India lack finishing touch in opener

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Glenn Maxwell top-scored for Australia with 46 off 24 balls in the first T20I against India at Brisbane on Wednesday. AP

INDIA’S QUEST for a finisher in white-ball cricket, the T20 format in particular, has now lasted nearly two-and-a-half years. It can perhaps be tracked back to the time MS Dhoni lost his finishing touch. On Wednesday, it seemed like they’d come close to finding a solution, a temporary one anyway. It came courtesy Dinesh Karthik and Rishabh Pant, incidentally the two identified by the national selectors as potential replacements for Dhoni. For, when the two wicket-keepers got together and put on 53 in 23 balls, they not only brought India back in the match; they provided some hope the team had found themselves a finisher or finishers.

It was good while it lasted, but not good enough just like India’s quest to starting their Australian campaign on a winning note as they went down by four runs by the DLS method at the Gabba in Brisbane. The visitors were set a target of 174 after a heavy downpour kept Australia’s innings to 17 overs, in which they reached 158/4.

The cameos from Pant and Karthik brought India’s equation from a rather difficult 60 runs in 24 balls to a feasible 18 from 10 balls. India were still in with a chance despite Pant’s departure for 20 at that point as Krunal Pandya walked in at No.7. Krunal, however, struggled to get away, and after manufacturing a couple of runs off the first ball in the final over, conceded a dot ball before holing out in the deep. Karthik was out the very next ball with India left needing 11 off 3, and that was the match.

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Karthik and Pant had got together after Shikhar Dhawan fell to a short delivery from the very tall Billy Stanlake after laying the groundwork for the run-chase with a strokeful 76 in 42 deliveries. It was the opener who held the run-chase together while the high-profile Indian top-order failed to deliver. Rohit Sharma, for a change, couldn’t kick-start a limited-overs series in Australia with a big score as he fell early to an attempted hoick that resulted in a scoop that landed up in the back-pedaling Aaron Finch’s hands. Then on came Adam Zampa to take out KL Rahul and Virat Kohli.

Rahul was his first victim, stumped by Alex Carey, as he overbalanced while attempting a drive off a googly, only to find his back-foot on the crease with nothing behind it — according to the third-umpire. Kohli was next. It wasn’t a kind of dismissal that is likely to get the South Australian leggie fast-tracked into the Test squad — like with Adil Rashid after he did the same in an ODI in England earlier this year — but it was nicely setup nevertheless.

Zampa kept the Indian captain to just a single run off five deliveries, despite many attempts from Kohli to hit out. He then tossed up a delivery with a little extra air following a mistimed slog sweep as a charging Kohli swung his bat, only for the top-edge to be snapped up by Chris Lynn at point. India never recovered completely from the Zampa spell—2/22 in four overs—and Marcus Stoinis kept his nerve in the end to see his team through.

It was Stoinis and Glenn Maxwell who’d provided the impetus for the Aussies towards the end of their innings, just before the rain arrived. Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar had started proceedings off well for India with the new-ball, keeping the hosts to less than 7-an-over before Kuldeep Yadav came on to stifle them further.

Khaleel Ahmed though couldn’t keep up the pressure, and was taken apart in his second over with Chris Lynn hitting him for three sixes. Yadav’s double-strike in the space of five deliveries left Maxwell and Stoinis with the task of powering them towards a sizable total. Maxwell, 46 off 24, started it off with three back-to-back sixes off Pandya, each struck with more disdain than the last, before Stoinis, 33 not out of 19, provided the big finish, on a day India failed to find the perfect finish yet again.