1st T20I: How India lost the plot in overs 17-19 and death overs bowling conundrum

The first T20I between India and Australia played on Tuesday in Mohali was an example of a high scoring encounter and yet another reminder of why most captains who win the toss choose to chase.
Australia’s 4 wicket win was also another reminder that Team India need to work on a few areas of concern as they count down to the T20 World Cup later this year. Is there enough time though is the million dollar question.
The last edition in 2021 is one that the Men in Blue would not want to have any memories of, considering the team, one of the favourites to clinch the title, crashed out in the group stage itself, marking the first instance of the team not playing the semi-finals of an ICC event in 9 years.
If one were to take the first T20I between India and Australia on Tuesday as a case study of what needs to improve for Rohit Sharma and co., the one area that stands out like a sore thumb is death overs bowling.
Consider this: Australia needed 55 runs to win in the last 4 overs after the 16th over was bowled. The required run rate was 13.75. The Aussies at that time were going at a run rate of 9.62. Now, though modern day batters back themselves to get runs like this in the last few overs, it’s not an easy task. The Men in yellow though, and in particular Matthew Wade, made it look quite easy. So much so that the match was pretty much over by the end of the 19th over, at which stage the tourists needed just 2 runs in the last 6 balls. And that is what would have hurt Rohit and his team more than actually losing the match – the fact that it didn’t boil down to a humdinger, after India came back into the match on the back of a few quick wickets. Their death overs bowling let them down and allowed the reigning T20 World champions to canter to a win, with 4 deliveries left.

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1st T20I: Green, Wade guide Australia to win over India

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Let’s take a look at how the last four overs went down in Mohali and what the big areas of concern are Team India:
17th over: Bowled by Bhuvneshwar Kumar
Runs conceded: 15 (3 wides and 2 fours)
Wickets Taken: 0
Equation before this over: 55 needed off 24
Equation after this over: 40 needed off 18
The heartening sight here was that Bhuvi was getting his lengths right, but his line was off. As many as three wides at a time when India needed to turn the screws. Matthew Wade hit him for two fours in this over – the first one hit past gully and the second one behind point. Both deliveries were bowled as potential yorkers, but weren’t and Wade managed to open the face of his bat and find a boundary. The thought process by Bhuvi was absolutely right – to try for yorkers, but the execution was off.

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(AP Photo)
18th over: Bowled by Harshal Patel
Runs conceded: 22 (3 sixes)
Wickets Taken: 0
Equation before this over: 40 needed off 18
Equation after this over: 18 needed off 12
The over that turned the tide completely. As many as 22 runs scored, with Matthew Wade bludgeoning 2 sixes and Tim David one off Harshal Patel. The surprising part here was that the previous over that Harshal bowled (16th) went for only 6 runs. He bowled as many as 3 dot balls in that over and gave away a single boundary. Wade faced 5 of the 6 balls in this over, but couldn’t break free as such. Harshal tried a different variation here off almost every delivery.
But the way the 18th over went down, will be a real concern for India. Harshal is seen as a death overs specialist – someone who has multiple variations, bowls the slower cutters and into the pitch slower bouncers well. In this over however his deliveries were mostly either short or length balls. The third ball which David hit for a 6 over deep midwicket was bang in the slot to hit. No batter worth his salt would have missed that. Harshal was coming back after a break and it’s never easy to hit your straps straightaway. However, what we did see was Harshal struggling in this crucial 18th over, ironically with the varieties that he could produce. In Australia, when he once again has to bowl on pitches which offer true bounce, he will need to have varieties that can trick the batters. He doesn’t have raw pace and so he will have to rely on guile. He will have to work on these in the matches coming up. Let’s hope he gets pitches as close to Aussie ones as possible to hone his skills better, especially considering he will be expected to play the role of a death overs specialist in Australia at the World Cup as well.
The second delivery of this over was hit straight back to the bowler by Wade, but Harshal couldn’t hold on to it. It was put down as a dropped catch, but to be fair to Harshal these ones either stick or don’t. This one didn’t.

19th over: Bowled by Bhuvneshwar Kumar
Runs conceded: 16 (3 fours, 1 wide and 1 leg bye)
Wickets Taken: 0
Equation before this over: 18 needed off 12
Equation after this over: 2 needed off 6
By this time Matthew Wade knew exactly what he had to do and exactly what the Indian bowlers were going to dish out. Bhuvi’s plans didn’t really change here. He continued to look for the yorkers and when that didn’t work he switched to shorter deliveries. Bhuvneshwar has never had express pace and he was not going to trouble Wade, who has played knocks like this in the past and had by now displayed his ability of finding gaps with alarming ease. The last three deliveries of the 19th over were – a low full toss outside off stump and then two short deliveries – all three were dispatched for boundaries by Wade, who showed once again just why he has found a place in the Aussie squad for the upcoming T20 World Cup.
The big concern here is that this is becoming somewhat of a trend. A pattern seems to be emerging. Bhuvneshwar has been one of India’s best death overs bowlers in the recent past. But in the last three T20I matches he has played and bowled the 19th over, he has given away 19, 14 and 16 runs (vs Pak in Asia Cup, vs SL in Asia Cup and vs Aus in first T20I in Mohali) respectively. This is perhaps the biggest area of concern for Rohit Sharma. Once Jasprit Bumrah is back in the mix (everyone will have their fingers crossed he recovers fully soon), Rohit will be looking at him as the first choice option to bowl the 19th, which in a tight run chase is always the most crucial over. But Bhuvi will have to play a big role in the death overs too and with no pace to fall back on, he will need to find more variations to ensure he can stay a step ahead of the batters.

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(AP Photo)
20th over: Bowled by Yuzvendra Chahal
Runs conceded: 4 (1 four)
Wickets Taken: 1
Equation before this over: 2 needed off 6
The match was done and dusted by the time the last over rolled around. Rohit’s options here were Hardik Pandya, Umesh Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal and he went with the leg-spin of Chahal. The first delivery in fact produced a wicket, with Tim David falling for 18 after being caught by Hardik at long-off. But the new man in Pat Cummins, who is absolutely no mug with the bat (just ask Rohit Sharma and the Mumbai Indians against whom he smashed a 15 ball 56 and equalled the record for the fastest fifty in the IPL off 14 balls earlier this year) smashed Chahal for a match-winning boundary through cover-point.
Overall, the Indian bowlers had a bad day in the office. The only stand-out bowler was Axar Patel, who had figures of 3/17 in his 4 overs. All the other 5 bowlers had an economy rate of over 11.
Quality opposition will always show up a team’s weaknesses. And the Aussies have pointed at a large area of concern for Team India right now – death overs bowling.
“I don’t think we bowled well….(the) bowlers were not quite there” – Rohit Sharma’s statement after the match is hopefully a sign that the Indian team management will be looking to go back to the drawing board, especially as far as their death overs bowling plans are concerned. Strategies change with the conditions on offer, the opposition etc., but considering this was a 208 first innings score that couldn’t be defended, let’s hope Team India have plans B and C ready soon. There are 5 more T20Is before the World Cup that the team will have to fine-tune their death-overs bowling game.

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