Having missed an opportunity to seal the series in Guwahati, India will have another shot to win the five-match contest when it takes on Australia in the penultimate T20I at the Shaheed Veer Narayan Singh International Stadium in Raipur on Friday.
The match will mark the return of designated vice-captain Shreyas Iyer who will be back in action after being rested for the initial three T20Is following India’s splendid campaign in the recently concluded 2023 World Cup.
India was poised to seal the deal in Guwahati after having won the two consecutive matches in Visakhapatnam and in Thiruvananthapuram.
However, despite posting a mammoth 222 in the third T20I, the Indian bowling attack failed to defend the total as Australia managed to pull one back, with Glenn Maxwell conjuring a majestic counter-attacking century in a spectacular last-ball finish to keep the series alive.
Maxwell’s fourth T20I ton—104 in just 48 balls—eclipsed Ruturaj Gaikwad’s maiden T20I century as the ‘Big Show’ blasted 21 runs in the final over and sent Prasidh Krishna on a leather hunt thereby once again underlining his finishing prowess.
India starts favourites
India has begun its 2024 T20 World Cup preparation in earnest fashion despite the absence of some key players and will look to keep the momentum going. With just eight T20Is, including the fourth T20I, before the marquee event set to be held in the West Indies and USA, India will look to tick every box and set the experiments in motion before finalising the overall squad.
The likes of Yashasvi Jaiswal, Ruturaj, Ishan Kishan, and the skipper Suryakumar Yadav have been among the runs, with India posting 200-plus totals in all three games.
Jaiswal in particular has been successful in capitalising during the PowerPlay and setting the tone by providing blazing starts. Gaikwad is fresh from a century, while Surya has found his mojo back in the shortest format after struggling to make an impact in the World Cup.
Ishan has hit the straps running with crafty half-centuries and has stamped his authority with the bat, equally impressive with the gloves. With the top-order firing on all cylinders, Rinku Singh has been the icing on the cake, with the 26-year-old donning the role of a finisher to perfection. Middle-order batsman Tilak Varma most likely will make way for Iyer as the batting unit looks solid.
Bowlers need to step up
While the batsmen have been able to pile runs and execute clinical run chases, the bowling has been a major concern for India, starting with the fast bowling duo of Arshdeep Singh and Prasidh Krishna.
India will look to iron out its bowling woes, as in the three matches, Arshdeep, bowling his full quota of four overs, has taken just two wickets, leaking 131 runs.
After giving away 50 runs with just one wicket in his first outing, Prasidh did bounce back with a three-wicket haul in Thiruvananthapuram, but the medium pacer was massacred by Maxwell in the following game as he gave away 68 runs in his four overs, with Maxwell looting 21 runs in the final over to take Australia home in the last T20I.
The Karnataka medium pacer is likely to make way for Deepak Chahar, who has been among the runs and wickets in the ongoing Vijay Hazare Trophy, before linking up with the Indian team. Chahar picked up a six-wicket haul against Gujarat and hit an unbeaten half-century against Arunachal Pradesh, and his current form augurs well for his inclusion in the side.
The availability of Mukesh Kumar will strengthen the bowling attack, where the pace department has struggled with line and length.
Mukesh, who missed the third T20I due to personal reasons, has been the standout bowler and has delivered the goods at the death.
Ravi Bishnoi has been the pick of the spinners, having picked up six wickets, including a three-wicket haul, and making an impact inside the PowerPlay. Axar Patel too has made an impact, and it remains to be seen if Washington Sundar gets a look in.
Aussie stars return home
Following the World Cup triumph, Steve Smith, Adam Zampa, Maxwell, Sean Abbott, Josh Inglis and Marcus Stoinis won’t be available for the final two T20Is and Travis Head will be the only player from the victorious team to play the full series.
Australia has ringed in changes by calling in wicketkeeper-batsmen Josh Philippe and Ben McDermott. Off-spinner Chris Green is likely to make his debut in the absence of Zampa with 22-year-old Tanveer Sangha partnering Green with his leg spin.
Jason Behrendorff has been the pick of the Australian bowlers and has tested the Indian batsmen, cramping them for room and drying up the boundaries. Phillipe, McDermott and Tim David are automatic choices, with Matthew Wade leading the side.
A run-fest is on the cards and dew is expected to play a key factor in deciding the winner on a winter evening. The captain calling the toss right would prefer to chase, leaving the team batting first to deal with the challenges of defending a total with the wet ball.
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