India went down by 3 wickets to Australia in a nail-biting T20 contest at the Dr. Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy ACA-VDCA Cricket Stadium in Visakhapatnam but there were some important lessons to be learnt from the defeat.
Looking to fine-tune the squad ahead of the World Cup, every step taken is a bid to find the perfect combination for the big tournament in the summer and perhaps, on Sunday, the squad got some answers to the burning questions against a flat but gritty Australian team.
The game was a mixed bag in terms of solutions -- while a few would definitely provide some relief, the other continue to haunt an already messed up perception of the team management.
With India looking to give game time to some of the players ahead of the World Cup, the opportunity presented was a perfect one for the ones, who are in the mix.
India looking for a third opener, a solid lower-middle order and middle-order back up and perhaps a third or fourth seamer, threw KL Rahul, Rishabh Pant and Umesh Yadav along with Mayank Markande into the mix in Vizag. Along with them, Dinesh Karthik and Krunal Pandya also had a chance to showcase their talent and do their bit in their bid for a ticket to England.
But, apart from Rahul and to some extent Markande, many would say the others failed to grab the opportunity.
Returning to the senior set up from a troubled month and a half and some good from for India A, Rahul showed why he is rated this highly in the circuit. After seeing off a nervy first over from Jason Behrendorff, the opener slowly settled into his strides and kept the scoreboard ticking on a pitch, where it was somewhat difficult to score runs.
Seen as a player, who can both attack and drop the anchor, Rahul's 36-ball knock of 50 on Sunday would be the biggest positive for India from the game. With Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma all but certain to open the innings against South Africa on June 5 in India's World Cup opener at the Rose Bowl, an in-form Rahul is a great option to have if things go south in England.
But, things were not as rosy in the place, where India would have ideally wanted it to be -- the middle-order.
Pant, a hot favourite for a place in the playing XI from former players and fans alike, was run-out cheaply and Karthik, who was dropped from the ODI squad, didn't do any favours to himself by getting cleaned up for 1 by Nathan Coulter-Nile in the third ball he faced. Krunal followed suit soon and it was once again on Mahendra Singh Dhoni to make something out of nothing and he failed this time. Thus, a lesson we already know -- without the top three firing and playing through, the middle-muddle will continue to haunt the Men in Blue.
With one T20I and five ODIs left before the team comes again together for the World Cup, India have little or no time to find answers to the burning question -- what if Ambati Rayudu fails at No.4?
Same goes for the bowling department. With Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Kuldeep Yadav and Mohammed Shami rested, India had to choose between Umesh Yadav, Siddarth Kaul and the young Markande. The first and the third got the nod and it was a mixed-bag come the end of the game.
While Markande showed that he could be the No.3 if India need one sometime in limited-overs cricket with some composed bowling in crunch situations, Umesh's inability to hold his own and bowl at the death again showed why Bhuvneshwar and Jasprit Bumrah are so important for this team.
With Shami more or less doing his bit in New Zealand to get a place in the squad for the World Cup and Khaleel Ahmed struggling for consistency, India's only two option remain Umesh and Kaul but if Sunday's audition is anything to go by, Umesh's chances look bleak.
So, what do we take away from the game in Vizag and what can be expected in Bengaluru? Well! Expect Rahul and Pant to hold their positions while Vijay Shankar, who could be pivotal to India's World Cup plans if Hardik Pandya's back issues continue, could get a game in place of Karthik or Krunal -- depending upon what the picth looks like at the Chinnaswamy. Kaul on the other hand, could come in for Umesh and showcase his skills at the death, something that has made him a potent weapon for Sunrisers Hyderabad in the Indian Premier League.
All in all, the game on Sunday, perhaps threw in more complications than answers and the hosts would like to lessen some when they take the field on Wednesday in the second and final T20I against the Aussies.