Blood, sweat and tears. Hyderabad, the city of Nizams, has seen it all in the last three days.
A stampede followed by a lathi-charge at the Gymkhana Grounds during the ticket sales for the India-Australia third T20I dampened the spirits of cricket lovers. But, such is the tradition of the rich land that produced cricketing legends like Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, ML Jaisimha, Arshad Ayub, Mohammad Azharuddin and VVS Laxman, to name a few, that an experience of that painful magnitude is only now etched in the memory, an encounter that fans have chosen to forget and forgive.
Cricket is a uniting force in India and even as the scars of the lathi-charge are still fresh, the balm only being the love for the game with fans sprinting up and down the road leading up to the stadium, wearing their emotions on their sleeves, just to be a part of the festivity surrounding the spectacle.
After all, international cricket is returning to the city after 1,024 calendar days. The fans’ emotions were decorated with gentle outbursts, with many still hoping to cheer for their superstars from the stands.
While the off-field characters continue to dazzle, beneath the blue clear skies, with the sun beating down, the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium is decked up for a blockbuster decider when Rohit Sharma’s men will take on Aaron Finch’s Australia in the final T20I match on Sunday.
The last time India played in this venue was in 2019 when then skipper Virat Kohli scored an unbeaten 94 in a high-scoring thriller to beat West Indies by six wickets. And Rohit Sharma will hope his troops produce a cricketing display of defiance and beauty to humble the mighty Australians.
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In the series-levelling win on Friday, Rohit Sharma was at his belligerent best, exhibiting his six-hitting prowess as India won by six wickets in an eight-over contest that was reduced due to rain. A target of 91 was chased down with four balls as India bounced back from a fatal loss in Mohali.
The showstopper was the Indian captain as Rohit paced the chase perfectly, dropped anchor when Adam Zampa sneaked out three crucial wickets and then picked up the momentum with Dinesh Karthik essaying into the finisher’s role at ease.
KL Rahul, Suryakumar Yadav and Hardik Pandya have looked solid with good knocks under their belts and will aim to fire on all cylinders in a must-win encounter. Virat Kohli is fresh on the back of an exuberantT20I century and although his knocks haven’t been impactful in this series, the modern master’s presence will give the team much batting depth and experience.
India was bolstered with Bumrah’s return as the team ticked most of the boxes with the likes of Axar Patel and Karthik playing their roles to perfection. Bhuvneshwar Kumar was torn apart in the first T20I as he leaked 52 runs in his quota of four overs and while Umesh Yadav made way for Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar was omitted from the playing XI with India beefing its batting with Rishabh Pant in the second T20I.
There was a lot of debate around Dinesh Karthik being preferred over Rishabh Pant but the team management hasn’t given any indication of who their preferred choice is. However, in the final T20I, Rohit might not tinker with the Playing XI that took the field in Nagpur, which means both the wicket-keepers will be in the eleven.
Harshal Patel has been a bit of a worry for India ever since his return as the death overs specialist is struggling to make his slower deliveries translate into wickets. However, with Rohit’s backing, the medium pacer should bounce back in the decider.
Green, Wade pose a serious threat
From Australia’s point of view, the form of Cameron Green and Matthew Wade has been its biggest takeaway. While Green played an outstanding knock during the opener in a tall chase of 209 in Mohali, Wade displayed his batting pyrotechnics in Nagpur.
An unbeaten 43 off 20 deliveries in the rain-curtailed second T20I match where the Australian dismantled Harshal in the final over, gave a glimpse of the finishing kick that the wicketkeeper-batsman brings to the table. The form of Steve Smith and Glenn Maxwell has been under the spotlight and it will be interesting to see how Finch helps the duo iron out their form issues.
While Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins continue to lead the bowling attack, Nathan Ellis stood out in the first T20I with a three-wicket haul and Zampa showed his prowess by spinning a web in Nagpur.
India has just four T20Is to check its permutations and combinations before heading Down Under for the T20 World Cup. The one against the T20 defending champions on Sunday will be decisive in Hyderabad with a 55,000 full-capacity boisterous crowd backing the Men in Blue to claim the series title.
It’s showtime, under the Uppal lights.
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