Virat Kohli’s Team India faltered with the bat on a rare bad day and suffered a narrow four-run loss against Australia in the rain-hit first Twenty20 International (T20I) of the three-match series in Brisbane on Wednesday. The visitors will like to regroup and reassess their playing combination while aiming for a turn-around in fortunes when they take on the hosts in the second T20I in Melbourne on Friday. Aaron Finch’s side now enjoys a 1-0 lead in the series, which includes three back-to-back matches in a short span of five days and India would now be hard-pressed to win two matches in quick succession to grab the T20I series.
Australia’s fortunes, across formats, have been on the downward slope in recent times – their last big win came in a T20I triangular series featuring New Zealand and England in February.
Since then, Australia have struggled, and the unavailability of David Warner and Steve Smith, as well as Cameron Bancroft, hasn’t helped.
However, in Brisbane, a number of their batsmen chipped in with solid contributions against arguably India’s best limited-overs bowlers in Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Kuldeep Yadav.
As far as India are concerned, having won seven consecutive bilateral T20I series, Kohli and his men will certainly want to make it eight in a row and for that they may be forced to rejig both their batting and bowling combinations.
The Indian batting line-up could see some changes owing to KL Rahul’s patchy form. Since scoring 101 not out in the first T20I against England in Manchester, Rahul hasn’t been able to cross the 30-run mark in next six matches.
The team management has persisted with him at number three, benched Manish Pandey and the skipper demoting himself to number four.
Consistency is need of the hour from Rahul, especially considering that he is also set to be a part of India’s top-order in the ensuing Test series.
The team management could also be tempted to have a re-look at the bowling attack.
On a grassy surface, Krunal Pandya was plundered for 55 runs in his four wicketless overs and was hit for as many as half-a-dozen sixes.
If the MCG is also of Gabba’s nature, Kohli might be tempted to bring in leg spinner Yuzvendra Chahal, who boasts of a brilliant wicket-taking record in T20Is.
Even then, it remains to be seen if the team management rings in any changes after such a close defeat, especially when the balance is disturbed.
Leaving Pandya out would leave them a batsman short and Kohli might not be keen on taking that gamble. The loss, however narrow, has indeed cast such minute doubts on the Indian team’s strategic preparations in a format, which they have dominated since July 2017.
In the lead-up to the first match, skipper Kohli had spoken about the need to cut down on mistakes and regaining an upper hand at crucial junctures of a game.
At Brisbane, the ‘Men in Blue’ were found slacking in the field and it proved to be the ultimate difference in a seesawing game.
Even Kohli himself was guilty of poor effort on the field on at least two occasions, dropping counterpart Aaron Finch in the fourth over and later involved in a mis-fielding from the deep.
Australia boasts of bigger grounds than in India, with bigger boundaries of course, and the MCG will prove to be another humongous challenge in that regard.
The task is cut out in front of the team management to work on fielding angles to elevate their efforts in the second T20I.
It doesn’t help that there is such a short turn-around time during this series, that fielding coach R Sridhar won’t be able to work with the players at the MCG.
Any improvements in the field will have to be drilled in theoretically in the dressing room. And thus India will also seek to look at other areas where improvements can be made.
The ploy to introduce Adam Zampa as the lone spinner worked wonders for Australia and with an intense fielding effort, Australia were able to make a winning difference.
Things seem very different in the hosts’ camp all of a sudden, when they were simply considered second best to the Men in Blue across all departments less than 48 hours ago.
Melbourne is experiencing a stormy spell in the latter half of this week, so there is a slight chance that the second T20I could also be rain-affected.
India: Virat Kohli (capt), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Manish Pandey, Shreyas Iyer, Dinesh Karthik, Rishabh Pant (wk), Krunal Pandya, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Khaleel Ahmed, Washington Sundar.
Australia: Aaron Finch (capt), Ashton Agar, Jason Behrendorff, Alex Carey (wk), Nathan Coulter-Nile, Chris Lynn, Ben McDermott, Glenn Maxwell, D’Arcy Short, Billy Stanlake, Marcus Stoinis, Andrew Tye, Adam Zampa.