For the first time in this limited-overs tour, Australia is on an even footing with India, having bounced back to level the three-match Twenty20 International series at 1-1 after losing the One-Day International series 4-1.
Though a good crowd was expected to turn up to see India play at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Uppal on Friday (October 13) irrespective of the situation, that the series is alive and kicking will make the third and final T20I even more exciting.
The retreating monsoons have meant that players have had to keep one eye on the skies throughout this limited-overs series. Hyderabad, too, has been battered by rain for almost a week, which even forced the Hyderabad v Maharashtra Ranji Trophy 2017-18 fixture to be abandoned. The forecast for Friday is not promising either, with the met department predicting thundershowers during the match hours.
Should the game happen without any interruptions, however, Virat Kohli’s men will train their eyes on capping one of their most dominant runs in international cricket with another series win.
On what has been a morale-breaking tour for Australia, the team failed to consolidate after being in strong positions in many of the exchanges in the ODIs. But Tuesday’s turnaround, when it ticked most boxes to canter to an eight-wicket win, came as a silver lining. Jason Behrendorff, the left-arm paceman, rattled the Indian top order with quality swing and seam bowling, and Adam Zampa’s wrist spin looked at par with that of his Indian counterparts.
Since the start of the series, Australia’s middle-order has been under the scanner for its inability to capitalise on good starts. In Guwahati, there was pressure, the modest 119-run target notwithstanding. David Warner and Aaron Finch, the in-form openers, had been sent back early, and India’s bowlers and fielders were rallying hard. But Moises Henriques and Travis Head stepped up and finished India’s resistance. In the absence of the injured Steven Smith, Warner’s proactive captaincy has also helped.
“We really wanted to be there and win the game for Australia, I'm glad we were able to do that,” said Head on Thursday. “With series on the line, hopefully someone will put their hand up again tomorrow, hopefully me and Moises again, it would be fantastic.”
But Australia will want more from its middle-order, especially Glenn Maxwell, who has had a torrid time. Maxwell was dropped for the fourth and fifth ODIs, but in the absence of Smith in the T20Is, the onus was back on him to score. He managed 17 off 16 balls in the first game in Ranchi where Australia had a bit of a meltdown, and didn’t get a hit in the second game.
As for India, its top-order batsmen are confident and in form, but they had a rare day off in Guwahati, and the middle-order didn't step up at all, which could be a cause for concern. As for the bowling, they have been largely on the money throughout the series, but defending 118 was asking too much of them.
In the lead up to the decider, a couple of off-field developments – a rock tossed at the Australian team bus in Guwahati and Ashish Nehra’s impending retirement announcement – have been major talking points. While the former will have little bearing on the contest, it will be interesting to see if Nehra, who warmed the bench in the first two T20Is, will be given a shot at his Indian Premier League home ground. Not to forget, it’s also the home ground for many other players, including Warner and Henriques.
This is the first T20I to be played at the venue, but if the IPL evidence is anything to go by, the pitch should be a low-scoring one. If the rains stay away, and the teams bring their A games to the field, there should be no shortage of excitement in the winner-takes-all contest.
India: Virat Kohli (capt), Rohit Sharma (vice-capt), Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik, MS Dhoni (wk), Hardik Pandya, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ashish Nehra, Axar Patel.
Australia: David Warner (capt), Jason Behrendorff, Marcus Stoinis, Dan Christian, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Aaron Finch, Travis Head, Moises Henriques, Glenn Maxwell, Tim Paine (wk), Kane Richardson, Adam Zampa, Andrew Tye.