Hardik Pandya boosts ‘finisher’ reputation by guiding India to T20I series win

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Written by Shamik Chakrabarty
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Updated: December 6, 2020 9:43:59 pm


Hardik Pandya and Shreyas Iyer celebrate after the match. (Reuters)

In a typical high-scoring T20 game at the Sydney Cricket Ground, it had come down to the final three overs. With 37 runs to get off 18 balls, the equation was tilted slightly in India’s favour, but the well-set Virat Kohli had been dismissed and Shreyas Iyer was new to the crease. The visitors needed to make the most of the 18th over to keep pressure at arm’s length.

Matthew Wade, the stand-in Australia captain in Aaron Finch’s absence, decided to continue with leg-spinner Adam Zampa instead of Sean Abbott’s pace. Zampa had bowled well in his previous three overs, but spin against Iyer at the death was a dangerous ploy, and the decision backfired. A 111-metre six over deep mid-wicket bordered on brutality. TV cameras caught Kohli in the Indian dressing room looking in disbelief, his mouth agape. Another boundary followed and from there on, Hardik Pandya’s heavy metal finishing – two sixes off Daniel Sams in the final over – took over to secure a series-winning six-wicket win with two balls to spare.

India avenged their 2-1 ODI series loss by taking an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three-match T20I series. Going beyond the result, the limited-overs leg of the ongoing tour has further attested Pandya’s growing stature as the team’s chase master. The middle-order batsman has been immense throughout and was adjudged the Man of the Match in the second T20I on Sunday. But the honour could well have gone to T Natarajan, whose bowling proved to be the difference between the two sides.

The run-chase was clinical and this series confirmed that Indian batting in white-ball cricket has stepped out of Kohli’s shadow, although the captain remains the team’s finest batsman in his own right.

Clinical chase

Kohli has been pretty successful on this tour so far – two half-centuries in three ODIs followed by a beautiful 24-ball 40 on Sunday. For a change, though, the captain hasn’t anchored the chase in any of the matches. He was livid with himself after getting out to a wide delivery from debutant Sams on the first ball of the 17th over. A run would have been added to the sundries if he had left it alone. But India were already in a strong position before Kohli came out to bat. And after his departure too, the team looked unfazed, as Pandya and Iyer completed the job.

A free hit had given momentum to India’s chase. Andrew Tye had overstepped by a fraction and KL Rahul accepted the favour by launching a full delivery, outside off-stump, over cover for a six. Until then, both Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan were looking a tad edgy. The six helped open the floodgates.

Rahul then swept Glenn Maxwell for a four. Dhawan broke the shackles by taking a six and a four against the off-spinner. Together they ensured that India had an excellent Powerplay – 60/1. Chasing 195 for victory, aggression upfront was imperative.

Dhawan’s batting on this tour had been a bit stop-start before this game. On Sunday, his 36-ball 52 set up India’s victory. Kohli made a solid contribution, Iyer played his part and Pandya took the side home – a clinical chase was down to a collective batting effort.

Pandya’s redemption

Two seasons ago, Pandya was unceremoniously sent home from Sydney following a TV show controversy. Fans booed him. Media, mainstream and social, laid into him for his indiscreet comments on the show. The all-rounder, along with Rahul, was suspended by the BCCI and faced an in-house inquiry. Today at the SCG, Pandya returned to the pavilion to a standing ovation.

His 92 not out, and an unbroken 150-run partnership with Ravindra Jadeja in the third ODI, gave India a consolation win in the 50-over series. And his 42 not out off 22 balls knocked the hosts out of the T20I series. His body, recovering from a spinal surgery, still can’t take the rigours of five-day cricket, which is the reason why he is not in the Test squad. But this time around, Sydney saw Pandya’s redemption.

Natarajan, the find

In a T20 game where nearly 400 runs were scored, the left-arm seamer returned figures of 2/20 from four overs. India had rested both Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami for this game and every bowler, save Natarajan, was leaking runs. Even Yuzvendra Chahal, the hero of the last match, conceded 51 runs in his four overs. Without Natarajan, Australia would have been out of sight.

The IPL had enhanced Natarajan’s reputation as a yorker specialist. But in his first three matches in international cricket, especially in the two T20Is, the 29-year-old showed that he has learnt some decent variations as well. He wasn’t afraid to bowl length balls and take them away from the batsmen. He varied his pace. A surprise short ball got the better of D’Arcy Short, who was caught at deep square. Natarajan now has 5/50 from eight overs in two T20Is and has been the find of the tour.

Poor fielding, though, is not assisting the Indian bowlers. Far too many catches have been dropped already in five limited-overs matches. On Sunday, Pandya dropped Wade off Shardul Thakur, when the opener was on 39. Then, Kohli grassed him on 58, a sitter, off Washington Sundar. The skipper recovered quickly to affect a run-out, as Wade and Steve Smith were caught in a horrible mix-up. But India’s catching has been poor enough to put the team’s fielding coach R Sridhar’s utility under the scanner.

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