T Natarajan and Matthew Wade impress, but middle orders yet to gel

Australia's back-up bowlers showed promise, but their death bowling was a concern

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
Having lost the ODI series, India needed a quick turnaround in a format where they've had quite a lot to prove despite the positive spinoffs from the IPL. They managed to overcome the ODI reversal by winning the T20I series 2-1, despite a few middle-order hiccups.
Meanwhile, Australia, who halted India's run of 10 successive T20I wins courtesy their spin twins Mitchell Swepson and Adam Zampa, will reflect on a number of missed opportunities, particularly from their back-up seam attack. Here are the key takeaways for both sides.
Nerveless Natarajan makes a mark
Exactly a month ago, T Natarajan was named as one of four net bowlers in India's tour party to Australia. The team management was impressed with his left-arm variety. With India's fast bowling attack looking off-colour in their first two defeats on tour, he was handed an ODI debut in similar circumstances to Jasprit Bumrah's in 2016. He'll return home to a newborn, whom he is yet to meet, having made an impact in three of the four white-ball matches he featured in.
Natarajan's spell of 4-0-20-2 in Australia's total of 194 in the second T20I helped India pull things back somewhat before Hardik Pandya helped clinch the chase. Natarajan finished the series with six wickets in three games and an economy rate of 6.91. This didn't earn him the Player of the Series award, but Pandya, the winner, certainly underlined his impact. Kohli's go-to death bowler in Bumrah's absence, Natarajan showed there was more to him than just his ability to nail yorkers. His temperament and calmness under pressure have stood out - all promising signs a year out from the T20 World Cup.
The Pandey-Iyer-Samson question
None of the three managed to nail down a position. Sanju Samson thrilled like he often does with his six-hitting but failed to build on his starts. Manish Pandey had just one outing, where he struggled. Shreyas Iyer had a match-winning cameo sandwiched between two ordinary outings. With Suryakumar Yadav waiting in the wings, and India potentially having to move KL Rahul down the order when Rohit Sharma gets fit, Pandey, Iyer, Samson, Suryakumar and Rishabh Pant could jostle for two batting positions in the squad. Also, it's entirely possible there could only be one spot up for grabs in the XI if India decide Ravindra Jadeja and Pandya, on current form, can bat at Nos. 5 and 6.
Sundar and Chahal add to India's bowling variety
Having been left out of India's first T20I following an outstanding IPL season for Royal Challengers Bangalore - 21 wickets in 15 games and an economy rate of 7.08 - Yuzvendra Chahal made a mark as a concussion substitute to pick up three wickets and win India the first T20I single-handedly.
Washington Sundar also had an excellent series, delivering frugal spells and going at only 7.08 in the 12 overs he bowled. Both his wickets - Aaron Finch and Steven Smith - came in the final T20I. But it was in the series opener, where he went for 0 for 16 in four overs, that he set the tone as India successfully defended 161. While Chahal cleverly used the advantage of bowling to big boundaries on one side, Sundar varied his lengths, and his nagging lines forced batsmen to try and improvise early in the innings.
Now picture India's bowling attack with a fully fit Pandya, Jadeja, Sundar, Chahal and three seamers - potentially Natarajan, Bumrah and one of Shardul Thakur or Mohammed Shami.
Wade hits, Short misses
No Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc (for two matches), Josh Hazlewood and Kane Richardson. Aaron Finch missed the second T20I. David Warner missed the entire series with a groin injury. This was a chance for the back-ups to stand up. Where D'Arcy Short couldn't capitalise, Matthew Wade, the stand-in captain, did with two half-centuries including a match-winning 50-ball 83 in the final game on Tuesday.
Without Marcus Stoinis, Moises Henriques enjoyed good bowling returns, but couldn't replicate that impact with the bat. Daniel Sams and Andrew Tye fell short while trying to defend 72 off the last six with Australia's series on the line. Faced with a near-similar situation, their spin-twins Swepson and Zampa combined to take 4 for 44 in seven overs to help Australia secure a consolation win.
Had Ashton Agar not been ruled out, Swepson may not have been summoned into the squad. Zampa provided Australia control in the middle overs on the face of some serious ball-striking. Among his three wickets, the one to dismiss Pandya in the final T20I with India needing 43 from 18 was game-changing.
Who comes into the middle order?
Just like India's, there are a few contenders in Australia's middle order too. Alex Carey, Wade, Henriques, Marnus Labuschagne, Cameron Green and Short could all possibly tussle over limited batting spots. This is considering Warner and Finch will be reunited at the top of the order, with Steven Smith and Glenn Maxwell floating around with Stoinis. Australia potentially have a five-match series against New Zealand and the BBL to narrow down their combinations for the T20 World Cup in October 2021.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo