Titas' terrific spell and Harmanpreet's strategy pay off vs Australia

Titas Sadhu starred in the first T20I, picking up four wickets to dismantle Australia's batting line-up

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Titas Sadhu was adjudged the Player of the Match © BCCI

India commenced its T20I campaign against Australia in style following a dismal ODI series defeat at the hands of the visiting side. Improved fielding and a change in bowling strategy were key to India’s win in the first T20I on Friday, January 5, in Navi Mumbai. 

It is safe to say that Harmanpreet Kaur got her tactics spot on throughout the game. The DY Patil Stadium offered a pristine grassy surface which made it ideal for any side bowling first. The Indian skipper made the correct choice of sending Australia out to bat after winning the toss, a decision which definitely paid off.

A grassy pitch with no cracks means an enjoyable time for fast bowlers. Well, India had an answer to that. Instead of picking up three spinners and three pacers in the starting eleven, the hosts switched up their bowling strategy by using two spinners and four pacers. That extra seam option would prove to be useful on a pitch like that.

Needless to say, the pitch did its magic. But the vibrant energy shown by India on the field made even more of a difference. The fast bowlers were on cruise control as Harmanpreet used them to the team’s full advantage. Titas Sadhu, the Player of the Match in the 2023 U-19 World Cup final, was included in the playing eleven as a replacement for off-spinner Mannat Kashyap. The 19-year-old seamer’s consistent line and length were a menace to the Australian batters who struggled with their timing and precision.

Sadhu made an instant impact by getting the better of Beth Mooney in her first over. She got her second wicket as she dismissed vice-captain McGrath, followed by another wicket in her very next delivery with Ashleigh Gardner being her third victim. The youngster from Bengal clinched her fourth wicket in her final over by sending Annabel Sutherland back to the pavilion. Sadhu could’ve got her fifth wicket as well, but the ball went down the leg side and the LBW decision was overturned. She would have become the second Indian bowler to achieve a five-wicket haul against Australia after Jhulan Goswami.

While Sadhu was the most successful Indian bowler in the first T20I, other pacers contributed efficiently as well. Renuka Singh Thakur took captain Alyssa Healy out of the equation and finished a spell that was fairly economical (1/24 in four overs). Pooja Vastrakar was the most expensive with the ball, followed by Amanjot Kaur, but the latter dismissed in-form Phoebe Litchfield after being hit all the way for six by her twice in the previous over. Litchfield was just a run short of her half-century before she lost her wicket.

With Australia being bowled out for 141 runs, Healy’s side lost six of their 10 wickets to fast bowlers. As for the spinners, Shreyanka Patil continued her good form by claiming two wickets, as did Deepti Sharma. 

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Besides an impressive all-round bowling display, India also started the T20I series with a significantly improved fielding performance. Sadhu, who was awarded Player of the Match, said, “Behind every good performance, there is hard work. I felt our fielding effort was brilliant today. A bowler can’t give her best until and unless she is supported by all players inside the ground.”

A plethora of runs were saved with Indian fielders diving their hearts out to stop the ball from touching the fence. Jemimah Rodrigues, in particular, was one of the best fielders as she stopped the ball on multiple occasions while standing at point and backward point on a few occasions. Patil was also one of the standout fielders for India, besides being economical and destructive with her bowling.

Apart from a mix up between Thakur and Rodrigues at short fine leg which could’ve ended Litchfield’s innings a little earlier, India’s catching performance was also on point. Harmanpreet took a total of four catches. It’s as if she was conducting a catching practice session with the Aussies. Amanjot was also impressive with her catching as the ball fell into her hands twice. She showed good composure to catch the ball very close to the boundary rope.

The Indian side benefited from the conditions not only while bowling, but also while chasing the total. The dew factor started coming into play as the match progressed, making it difficult for the Aussies to control the ball and bowl accurate line and length consistently in the second innings. Even the best of Australian bowlers like Darcie Brown and Tahlia McGrath gave away way too many extra runs with their wide deliveries.

India received a lot of criticism for its fielding performance in the ODI series. A handful of catches were dropped and unnecessary runs were conceded. But Team India looked like a completely different side on Friday. The energy and determination shown by players was one of the main reasons behind a highly convincing victory. It is all about consistency and that remains the only question for this young and hungry team.