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Match Analysis

Pieces shuffle into place in India's batting jigsaw

Kohli's sideways shuffle a sign of India's batters buying into their new approach

In an innings containing 25 fours and 13 sixes, this was perhaps not the most eye-catching boundary. But it was significant in two ways.
One, it moved India's score past 190. This was the 10th time in 21 innings this year that India had ticked off that milestone while batting first in T20Is. Across 2020 and 2021, India had only reached 190 three times while batting first, in 16 attempts.
Scoring bigger totals more often has significantly improved India's record while batting first. Duh, you might say, but this transformation has come from a recognition that par is simply not enough, given the advantage chasing teams enjoy in T20 cricket. On Sunday, India made 237 for 3 - their fourth-highest T20I total - and South Africa still gave them a scare.
"It is something that all of us came together and we said, you know, this is what we want to do as a team," Rohit said during the post-match presentation, when asked about India's batting approach. "Sometimes it has come off; there will be times where it doesn't come off, but we want to stick to it. We felt that this is the method of moving forward, it has given us results, and we will continue to take that approach."
You need special players to pull off this sort of approach, of course, and India have more than one in their ranks. Rahul is one of them, and while his shot-making ability can sometimes lie puzzlingly dormant in the early parts of his T20 innings, it was in evidence right from the first ball of the match, when he punched Kagiso Rabada past point off the back foot, silkily and with time to spare.
He's taken a bit of time finding his rhythm since coming back from injury in August, and on Wednesday he had battled his way to a slower-than-run-a-ball fifty on a hugely challenging pitch in Thiruvananthapuram. But that back-foot punch off Rabada seemed to flick a switch in him. You know Rahul is in rare and almost unearthly touch when he plays that shot, and when he whips sixes effortlessly off his pads, as he did twice in this innings.
It was a standout innings in every way other than the fact that Suryakumar Yadav found a way to upstage it. Suryakumar is in the sort of form where he can seemingly decide to hit any line and any length from any bowler to any part of the ground, and all that's been written about in ample detail already.
His 22-ball 61 in Guwahati, however, brought another facet of his game to light.
During his half-century in Thiruvananthapuram, Suryakumar had adopted a scissor-like trigger movement, segueing from an open stance into a side-on position at release, with front foot moving across to the off side and back foot jumping towards the leg side. On Sunday, he used an entirely different trigger movement, starting from the same open position and ending up even more open, with his back foot moving back and across and his front foot remaining stationary.
It would be hugely illuminating to hear Suryakumar talk about these technical adjustments. What we do know is that he looked just as comfortable with both set-ups, and just as capable of accessing every part of the field.
And to cap it all off, Dinesh Karthik came in with less than two overs remaining and scored an unbeaten 17 off 7. Karthik is 37, and he first played international cricket in 2004, but he's perhaps India's most futuristic cricketer, the sort of hyper-specialist that could one day define the way T20 is played. He came in with only 11 balls remaining, but he greatly prefers that to having time to play himself in.
Rabada bowled the last over to Karthik with deep backward point, deep cover, long-off, long-on and deep midwicket on the boundary. The plan was to go wide of off stump and short, to try and take away Karthik's leg-side options. Twice, Karthik stepped across and found himself still having to drag the ball from well outside the line of his body, but he still managed to use his bottom hand and wrists to swat the ball over square leg.
Rabada had done little wrong, but it didn't matter.
All through this year, all through the lead-up to the T20 World Cup that begins later this month, India have tried to push themselves to bat in a certain way. It's not always been smooth; individual batters have struggled for rhythm at times, and there have been flurries of top-order wickets at other times. But in the longer term, good processes beget good outcomes, such as India's improved bat-first record.
On some days, good processes beget immediate outcomes. Sunday was such a day: a day of vindication, a day when almost everything fell into place.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo