Sunday, January 31, 2016

Ice-cool Raina lifts India to 3-0 whitewash

A thrilling chase and a cruel missed chance saw India seal a Twenty20 series sweep over Australia at the SCG, as the more settled side was victorious once again.

Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli laid the groundwork for India's pursuit before Suresh Raina was able to finish things off with the help of Yuvraj Singh, who looked out of touch before finding his timing at precisely the right moment as the pair took 19 off Andrew Tye's final over of the innings to finish off the win. Victory also lifted India to No.1 in the ICC T20 rankings; they were eighth before the series began.

Raina was fortunate to be there, having escaped a stumping chance second ball. The bowler Cameron Boyce was Australia's outstanding performer on the night, but he was let down by the glove work of Cameron Bancroft, a speculative choice as wicketkeeper for this match in the absence of Matthew Wade.

The error typified Australia's muddled approach to this series, just a month out from the World T20 in India. However they did have the consolation of an outstanding century by the stand-in captain Shane Watson, who showed why he should be indispensable to the team's campaign on the same day his former team-mate Michael Clarke announced he intended to return to cricket after a five-month break.

India's bowling was not particularly strong this night, but their batting strength was demonstrated by Rohit, Kohli and Raina. Vitally, Raina and Yuvraj did not lose their heads under the pressure of the chase - a strong lesson for the Australians given their panicky displays in Adelaide and Melbourne.

In pursuit of 198, India needed a fast start, something Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit were more than capable of providing. Dhawan only lasted nine balls, but in that time clumped 26 runs and made a mess of Shaun Tait. Rohit was a little more circumspect, but helped keep the score ticking over well ahead of the required rate.

Australia were able to pull things back somewhat through the middle overs thanks largely to the bowling of Watson and the legspinner Boyce, who gave the ball teasing flight and loaded it with spin to beat Rohit, Kohli and Raina in the air. Boyce gained two wickets for his effort but should have had a third, when Bancroft missed the stumping chance that a more seasoned keeper might have completed.

After Kohli's exit to Boyce's penultimate ball for another sparkling contribution of 50, Raina and Yuvraj Singh pottered around for a time. As MS Dhoni had done during the 50-over match on this ground a little over a week ago, they allowed the equation to stretch out while finding their bearings, and Tye was left to defend 17 from the final over.

As though rousing from a deep sleep, Yuvraj pounced on Tye's first two balls, flicking over backward square leg to the fence then pounding a six into the heaving crowd at midwicket. That rather simplified the equation for India, and a pair of hustled twos by Raina were followed by an exultant last ball boundary that completed India's clean sweep.

Watson had won the toss on a warm evening and walked out to bat with his Thunder opening partner Usman Khawaja. In the form of his life, Khawaja strolled to 14 from five balls before edging a good one from Ashish Nehra and being dismissed for less than 50 for the first time since last October.

That was something of a shock for the crowd and the Australians, but Watson was soon finding his range with powerful shots struck through and over MS Dhoni's fields. He was given a helping hand by a pair of no-balls from Jaspreet Bumrah in the fourth over, the second from the free-hit he gave up by bowling the first - both were crunched to the cover boundary by Watson.

Shaun Marsh and Glenn Maxwell could not endure in Watson's company, but Travis Head provided common sense support to his captain, who grew in fluency and confidence with every over. A few weeks ago Watson had played similarly well on this ground for the Sydney Thunder against the Sydney Sixers, and this time Watson went on from his typical resting place between 50 and 90 to a maiden T20 international century.

The milestone brought an expansive celebration by Watson on the ground of his adopted home state for several reasons. Not only was it a rare international century for him and a moment to assure his presence in the team for the World T20 in India, the innings was also doubtless a timely one a few days before the IPL auction.

Watson would follow up with some tidy bowling, but as captain he could do little about some of the less illustrious work of others, as India romped home. They will go into the World T20 full of confidence; Australia meanwhile do not look sure where to go.

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