India V Australia, World T20 Preview - Match 31
The 2007 champions will hope its batsman can make the most of favourable conditions, while Australian has Adam Zampa's legspin as its X-factor.
26 March 2016 16:44
Australia flexed its batting muscles against Pakistan on Friday.
In the red corner is Australia, a perennial global cricketing powerhouse. Only this trophy is missing from its burgeoning cabinet. In its preferred blue corner is India, a gathering Twenty20 International force this year, one of the overwhelming favourites when this tournament started, but forced for one reason and another to punch well below its weight. Their virtual quarterfinal at the PCA Stadium on Sunday (March 27), in the final league encounter of this group, will be a heavyweight affair in every sense of the term, the difference between a ticket to the last-four stage and an early flight to their respective homes.
After a hesitant loss to New Zealand and a nervy defeat of Bangladesh, Australia flexed its batting muscles at this very venue against Pakistan on Friday. The inclusion of Aaron Finch at the top of the order and the elevation to No. 3 of David Warner were excellent moves that didn’t exactly pay off. But soon-to-retire Shane Watson’s beefy ball-striking at No. 6 to complement Steven Smith’s versatility and improvisation, on the back of hometown boy Glenn Maxwell’s bruising cameo, allowed Australia to bury Pakistan under an avalanche of runs and, eventually, usher it out of the competition. It is on the back of this rediscovered batting zest that Australia will hope to quell India’s challenge, particularly with its bowling looking a little light in the absence of the injured Mitchell Starc.
James Faulkner’s five-wicket burst against Pakistan was flattering simply because a majority of those sticks came towards the very end of the match, with Pakistan desperately hitting out in a bid to keep its waning campaign alive. Faulkner is the most experienced specialist bowler in the Australian ranks with the acknowledged changes of pace that make him a terrific death bowler, but he has been somewhat short of being at his best. Instead, it is their least experienced bowler, Adam Zampa, who has caught the eye with his control, his calmness under pressure, and his ability to hold his own even when batsmen are looking to get after his legspin.
Zampa will perhaps face the toughest test of his fledgling international career on Sunday. India’s batsmen, handicapped by slow, low turners in their first three games, haven’t had the best of times, though they did scrap hard against Bangladesh in Bangalore to post 146 for 7 in the most difficult batting conditions of the match. Outclassed by New Zealand’s spin trio in Nagpur and doing just enough to quell Pakistan at the Eden Gardens, India’s batting force will eagerly look forward to friendlier conditions at a traditionally tall-scoring venue.
India will carry immense buoyancy from the manner in which it snatched victory out of the gaping jaws of defeat against Bangladesh. Inasmuch as India kept its nerve in a tense run chase, it will be mindful of the fact that it wasn’t a game it won as much as Bangladesh lost. Two boring singles away from elimination, it will be grateful for the lifeline thrown by the Bangladeshis. India will also be thankful for the fact that its fate now rests entirely in its own hands. The equation is fairly straightforward, even if the task isn’t – best Australia, and don’t worry about anything else.
India’s recent and overall record against the Aussies notwithstanding, that of course is easier said than done. Australia hasn’t become the team to beat across formats through accident. This side may not carry the same aura that other teams in the past have done, but like Mumbai in domestic cricket, Australia at the highest level knows what it takes to close out matches and tournaments. That’s precisely what makes its World T20 drought hard to explain, because especially when it comes to batting, it has a top six as explosive as any in the world, with commensurate experience of having played in India, courtesy the IPL route.
India has historically been a reluctant T20I protagonist, playing the bare minimum number of games and therefore never a collective force at the international level. This time around, its lead-up has been impeccable, with 11 T20Is starting from the end of January the perfect platform from which to launch the World T20 campaign. The first three of those 11 matches were in Australia in a series India swept 3-0, but the Australian sides in those matches were makeshift, patchwork outfits that bear little resemblance to the squad currently in India.
Each of those three wins was achieved on a batting beauty, India stacking up the runs batting first in the first two games and hunting down 200 in the final match with inexorable relentlessness. While neither side will, understandably, read too much into that series – or the fact that India shades the head-to-heads 8-4, have won both skirmishes on Indian soil and share a 2-2 record in World T20s – the feel-good factor in the Indian camp stemming from a command performance away from home will not count for nothing.
Virat Kohli and R Ashwin have been the batting and bowling vanguards respectively, but India has by no means been reliant on just one or two individuals. The bowling unit has been particularly impressive, even if most of the surfaces have been to their liking. It’s about time the batsmen set stall; after all, if they don’t shape up now, they will most likely have to ship out.
India: Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt, wk), Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Ashish Nehra, Jasprit Bumrah, Harbhajan Singh, Ajinkya Rahane, Mohammed Shami, Pawan Negi.
Australia: Aaron Finch, Usman Khawaja, David Warner, Steven Smith (capt), Glenn Maxwell, Shane Watson, James Faulkner, Peter Nevill (wk), Adam Zampa, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Marsh, John Hastings, Ashton Agar, Andrew Tye.
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