Battered India seek solace despite stretching Australia’s all-round depth

India and Australia in action during 2nd T20I © Getty Images

India and Australia picked unchanged sides for the first two T20Is. Meg Lanning continued her luck with the toss and asked the visitors to bat on both occasions. India are known to blow hot and cold in the shortest format, while their performances in the other two formats have largely been predictable. They can bat long in Test matches, their ODI game in recent times have largely been conservative – almost outdated – ways.

But when it comes to the T2oIs, at least from the outside, it seems like India want to play an aggressive game without always having the measure of the surfaces or the kind of resources they have at their disposal. While the good Indian batting turned up during the first match on Thursday (October 7) before rain forced an abandonment, it was the turn of the bad side of India’s batting for most of their innings before a calculated assault by Pooja Vastrakar took them from the depth of despair to a moderate total in the second game on Saturday (October 9).

The way Indians faced Tayla Vlaeminck in the second match reminded them of their troubles against the speedster in the tri-series that was played in Australia as a dress rehearsal ahead of the 2020 T20 World Cup. They took on the pacer in both the games in the series so far, it looked spectacular when it came off the first time on a good batting pitch, but things turned ugly in the second as India lost both the openers with only 12 runs on the board.

Even though Vastrakar’s unbeaten 37 took them 118, it was never going to be enough, but India made it look like it almost was. They fought admirably – like they have been doing in the series bar the first ODI – and kept themselves in the game until they ran out of resources and spirit. A glance at the results can give the illusion that the visitors could have won the series if a few things went their way. But just like they found out in the recent tour in England, they were outplayed by teams with better structure and systematic approaches to things.

India weren’t always outplayed by experienced hands from the opposition. While young Sophia Dunkley denied them in England, on Saturday night Tahlia McGrath, playing her maiden T20I innings, exuded serenity in a tense chase to guide Australia to a win, sealing the multi-format series with one match to spare.

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It’s not that India’s new introductions were bad. They impressed at various points in the tournament – be it Yastika Bhatia, Meghna Singh or Renuka Singh Thakur – but eventually gave the feeling of having to settle for the participation certificate. The other younger players in the side – Shafali Verma, Jemimah Rodrigues, Richa Ghosh and the likes – seem to have been through a lot already in their nascent careers.

While the ability of these players have been visible, collectively Australia have been better when push came to the shove, which prompted India’s skipper Harmanpreet Kaur to compare the debutantes from both sides. McGrath and Thakur, both were plying their trades for the first time in the second match in Carrara after rain didn’t allow the former to bat or the latter to bowl in the first T20I.

“If you look at the way McGrath batted today, we can see the confidence they are getting from a tournament like WBBL. They are ready to play international cricket,” Kaur said at the post-match media interaction. “She has not played much in international cricket but got to play many matches before playing for Australia.”

“We do have a few young players who haven’t played much cricket at the highest level like Renuka Thakur. She has done really well in the domestic (cricket) but still doesn’t have that much experience. If we had WIPL, the domestic players would get a lot of chances to prove themselves under pressure.”

WIPL may or may not be around the corner, but eight WBBL players from the side will go on to help the side in the future. With not much turnaround time, India will be playing for pride for one last time in the tour come Sunday.

In the immediate scheme of things, India seem to have a flawed T20I side on their hands with a few holes and don’t have the same depth as the hosts when it comes to allrounders. What they can do is bring in Sneh Rana – an inventive hitter and a frugal off-spinner – in place of one of Bhatia or Deepti Sharma or pick Meghna Singh and hope the conditions will assist her swing bowling. While Rana’s addition to the side would help to further their aggressive batting plans, Singh could help them exploit Australia’s vulnerability against the swinging ball.

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Despite their troubles against the visiting pacers, Australia won’t be losing their sleep over it as their all-round depth allowed them to stay in the game until the wind was knocked out of India’s sails. Their array of allrounders have been in the thick of the action – Ashleigh Gardner, Sophie Molineux, McGrath, Nicola Carey – at various times and they will continue to rely on them although we might see a change in personnel with someone like Annabel Sutherland waiting in the wings outside. Darcie Brown, Stella Campbell will also be looking for their opportunities in the series in the likelihood of Vlaeminck getting rest after two intense games.

Can the young India players go home with a consolation win or will the experience of WBBL once again come to the fore for Australia on Sunday?

Squads:

Australia: Meg Lanning (c), Darcie Brown, Maitlan Brown, Stella Campbell, Nicola Carey, Hannah Darlington, Ashleigh Gardner, Alyssa Healy, Tahlia McGrath, Sophie Molineux, Beth Mooney, Ellyse Perry, Georgia Redmayne, Molly Strano, Annabel Sutherland, Tayla Vlaeminck, Georgia Wareham

India: Harmanpreet Kaur (c), Smriti Mandhana (VC), Shafali Verma, Jemimah Rodrigues, Deepti Sharma, Sneh Rana, Yastika Bhatia, Shikha Pandey, Meghna Singh, Pooja Vastrakar, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Poonam Yadav, Richa Ghosh (wk), Harleen Deol, Arundhati Reddy, Radha Yadav, Renuka Singh Thakur