An eight-overs-a-side sprint in Nagpur ended with India levelling the T20I series 1-1 thanks to some outstanding bowling from Axar Patel and a supreme display of ball-striking from Rohit Sharma. But it's difficult for the two sides to gain a lot from the experience on Friday, other than gleaning some insight into how to set up tactically for a rain-shortened game in the World Cup.
India selected the extra batter, but Rishabh Pant was not even required, and they only needed four specialist bowlers and Hardik Pandya in an eight-over game, a luxury they can't afford in a normal 20-overs-a-side contest. The death-overs bowling remains a question mark, although Jasprit Bumrah's return was a welcome one, and he bowled superbly.
Australia are truly experimenting on this tour with so many of their first-choice players missing. They went even further than usual in Nagpur, opting for an extra bowler for the first time since 2021, just to trial something in case the pitch played differently than expected. It did leave them a touch light on batting, though, when Axar ripped through Glenn Maxwell and Tim David.
But Matthew Wade's incredible form and Aaron Finch finding some runs are positive signs. Adam Zampa also bowled an outstanding spell to once again prove himself as one of the best legspinners in T20 cricket.
However, like India, Australia have a death-overs problem. Nathan Ellis was injured and missed last night's game, while Kane Richardson has a minor side niggle and won't play in the final T20I in Hyderabad. In the absence of Mitchell Starc, Australia haven't been able to trust their big guns in Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins at the death as often as they would like. They would like to find a solution to that issue ahead of the World Cup.
India WLWLL (last five completed T20Is, most recent first) Australia LWLWW
In the spotlight
Harshal Patel has found the going tough in this series so far after being preferred to bowl some of the tough overs as India search for a solution to their dearth of death specialists. Wade, in particular, has proved a nemesis for Harshal. The dew factor in both games has not helped him execute his slower balls and yorkers under pressure either. That won't be an issue when he gets to Australia, and slower-ball bouncers and short cutters are usually very effective on the true and dry surfaces there, especially with the large square boundaries at most venues barring Adelaide. But he and India's management would love a good outing just to elevate the confidence levels and bed down the structure of India's bowling unit.
Whisper it quietly, but is Pat Cummins still a lock-in in Australia's best T20I bowling unit? Notionally, it seems blasphemous to say it out loud. But his form since the start of the last IPL does pose the question. It is a small sample size of seven games but his economy rate in that time is 10.91 and he has only had one game where he has conceded less than ten runs per over. Australia's management are confident he can find his groove given he rarely gets an extended run at T20 cricket because of his Test duties. Part of the problem is that his Test-match lengths don't translate well in T20s, and it takes a while for him to adjust. Opposition batters feel his natural length is the perfect hitting length in T20 cricket. He executed some excellent slower-ball bouncers last night in Nagpur. He will need to sharpen his execution of those and his yorkers ahead of the World Cup.
The teams should revert to a more normal setup in Hyderabad. Pant will likely make way given he wasn't required with the bat, and India will need an extra bowler for a full game. Bhuvneshwar Kumar seems the logical choice to return. India could also consider bringing in R Ashwin for Yuzvendra Chahal.
Australia will go back to a seven-batter strategy with Josh Inglis slotting straight back into the middle order. One of Sean Abbott and Daniel Sams will make way. If Ellis is fit, he will come straight back in for the other. Australia may also be very cautious with Cummins and Hazlewood. Three games in six days, albeit one shortened by rain, and several long-haul flights is a recipe for injury. Any hint of soreness in their thoroughbreds and they will be rested. But with Richardson unavailable, they can't rest both.
Australia (probable): 1 Aaron Finch (capt), 2 Cameron Green, 3 Steven Smith, 4 Glenn Maxwell, 5 Josh Inglis, 6 Tim David, 7 Matthew Wade (wk), 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Nathan Ellis/Daniel Sams/Sean Abbott, 10 Adam Zampa, 11 Josh Hazlewood
Pitch and conditions
It's been three years since a T20 match was held in Hyderabad. There have been no IPL matches there since 2019 and the last match was a run feast between India and West Indies. Our man at the ground says that the pitch has a nice beige tinge to it, with little or no grass in sight. It looks full of runs, so it could be another tough night for the bowlers. Virat Kohli will have fond memories walking through the gates. He averages 53.62 and strikes at 139.73 in ten matches there, including 94 not out off 50 against West Indies.
The weather, warm and dry in the build-up to the weekend, has changed a bit, with dark clouds hovering on the eve of the match.
The toss may not be as important in Hyderabad. In the last 16 T20s dating back to the start of the 2018 IPL, it is eight wins each to the teams batting first and second.
In his last four T20Is, Axar has taken eight wickets at an average of 8.62, with a strike rate of 9.7 and an economy rate of 5.3.
In his last eight T20I innings dating back to his World Cup semi-final heroics against Pakistan in 2021, Wade has scored 228 runs (only dismissed once) with a strike rate of 178.12.
Hazlewood is two short of 50 T20I wickets. If he gets there on Friday, in what will be his 33rd T20I, he will better Starc's Australian record of 40 matches.
"He can bowl in any phase of the game. That gives me an advantage to use him, especially if I have four overs of his, to use him in the powerplay. That frees up some of our fast bowlers in the middle if I want to use it. So he brings a lot to the table. This guy has been playing cricket for such a long time doing well for his franchise, India, about time he grabs these kinds of opportunity. And in the last two games, what we saw is what Axar Patel is really all about. We are just waiting to see some of his batting skills as well. "
Rohit Sharma is full of praise for Axar Patel
"He's such a calm customer at the back end of the innings there. He's really grown into that finishing role. He's been either at the top of the order or the bottom and I think he's starting to do a wonderful job down there."