MS Dhoni’s strike rate has been debated quite a lot in recent times and to add fuel to it was the wicketkeeper-batsman’s knock of 29 not out off 37 deliveries. Since 2018, Dhoni’s strike rate has dipped below 80 in ODI cricket while in the four T20Is that he has played this year, the 37-year-old has scored at just a touch over 100. A sluggish wicket in Visakhapatnam, and having to bat with the lower order after India were reduced to 100 for 6 in the 15th over of the opening T20I against Australia, did little good for Dhoni’s cause as far as his strike rate was concerned. A few extra runs might have made a difference in the eventual outcome of the game, with Australia just about getting over the line, scoring two off the last delivery while chasing a target of 127.
That India were able to run Australia close was thanks to a fine bowling effort, led by Jasprit Bumrah’s 3 for 16, but Umesh Yadav couldn’t quite back up the good work in the final over when the visitors needed 14 for victory. Virat Kohli, who spoke after the game, praised India’s solid performance with the ball while admitting that the batting was a let down.
“In the first innings, we were not up to scratch. The wicket was decent enough till the 15th over. We didn’t bat really well. A low-scoring game is always on the cards in T20 cricket. With the bowling effort we were pleased. Bumrah can do wonders with the ball when it is reversing and did exceptionally well to get us in the game. And Mayank [Markande] did well in the middle overs as well,” said Kohli after India’s three-wicket loss.
Meanwhile, two among the star performers in the match – Glenn Maxwell, who scored a 43-ball 56 to set up the platform for Australia’s chase and Bumrah, who picked up two wickets in the penultimate over and conceded only two runs to get India back in the game – had some words of support for Dhoni.
“It [farming the strike] was probably fair enough with the way the wicket was – being difficult to score for any batter, let alone a guy who is not known for his power-hitting in Chahal,” Maxwell said. “MS is obviously a world-class finisher and even he was finding it hard to hit the middle of the bat.
“So, I think it was right of him to try and farm the strike. He hit a six in the last over and I think that’s the sign – he hit one six and they only got seven of the over. Shows you how difficult it is. If you hold MS to one boundary in the last few overs, it’s a pretty big effort,” Maxwell added.
Bumrah, who acknowledged that the home team were 15-20 short in their first innings, added that Dhoni’s knock at least gave them a fighting total to try and defend. “We were trying our best. He was just trying to take the game deep and trying to get us to a safe total. I think we were short by 15-20 runs but still, we had something that we could fight [with]. So I think that was the plan which he was trying to execute.”
Despite the early loss of Rohit Sharma, India managed a good start thanks to KL Rahul’s 36-ball 50 and his 55-run second wicket stand with Kohli. However, the Australian bowlers – led by Nathan Coulter-Nile’s 3-26 – hit back strongly by picking up six wickets for 40 runs to ensure India did not have a flourishing finish to their innings. Maxwell attributed it to quick learning from the bowlers, who managed to straighten their lines and put the Indian batsmen under pressure.
“I think as soon as you give width to any team, they can hurt you. Once we went straight and once the Powerplay was done, we saw Virat come down the pitch trying to create something off Zampa, who’s known for his accuracy, known for hitting the stumps a lot. We created (a situation of) India taking a risk rather than us trying something.
“So I think it was just us being patient a bit longer with the ball. And then, KL Rahul’s dismissal. We probed away. He hadn’t really gotten where he could take the game away from us, and then he tried to go over mid-off and we were able to create that wicket. I suppose India wouldn’t have known what was a par score on that wicket and we certainly didn’t know either. And only once we batted on it did we realised how difficult it was,” Maxwell said.
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