Watson heroics go in vain as Dhoni’s men sweep series 3-0, climb to No. 1 in ICC T20I rankings
A heart-stopping encounter was the perfect ending to three weeks of intense tussle between India and Australia, with the last ball of the tour deciding the third and final Twenty20 International in India’s favour by seven wickets at a pulsating Sydney Cricket Ground on Sunday (January 31).
Australia had been powered by Shane Watson, installed as captain with Aaron Finch injured and doing nearly everything himself. Watson smashed 124 not out off 71 balls, took 1 for 30 in four overs, made the right calls as captain and even took a catch, but ended up on the losing side as Suresh Raina kept his cool while smashing 49 not out off 25 balls to guide India to 200 for 3, squeaking past Australia’s 197 for 5.
On a tour where all the One-Day Internationals and the T20Is had been closely fought, it was only fitting that the last match was decided off the final ball, with plenty of drama leading into it. Yuvraj Singh, in the middle with Raina for the final moments, looked out of sorts and faced up to the final over bowled by Andrew Tye with only five runs from nine balls faced, and India needing 17. The first two balls were smashed for a four and six out of nowhere, bringing the equation down to manageable levels, and with two needed off the last ball, Raina hit a four through point with the field up.
Victory meant India swept the T20I series 3-0 and surged from No. 8 to No. 1 in the ICC T20I charts too, ending the eight-match tour with four wins on the trot after losses in the first four.
India’s reply to Australia’s huge total began in electric fashion, with Shikhar Dhawan carting 24 runs off Shaun Tait in the third over. Dhawan was out soon after, Watson showing it was his night by getting a wicket with his second ball, but that brought Virat Kohli out. As he had done all tour long, Kohli continued to wade into the Australian bowlers, in the much the same way Rohit Sharma did. The duo had come together after an opening stand of 46 in just 3.2 overs, and built on that perfectly, finding the fence with regularity and running the singles – and more importantly the twos too.
A combination of good bowling and tiredness did Rohit in, with Cameron Boyce’s leg-spin giving Australia a vital breakthrough. Boyce had bowled well, and got the ball to dip even when varying his length. In the 13th over, he had Rohit hitting straight to Watson – who seemed to be everywhere – for 52 off 38, leaving India 124 for 2. Boyce landed a killer blow in his next over, fooling Kohli into yorking himself for 50 off 36 to leave India 147 for 3, with 51 needed off 31 balls.
Raina gamely kept the chase alive, finding the boundary off every loose ball even when he didn’t appear completely fluent. At the other end, Yuvraj seemed to have brought out his ICC World T20 vintage. Unfortunately for India at first, it was the 2014 one, bat connecting with air rather than ball. Then, in the final over, the 2007 Yuvraj returned to restore balance.
Cameron Bancroft had missed stumping Raina off Boyce off the second ball, when the batsman hadn’t yet scored, a miss that proved costly but one which counterbalanced Kohli dropping Watson when the batsman was just 56.
At the start, Watson compressed the old Test match adage of ‘give the first hour to the bowler’ to ‘give the first over to the bowler’. After a sighter in the opening over bowled by Ashish Nehra, and only two singles off his first eight balls, Watson cut loose by depositing a short Nehra ball into the mid-wicket stands. That was the start of the deluge.
Watson had spoken earlier of the need to adapt to his role in the middle order, having batted at five and six in the first two T20Is, and when given a chance at deciding the batting order, he showed that his best spot was at the top by a distance. All other batsmen in Australia’s innings were reduced to merely supporting cast. Watson outscored Travis Head, the innings’ next highest scorer, by a whopping 98 runs. But while the Watson knock was all about power and clean-hitting, it was also about playing intelligently. That he faced 71 balls of the available 120 spoke of how well the strike was turned over to him and how well he farmed it. But even while playing the anchor’s role, he was scoring faster than anyone else, and being the engine that was powering Australia almost all by himself.
There was plenty of interest in how Usman Khawaja, one of Australia’s two debutants alongside Bancroft, would fare given his stupendous summer, but though he was fluent in his short stay, Nehra got him to poke one through to MS Dhoni for 14 off 6 balls. Glenn Maxwell too failed, snared for the second time by Yuvraj, but Australia’s total was built on two stands either side of Maxwell’s stay. Watson and Shaun Marsh put on 53 off 32 balls of which Marsh contributed only 9. Equally impressive, Watson and Travis Head put on 93 off 47 balls for the fourth wicket of which Head’s share was 26.
The best illustration of Watson’s skill and game-sense came via how he took on R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja in their second spells. The four overs from 14 to 17 brought 50 runs, with Watson reaching his century too, a hard sweep off Jadeja finding the square-leg fence and bringing up the landmark off 60 balls. That onslaught made the difference between Australia getting to a great total as against a massive one.
At the start of the innings, Watson became only the fifth man to have captained Australia in all three formats. By the end of the innings, he had become the only Australian with centuries in all three formats of the game. By the end of the match, he had ensured renewed interest in him for the upcoming IPL auction in less than a week, and an extended stay in India for the ICC World Twenty20 2016 that will precede the IPL.