Young crop takes centre stage

All-round Pandya, spinners Kuldeep, Chahal impressive in series victory

Young crop takes centre stage

When Australia touched down in Chennai around three weeks ago, they were expected to provide a stiff test to the Indians, flying high after mauling Sri Lanka in all three formats. The world champions, however, ended up meeting a fate similar to that of the islanders in the five-match ODI series, outclassed by the all-round brilliance and hunger of the Indians.

Despite missing the services of in-form opener Shikhar Dhawan and frontline spinners R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja — the left-armer was called up as Axar Patel’s replacement for the first three games and played only as a substitute — the Indians were hardly affected. The younger crop rose to occasion in stellar fashion and Hardik Pandya further enhanced his reputation as one of the most exciting talents in world cricket with a man of the series performance as the Men in Blue galloped away to a 4-1 triumph.

The 23-year-old Pandya was a revelation with both the bat and the ball in the series. He hammered two half-centuries, the first one (83) coming after India were staring down the barrel at 87/5 in Chennai and the second (78) powering the hosts home during a tricky chase that sealed the series 3-0 at Indore. He hit a fine 41 in Bengaluru too but couldn’t finish the job off.

While Pandya’s exploits with the bat is well known since his emergence in the IPL, the biggest plus has been his improvement in the bowling department. On more than one occasion, he provided crucial breakthroughs with his clever mix of off-cutters and nippy pace. Like a proper seamer, he is able to assess the conditions quickly and has added some weapons to his armoury to become a potent force. With his electrifying fielding, Pandya has now turned himself into an asset to the team who had been desperately searching for such an impactful all-rounder for a very long time.

Wrist-spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav gave a good account of themselves too with their tenacity to pick up wickets. Both were able to force the Aussie batsmen into committing errors, grabbing wickets when the going was tough to apply the brakes on the opposition and help India gain momentum. While Kuldeep’s economy was 6.17, Chahal ended up at 5.21 — decent for attack-minded bowlers. Axar Patel, who returned for the final two games, impressed as well.

Pacers Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah continued to excel. They were brilliant at the start, showing good control even on flatbeds to keep openers David Warner and Aaron Finch in check. At the death too they were extremely accurate, hardly letting the Australians get away with the game.

Top-order batsmen Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane flourished together, posting three century stands to set up the chases perfectly. Rohit (296) ended up being the highest run scorer for the series while Rahane, opening because Dhawan chose to stay away from the series due to personal reasons, showcased his prowess by slamming four half-centuries to total 244 runs.

Skipper Virat Kohli had only one good outing with the bat, a brilliant 92 in Kolkata, often succumbing after making a good start. However, he excelled as a captain, making intelligent field placings when the chips were down and ruthless the moment he smelt blood.

Kohli’s predecessor M S Dhoni also deserves a special mention. With the fresh bunch sent up the order to gain experience, Dhoni didn’t get much chances to finish off games but his enormous experience helped Chahal and Kuldeep. His inputs on what line and length to bowl for an Aussie batsmen were invaluable which Kuldeep and Chahal recognised. Also, Kohli generally banishes himself to the deep in the final 10 overs and Dhoni takes charge of the proceedings. Both Kohli and Dhoni have blended in well, with the younger crop being the biggest beneficiaries of their wisdom.

The Indians pretty much checked all the boxes and will now be gunning for more glory in the upcoming three-match T20I series starting Saturday.

DH News Service

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