By R Kaushik in Mirpur
On-song Yuvraj Singh leads batting charge before bowlers, led by R Ashwin, finish off Australia for 86 to complete 73-run win
Any international victory is sweet, but some are sweeter than others for various reasons. India’s fourth victory in four matches at the ICC World Twenty20 2014, by 73 runs against Australia, that helped it finish top of the Super 10 Group 2 standings was particularly special for Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men as much for the manner in which it was achieved as for the return to run-scoring ways of their talisman.
All tournament long, Yuvraj Singh has looked aloof, distant, totally out of sorts – both with the bat and in the field. His team-mates have all rallied around him, boosting his confidence and morale, recognising the match-winner that he is and determined to do everything possible to help him find form as well as peace.
On Sunday (March 30) night at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium, Yuvraj responded to the warmth of his support group with a truly spectacular half-century, the unquestioned highlight of another impressive all-round performance that has added to the aura that surrounds India at the moment.
For the first time in the tournament, India had to bat first after Dhoni lost a rare toss. The break from norm seemed to have thrown India off its rhythm as it struggled for large parts of the batting stint. Then, the Yuvraj of old resurfaced with telling effect, a wonderful 60 from 43 deliveries muscling the team to 159 for 7.
It was a total that would take some getting, but not even India will have accounted for the abject Australian capitulation. It was as if the Australians had a flight to catch; strokes were played with reckless abandon, aggression taken to foolhardy length as one batsman after another perished caught in the deep.
Australia, already eliminated after Pakistan’s defeat of Bangladesh earlier in the evening, was shot out for a paltry 86 to hand India a comprehensive, commanding, surprisingly easy victory, easy every which way you look at it once they got through Glenn Maxwell, the six-hitting pulverisor who was outfoxed by R Ashwin.
Ashwin followed up his Man of the Match award-winning 2 for 15 against Bangladesh with astonishing figures of 4 for 11 as Australia folded in the 17th over. Only three batsmen reached double digits, the last six wickets fell for 31 runs, and if Australia could, it would forget this match in a hurry.
Ashwin began the rout by accounting for Aaron Finch with a beautifully disguised carrom ball and ended it by having James Muirhead caught behind. In between, Maxwell was bowled trying to reverse sweep and David Warner was brilliantly caught by Rohit Sharma, running in from deep mid-wicket on a night when India’s catching touched a new high. The Man of the Match award might have been Ashwin’s, but India’s man of the moment clearly was Yuvraj.
Until Yuvraj cut loose, without warning, India had been tied down by a combination of tidy off-spin bowling from Brad Hodge and Maxwell, and the pacers, none of whom gave anything away. Using the slowness of the pitch as a wonderful ally, the Australian bowlers bowled with craft and intelligence, not allowing India to so much as think of embracing aggression.
Rohit fell in the first over, slicing Hodge to short thirdman, and, for once, even Virat Kohli wasn’t his usual fluent self. There was one pulled six off Maxwell, and a trademark whip over midwicket against Shane Watson, but otherwise, Kohli was a little off the lofty standards he has set for himself.
George Bailey worked the bowlers around, never allowing the batsmen to line any one individual up, and the plan worked beautifully as Ajinkya Rahane, brought in for Shikhar Dhawan, followed Doug Bollinger to Brad Haddin. Yuvraj, hardly hitting a ball in anger, then lost the company of Suresh Raina, caught in the deep trying to up the rate of scoring, and India was in serious trouble at 66 for 4. Not only had it lost four plum wickets, it had also eaten up 11.3 overs in getting there.
It was then that Yuvraj decided a change of gear was not just necessary, it was imperative. Having laboured to 13 off 21 deliveries, it was as if a switch was turned on when he pulled Hodge through mid-wicket for his second four. From then on, it was the Yuvraj that has grabbed the consciousness of the Indian fan that was on view.
Muirhead, the young leg-spinner who had impressed against West Indies, was the first to feel the Yuvraj fury, in the 14th over, as the powerful left-hand batsman twice rocked back to successive short deliveries and deposited the ball deep in the stands behind mid-wicket. Now, the floodgates had well and truly opened. It’s not often that Dhoni plays second fiddle for as long as the entire duration of an 84-run stand, but of the 42 deliveries he spent in Yuvraj’s company, Dhoni made only a sedate 24 off 20. Yuvraj, by contrast, was positively breathing fire by now. Mitchell Starc was whipped wide of mid-on but the shot of the night was still to come, in the same over.
Starc packed the circle on the offside, had only one sweeper cover and put out four men on the legside boundary. Yuvraj took one fleeting look at the field, and then made up his mind. As Starc ran in, he stood still; shortly before the ball left the left-arm paceman’s hand, he backed away to give himself room, and effortlessly drove the full ball yards over the long-off fence. Welcome back Yuvi, the dugout must have shouted.
The Yuvraj show wasn’t over yet. With Dhoni enjoying the entertainment and feeling vindicated at placing his trust in the older man, Yuvraj continued to pile on the runs. Watson went for 16 in one over, a trademark whip to a full toss on off that screamed over deep backward square-leg taking him to his third T20I fifty in six hits against Australia. It was solely on the back of his pyrotechnics that India, 59 for 3 in 10, picked up 100 in the last 10. Australia, perhaps thinking it was a 1000, slogged its way to a humiliating defeat, one that should rankle it for a long, long time.