flourish in the last two overs.
Even though the equation had reached 39 off 14 balls, the Indians never let the pressure get to them. A fine 111 metre six by Iyer off Zampa put the pressure back on the home team, while Pandya, who was left to bat out the last two overs, did miss a couple of balls that were wide of the off stump, but showed his finishing skills with a few big hits towards the end. With 14 needed off the last over, Pandya smoked two huge sixes in the midwicket region, which not only helped India register their ninth successive win but also took them to a fine series win.
Earlier, the Indians, who made three changes to their XI (Ravindra Jadeja, Manish Pandey and Mohammed Shami missed out while Yuzvendra Chahal, Shardul Thakur and Shreyas Iyer got a look in) put the Aussies to bat first on a high-scoring venue. The decision did not prove to be the right one as stand-in skipper Matthew Wade, who was also opening the innings, took apart the most economical bowlers for Team India since 2019 Deepak Chahar and Washington Sundar. Wade lofted, pulled and cut as he set the tone for a heavy score. He hit Chahar for three fours in the very first over while Sundar was smashed for three fours and a six in the first two overs that he bowled. Despite the early dismissal of D’Arcy Short, who was out while trying to pull T Natarajan, the Run Rate never dipped as the Kangaroos scored 59 in the first six overs. Wade got his fifty off just 24 balls and his innings contained ten fours and a six.
Though Wade was dismissed rather comically – a dropped catch by Kohli saw Wade scramble for a run before he was run out – quick cameos from the rest of the batters meant that the Australians were always on track for a score of over 180. Steven Smith held one end up and scored a brisk 46 off 38 balls, while Glenn Maxwell (22 off 13) and Moises Henriques (26 off 18) displayed their big hitting skills at the other end. Marcus Stoinis, who was fit for the game, and debutant Daniel Sams hit a few boundaries towards the end of the innings as well, even as the Indian bowlers struggled with their line and lengths.
With just 5 bowlers in the team (none of the players in the top six can bowl for India), there was very little room for error, but Australia’s approach meant that the pressure was always on. Though Natarajan was the pick and conceded just 20 off his 4 overs, the likes of Yuzvendra Chahl and Chahar were taken for plenty. Shardul Thakur impressed with his cutters, but the inability of the rest of the bowling attack to raise their game meant that the Australians were never under serious pressure for large phases. Though Team India managed to win, the team balance needs a look in, with Hardik Pandya not bowling due to the back surgery he had last year and Ravindra Jadeja out of the series due to a concussion.
The last T20I of the series is on Tuesday at the same venue, the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Brief Scores: Australia 194/5 (Matthew Wade 58, Steve Smith 46; T Natarajan 2-20) lost to India 195/4 (Shikhar Dhawan 52, Hardik Pandya 42*, Virat Kohli 40*) by 6 wickets.