India eye series-saving win over Australia
By Bharat Sharma
Bengaluru, Feb 26 (PTI) The focus remains firmly on the World Cup but India would also be desperate to ensure that a home series does not slip out of their grip when they take on Australia in the second and final T20 International here on Wednesday.
India are 0-1 down after an inexplicably poor batting performance led to a three-wicket loss in the lung-opener in Visakhapatnam.
The below-par 126 with the bat on Sunday denied bowlers a decent shot at securing a win even though the Jasprit Bumrah-led attack did all it could to keep the home team in the game till the final over of the match.
India skipper Virat Kohli has already said that his squad composition for the World Cup in May-July is "more or less sorted" but has not ruled out rewarding standout performances over the course of two T20s and five ODIs.
Considering the captain's current frame of mind, both K L Rahul and Rishabh Pant are likely to feature in most of the games against Australia.
India rested opener Shikhar Dhawan to give game time to Rahul, who grabbed the opportunity with both hands by smashing 50 off 36 balls in his comeback game.
He had a disastrous Test tour of Australia before he and Hardik Pandya were provisionally suspended for their loose talk on women during a TV show.
The ban was later revoked though they still face an inquiry.
With the series on the line, it remains to be seen if Dhawan is brought back into the side to open alongside Rohit Sharma or the team retains the opening combination which featured in Vizag.
"Anything is possible now. We want to give game time to Rahul and Pant to figure out what we need to do in the World Cup," Kohli said after the first T20.
While Bumrah showed his class after coming back from a break, the other pacer in Umesh Yadav leaked runs and was not able to defend 14 in the final over.
India could replace Umesh with Siddharth Kaul or bring in all-rounder Vijay Shankar to beef-up the batting department.
The hosts played with a long tail in Vizag and that impacted their final total following an inexplicable batting collapse from 69 for one in the ninth over.
Pant, a strong contender for a World Cup berth, will be itching to perform after getting out cheaply on Sunday, and so will be Dinesh Karthik, who is left with just one game to make a compelling contribution before the World Cup.
All eyes will once again also be on Mahendra Singh Dhoni the batsman who struggled to an unbeaten 29 off 37 balls as India managed 126 for seven in Vizag.
He was able to silence his critics with a solid showing in Australia and New Zealand but his rather slow innings on Sunday has got the tongues wagging again over his waning finishing abilities.
Debutant leg-spinner Mayank Markande (0/31 in four overs) did not pick up a wicket but bowled well according to Kohli. The 21-year-old might get another game.
Australia, on the other hand, will be fancying a rare series win against India in recent times, especially after losing the Test and ODI series at home to Kohli's team.
They would be happy with their bowling on a slow surface in the first game but made a mess of the 127-run target after cruising at one stage.
Australia somehow got over the line but they know that India won't be serving the series win on a platter and will come hard at them at the Chinnaswamy Stadium.
Captain Aaron Finch would love to be back among the runs and the team will be expecting another blinder from Glenn Maxwell, who hit 56 off 43 deliveries in Vizag.
India: Virat Kohli (c), Rohit Sharma, K.L. Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Rishabh Pant, Dinesh Karthik, M.S. Dhoni (wk), Krunal Pandya, Vijay Shankar, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav, Sidharth Kaul, Mayank Markande.
Australia: Aaron Finch (c), D'Arcy Short, Pat Cummins, Alex Carey, Jason Behrendorff, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Peter Handscomb, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Glenn Maxwell, Jhye Richardson, Kane Richardson, Marcus Stoinis, Ashton Turner, Adam Zampa.
Match starts: 7pm IST