Matthew Wade wins it again; sluggish stutter for Harshal Patel; Rohit Sharma’s inelegant hacking & Virat Kohli baited & starved off pace

Harshal Patel stood there, scratching his chin during the 18th over where he bled 22 runs. He could well have been scratching his head. So will Harshal do well in Australia? He will have to include a few changes in his style, if the first T20 in Mohali offers us any clues. His strength is the slower ball that he pings down on the track, gets the sluggish pitch to suck in the ball almost – rather the ball holds up on the pitch as they say – to upset the downward bat swing and timing of the batsman. Not on these kind of belters or true bounce pitches of Australia, though.

So there he was trying that ball to Matthew Wade and saw the ball being thrown back from deep square-boundary. Even his full slower ones, the off-breakish variety, usually needs something from the pitch to grip and break to upset the batsman’s shot. Here it skids and floats and Tim David slugged it over long-on.

Harshal Patel could be a natural bowler for last year’s T20 World Cup. He wasn’t in the squad. For him to step-up and perform in next month’s T20 World in Australia, he will have to make a few changes. If the pitches in the next two T20’s turn out to be slower, he can do his thing. For the sake of the World Cup, it might be good if they are not, so that he finds out what he needs to do to amp up his game.

Sriram Veera

Starve, starve, starve, Stun!, Boom Kohli Gone

They starved him off pace at the start. Adam Zampa with his leggies and googlies had Virat Kohli poking around. Then Nathan Ellis slipped in a couple of back-of-hand slower ones that had him dabbing around. And then when the first pacy ball came, Kohli thought he could break free but his hands didn’t flow as they could. It wasn’t the firm lofted punch over the in-field, neither was it the swat-flick across to the leg side. An in-between shovel that was swallowed at mid-on. It’s a strategy that could be tried again in the future and worth looking for to see how Kohli handles it.

Sriram Veera

Cricket cliches, the new yawn

If there was a contest of cricketing cliches, ‘You can’t bowl Indians on their legs’ would win hands down. As if to instigate the commentators, the lines that are “as old as the game”, the Aussies, at Mohali, started by sticking to the leg line. They didn’t cash in on the early tentativeness of the Indian openers Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul by focusing on the ‘corridor of uncertainty’. Be it Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins or even Nathan Ellis, they didn’t bowl in the “good areas.” They ended up bowling on the strengths of Rohit and Rahul on a pitch that was a “belter” and the outfield that was like a “billiards table.” Rohit threw “caution to the wind” and flicked a six. Rahul kept “playing each ball on its merit.” His six off Hazlewood had the “crowd on their feet.” But between balls that had “hit-me written all over it”, “lady luck” smiled on the Aussies as Rohit fell while hitting a “nothing ball.” Cricket, a religion for many in India, remained a “game of glorious uncertainty.” Sixes, wickets, thrills and spills – summed up the cliched start to this T20 game.

Sandeep Dwivedi

More than one way to skin a cat

The jury is still out on the new aggressive mantra adopted by the Indian opening pair, but it looked a bit helter-skelter against a quality Australian pace attack in Mohali.

Rohit Sharma has won admirers with his elegant playing style, but running down the pitch at bowlers of the class of Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, throwing the bat at the cherry and attempting ungainly heaves may not please the purists too much.

Not that it helped a great deal on the scoreboard either. A total of 46/2 after the Powerplay – with big guns Rohit and Virat Kohli back in the dugout for low scores – can only be described as a middling return on investment, and that too possibly due to Suryakumar Yadav’s classy intervention in the sixth over.

If anything, the innings found its rhythm once Yadav joined KL Rahul, with the two employing more orthodox methods, relying on their natural talent and strokeplay. As many as 51 runs came off the second lot of five overs, that too without the loss of a wicket, proving that there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

Maybe, the ultra-aggressive approach to start a T20 innings is part of a bigger plan, to let the likes of Yadav, Hardik Pandya and Dinesh Karthik to play without much pressure later in the piece. Only time will tell Down Under.

Tushar Bhaduri

Top 3 on contrived countdown

It seems India’s Top 3 had been given a fixed ration of balls by the decision-makers in the dressing room. With a batting line-up that has Axar Patel at No.7 and sloggers like Harshal Patel and Umesh Yadav to follow, you don’t want the seniors in the team to stick around for long. So you had the opener Rohit Sharma manufacturing fours and sixes from the start of his innings. He didn’t worry about the fielders on the square leg fence and tried to flick sixes over them. He didn’t worry about the well-guarded off-side in-field and went over them. If he got out, so be it. There were way too many batters to follow him. KL Rahul, questioned about the strike rate since the IPL, too seemed conscious of some invisible ticking countdown clock. After completing his 50 in the 11th over, he looked like a guest was getting stares from the hosts for overstaying. In the next over he was out, hitting one too many big strokes. He knew he couldn’t be seen eating into the balls that the big finishers Hardik Patel and Dinesh Karthik were to face. T20 cricket these days was like pizza slices.

Sandeep Dwivedi

Rahul’s Batman rise

Under pressure, KL Rahul turned to his pre-IPL captain years to breathe fire. Of many delightful shots, one stood out: a wristy whippy flick for six over wide midwicket off a length delivery around off and middle from Hazlewood who raised his eyebrow in surprise at the shot selection. Though it wasn’t as stunning as the six he hit in the Asia Cup game against Pakistan off Naseem Shah when he twirled his wrists but incredibly hit a length delivery on leg and middle over long-off. That was something.

This fiery knock and the context it came in can be best summed up by a tattoo on KL Rahul’s body: Deshi Basara, which means “Rise”.

His friend David Mathias, with whom he works occasionally on his game too, had once told this newspaper about it.

“Of all the tattoos, he was most excited and proud to show that Batman tattoo”.“Deshi Basara! It means “Rise” and it was such a cool scene from The Batman – Dark Knight too,” Mathias had said. That it was. In that scene, it’s established that only adrenaline could boost the body’s abilities beyond the normal that Batman needs to escape the really high pit. He uses the fear of dying to pump up his adrenaline as he leaps and climbs out of that pit to deafening cries of ‘Deshi Basara’ from the prisoners huddled below.

In his real life, Rahul prefers to climb out of batting pits through his calm and composure. “That’s how he has been all his life. You should see his parents – solid, intelligent (both professors) and calmer than Rahul even. He gets it from them. Doesn’t get flustered much at all.”.

Sriram Veera

Respect baggy’d; Green Hulks out

Earlier this month, Cameron Green passed an important milestone. It wasn’t about runs, wickets or catches, he won the respect of the Aussie dressing room – a place where the weak are historically looked down upon and brave are those who shed blood and sweat for the baggy green. In a game against the opponents they hate to lose, New Zealand, the all-rounder endured physical pain to see his team through. Hardly able to move because of cramps, he hit a career best-89 not out as the Aussies survived a late collapse to go past the Black Caps’ modest target of 232. He couldn’t run, couldn’t even use his feet while at the crease. Trust the tough Aussie commentators to pull the leg of their young mate. From the Fox Cricket commentary box Kerry O’Keeffe said “I’ve seen statues with more leg movement than him.” For Brad Haddin, Green was straight shoo-in to play Wizard of Oz’s Tin Man. But that’s how the Aussies show their love. And when the time came to push someone up the order when India posted a 200 plus score, young Green was called in to take up the job of the stand-in opener. First 4 balls, 4 fours, Green was Wizard of Oz himself.

Sandeep Dwivedi

Doubts, doubts, doubts caught everywhere

Tu catch pakda na? (You took the catch, right?) Rohit Sharma could be heard mouthing to Dinesh Karthik after he had already gone for DRS when Glenn Maxwell had plausibly edged behind one attempted pull.

The umpire had signalled that he didn’t hear anything (possibly in the raucous din at Mohali stadium) and so initially the question seemed all about whether there was an edge. Rohit was pretty confident he had heard and had asked for DRS immediately. Then came the doubt. He turned and asked Karthik the wicketkeeper whether he had cleanly pouched the dipping ball.

Karthik did the Indian head nod and said something (unclear) and Rohit in jest shook him and mock-strangled him! DK was all smiles.

Then as he waited for the third umpire to make the call, Rohit was seen shaking his head and chattering away with a few cuss words of course. The third umpire saw the edge and went to on-field umpire Ananthapadmanabhan, claiming the edge.

But Anantha was also having Rohit’s initial doubts, and asked the third umpire to check if the catch was clean. Luckily, for India and Karthik, it was!

Sriram Veera

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