Middle overs in T20s may not be the cynosure of all eyes as the bulk of razzmatazz transpires in the PowerPlay and at the death. But teams with outstanding records in this format are invariably those which control the middle phase well, both with bat and ball. Australia, rather uncharacteristically, let the game slip in those pivotal periods of the decider.
Cameron Green had already belied the tag of a makeshift opener in Mohali, but the capacity crowd in Hyderabad witnessed the true extent of his striking ability. On the second ball of the innings, Green cleared his front leg and walloped Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s inswinger over square leg. He made a conscious effort to create room and access the off-side against Axar Patel, while Jasprit Bumrah couldn’t dodge the bullet either, leaking 17 in his first. Australia were hurtling at 62/1 when Green fell at the end of the 5th over, leaving behind a robust platform entreating consolidation.
However, momentum is a fickle mistress, especially in T20s, and breakthroughs often provide the opposition a chance to regroup, refocus, and recalibrate their strategies. Rohit Sharma turned to Axar, who had clean bowled Glenn Maxwell in Nagpur, while beckoning long-off inside the circle. The pressure told on Maxwell as Axar stitched five dots in a row before nabbing him a yard short of his ground with a throw as searingly accurate as his line and length.
Yuzvendra Chahal’s potency, on the other hand, was increasing with the decreasing lustre of the ball. The scoreline of 86/4 at the halfway mark conveyed how teams can wrestle back the advantage in T20s, even after being blown to smithereens by a 19-ball fifty up top.
Having squandered ascendancy as they managed 20/2 in overs 7-10, Australia lumbered through the remainder of the middle overs, scoring just 37/2 in the next five as Axar dismissed Josh Inglis and the in-form Matthew Wade, leaving the finishers with an awful lot to do. Phenomenally, Tim David and Daniel Sams delivered the goods as Australia took 63 off the final four, but 186/7 was nonetheless a par score and all fingers pointed towards the inexcusable deceleration in the middle overs.
There’s always another chance, the old adage goes. Sure enough, Australia were once again presented with an opportunity to boss the middle overs after Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul were tucked up into submission. Although this time around they messed it up for little fault of their own as Virat Kohli and Suryakumar Yadav uncorked a range of droolworthy strokes to bury the chase.
India hit 11 sixes in all, but four of them stood out for their splendour. The maximum Kohli launched over long-on after giving the charge to Zampa signalled the shifting of the tectonic plates in his well-documented battle versus the leggie. Surya’s high-elbow lift that travelled high and handsome into the night sky made jaws worldwide drop to the floor. In a bid to then take Zampa on the full, it seemed as if Surya was deceived in the flight, but he got underneath the ball and sent it soaring over mid-wicket with a whip of those pliant yet powerful wrists. Kohli completes the quartet of crown jewels, with an authoritative aerial off-drive reminiscent of an era when he churned out hundreds for fun.
”I have to utilise my experience and give the team what they want. I got off to a good start then I had to take down Zampa because he’s an important bowler through the middle. When Surya started hitting it like that, I looked at the dug-out and Rohit and Rahul bhai both told me, ‘you can just keep batting on’ because Surya was striking it that well. It was just about building a partnership,” Kohli reflected on his partnership with Surya worth 104 off 62 balls.
Kohli had the best seat in the house to witness Surya go about his audaciously enterprising ways. ”He has absolute clarity in what he wants to do. He has the game to bat under any sort of situation and any condition. He has shown that already. He got a hundred in England, he batted beautifully in the Asia Cup. Here, he’s striking the ball as well as I have seen him strike,” he observed.
”For the past 6 months, he’s been outstanding. He’s got an array of shots, and to play those shots at the right time is such a tremendous skill. He’s a guy who knows his game inside out. He’s got the gift of timing and I was in awe watching him play his shots.” You bet, we all were.