On a lazy Sunday afternoon, the Indian T20 cricket team created history. They became only the third Indian team to win a limited-overs series in Australia – after the 1985 Championship team and a Tendulkar-fueled Dhoni-led 2008 CB series team.
In the process, the much maligned MS Dhoni also became the only captain to have swept a series against the Aussies in all formats. This 3-0 victory not only have him a new lease of life as a leader, it brought back many experienced T20 hands from the dead.
For a while, it felt like déjà vu all over again. In the 2014 World T20 final, Yuvraj Singh had labored to 11 off 21 balls against Sri Lanka, nullifying Virat Kohli’s scintillating innings to put up a feeble score. At Sydney, in the third T20 of the series, Yuvraj Singh walked out to bat for the first time since that innings. He hadn’t gotten a chance in the first two matches here despite being in the team – such has been the domination of the Indian top order. When he finally did get a chance, it was almost cruel. The script couldn’t have been written any better though. The old duo of Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh had to score 10 an over in the last four to take them home. Nobody had chased down 198 in Australia before this. Yuvraj struggled and prodded and failed to get going right till the final over. Just when everyone thought this would be the end of an ageing, last-hurrah Indian batting star, Yuvraj reminded everyone why he is rated as one of the greatest match winners for India. With 17 required off the last over, the game looked almost over.
He smashed newcomer Andrew Tye for a four and six off the first two balls of the final over before handing Raina the strike. Raina then did what he had always been hired and expected to do for years. He finished the game in style. He hadn’t been doing this off late, which is why he was dropped from the ODI side – but he only showed how badly the ODI team perhaps missed him in their 4-1 loss before this series. Just like that, India had leveled the scoreline 4-4 for the Aussie Summer.
Many say this wasn’t an Aussie team that respected the shortest format. They’re probably right, but no national team likes to be whitewashed on their own soil – especially when they’re led by two of the best players in the format. With No. 1 Aaron Finch injured, the comeback kid Shane Watson (this was a series of comebacks) took charge and led with a trailblazing century (124*), the second highest ever T20I score. But his bowlers were too new and too inexperienced to counter the Indian top order.
Let’s take a closer look at how the Indian players fared during the series:
Shikhar Dhawan (6/10)
From aimlessly twirling his mustache in the initial part of the ODI series, the marauder of Melbourne (he lives here with ex-amateur boxer Ayesha Dhawan, his half Bengali, half British wife) came into his own during the latter part of the tour. He looked scratchy, but blazed India off to some good starts at Melbourne as well as Sydney with aggressive, intent-driven batting. He averaged 25, again failing to capitalize on his form, but scored at a rate of 150 – finally providing support to the in-form Rohit Sharma. He dropped a few sitters in the field though.
Rohit Sharma (8/10)
Two half centuries and a quick 32 meant that Rohit completed the tour the way he started it – as one of the two most dangerous limited-overs batsmen in the team (and in the world). His 60 at Melbourne was calculated, but his 52 in Sydney was the need of the hour when India was set a huge target. Virat Kohli and him scored 1330 runs between them on the tour – surely some kind of record. They were so consistent at the top that guys like Dhoni, Ravindra Jadeja, Yuvraj and Raina later were barely required till the final game.
Virat Kohli (10/10)
After scoring 199 runs at 160 over 3 games, ‘Man of the Series’ Kohli was finally dismissed in an unfortunate fashion at Sydney, just when India looked to be cruising home. He only furthered his reputation as the player who has mastered this format in this series – taking his career average to more than 52 (after a stunning 2014 World Cup), and even became one of three Indian batsmen to score more than 1000 runs in T20 internationals. Ironically, he is a big fan of Rohit Sharma.
MS Dhoni (7/10)
He couldn’t do much with the bat, but finally led an inexperienced bowling line-up with creativity. One could almost see him thanking the Gods when Jasprit Bumrah bowled yorkers at the death. There’s nobody happier than him when bowlers do a decent job, and he was quite reliable behind the stumps as usual. This series will ensure he goes into the next series (three T20s against Sri Lanka), the T20 Asia Cup and the World Cup unchallenged as the leader and captain of a side that are beginning to slowly resemble the 2011 World Cup winning side. He has his old pals back with him – even Harbhajan Singh on the bench must’ve brought him comfort.
Suresh Raina (8/10)
He looked scratchy on return at Adelaide in the first T20, but proved his mettle and fearlessness in the final T20 at Sydney to complete the whitewash. He guided Yuvraj and looked to score behind the wicket as much as possible after being given an early let-off when the keeper botched an easy stumping. Finally, India has a finisher – who, funnily, is the same man they had entrusted with the job for years.
Yuvraj Singh (5/10)
He contributed with the ball and some good crucial fielding (especially at Melbourne), but looked far from convincing with the bat in the only chance he got. He almost botched it up for his team, before being given two leg side half volleys to resurrect his dying career in just two balls. Such is the game. He will be retained, obviously, if nothing, to give the batting order a solid look in case he is ever needed to rescue a flailing top order.
Hardik Pandya (5/10)
He may look like a more excited, athlete version of South Indian superstar Dhanush, but the Gujarati youngster has a lot to prove at this level after being a bit inconsistent with the ball during the series. He didn’t get a chance to hold the bat even, but he has been selected as the big-hitting all-rounder that Dhoni has always desired and prayed and hoped for. He is young, and looks to be enjoying his cricket, but he looked like a deer caught in headlights while bowling his first ever international over at Adelaide (four wides). This experience will do him good though, if he has to blossom into the next Kapil Dev.
Ravindra Jadeja (7/10)
The man can be in the side solely on basis of his fielding, catching and throwing skills. He pulled off some blinders to change the course of the Melbourne game, struck at crucial times and was generally the life behind India’s stranglehold of the Aussies in this series. His caught-and-bowled stunned Watson in Melbourne – and he will continue to be picked above R. Ashwin as the spinning all-rounder on seam-friendly pitches because of his athletic abilities. His throws are absolute stingers from the deep, which even Dhoni has a problem collecting with his gloves.
R. Ashwin (6/10)
He came and redeemed himself after a lackluster two ODI matches in the doomed series that preceded this one. He is difficult to go after in this format, and kept patient, let Finch and Watson hit him to keep them interested, but picked crucial top order wickets in the games. It wasn’t a series (or format, or life in general) for bowlers, but he enhanced India’s reputation as a team that depends on the skills of its spinners – especially at Melbourne, choking Australia into making mistakes.
Jasprit Bumrah (7/10)
The highest wicket taker of his debut series – a dream start for any pace bowler. “The Find Of The Series,” said MS Dhoni – big words from a leader that has always desperately looked for young, fast and fearless bowlers. Bumrah’s awkward action accounted for the likes of Smith and Warner in the first two games. He is raw, but his angle makes him difficult to get away, like a less accurate and sober Lasith Malinga in the making. His economy touched 9, but was still far better than the other young seamer Pandya, who gave away almost two runs a ball.
Ashish Nehra (6/10)
He went at eight an over and picked just three wickets. This doesn’t look great on paper, but he bowled well in his initial spells to batsmen who hadn’t faced him for a long time. This was his first international outing since the 2011 World Cup – an inspirational comeback on its own – but he will have to work harder to emulate his own IPL performances on the biggest stage. With the lack of containing options around, he will be India’s first option along with Mohammed Shami – if he ever does get fit again.
He made a familiar sight on the bench, and must have at least enjoyed being part of a happy squad that won a crucial series. Everyone knows how well he gets along with Yuvraj, Rohit and the likes; it was good to see the old chaps mix around with the young guns. It’ll be either him or Ashwin on the sub continental pitches over the next few months.
Note: Rishi Dhawan and Gurkeerat Singh Mann weren’t tried out in this format after they failed to impress in the ODI series.