How does a team bounce back from two morale-breaking defeats when its cricket is not brave enough, by Virat Kohli’s own admission? How does a team get back on track when its bowling unit has taken only two wickets in two matches? How does a team motivate itself knowing that its fate in the T20 World Cup is no longer in its hands?
Incorporating new faces can help; Few new players are coming into the playing XI against Afghanistan without carrying the extra burden of back-to-back losses. Then again, it’s a double-edged sword. It is easy to ax, the message it will carry may not be delicious. To begin with, dropping a player will bring a negative vibe; that it is the cause of the failure. It will also highlight the selection errors in the first two matches. India is in a no-win situation. Going into their third group league fixture, this is their biggest challenge. Afghanistan is casual.
A lot has been said about the team’s batting performance against Pakistan and New Zealand. Here are some bowling figures… Mohammed Shami has given 54 runs in 4.5 overs in two matches. In place of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Shardul Thakur gave 17 runs in one and a half overs against the Kiwi team. The latter conceded 25 runs during his three overs against Pakistan. Both spinners Ravindra Jadeja and Varun Chakraborty scored 107 runs between them without taking a wicket. Hardik Pandya bowled some medium military overs in the last game. Jasprit Bumrah aside, the other bowlers fire blank.
If Varun has been the team management’s aggressive spin option, why he bowled negative lengths against New Zealand was a mystery, as if he was afraid of being hit. A safe bowling strategy gave him a respectable economy rate, but it did not serve his team’s purpose. Defending a modest total, taking wickets at regular intervals was India’s only chance. Will you stay with Varun? If not, who is Rahul Chahar or Ravichandran Ashwin in his place?
After nurturing wrist-spin for four years, why India lost the variety in the first two matches, nobody had any idea. This indicated a lack of confidence in Chahar, Yuzvendra overtook Chahal to accelerate through the air. Yes, Kohli was unlucky with the toss in both the matches, as the conditions in this World Cup have made it easy to chase. But hiding behind the dew factor would amount to denial, refusing to accept the fact that the team has failed to play to its potential.
Just a few days back, Rashid Khan had almost won the match for Afghanistan while bowling second against Pakistan.
England’s Adil Rashid took two wickets at less than five runs per over against Sri Lanka on a dewy evening in Sharjah on Monday. Australia’s Adam Zampa has taken five wickets in three matches at an economy rate of less than seven runs per over. Sri Lanka’s Wanindu Hasaranga has taken 14 wickets in seven matches – Sri Lanka also played the qualifiers – conceding more than five runs per over. New Zealand’s Ish Sodhi has four wickets in two matches, with an economy rate of just five and a half runs per over. Shadab Khan of Pakistan has also taken two wickets at less than six runs per over. Leg spin has proved to be effective so far. Strange that India didn’t use it at all, a team that paid a lot of attention to wrist-spin after the 2017 Champions Trophy final.
Or, it could have been Ashwin, who was justified based on his performances in the two practice games in the lead-up two of the tournament. The senior off-spinner can take wickets in the powerplay and will not bowl for fear of being hit.
“Of course, the execution could have been better. Definitely. Could have bowled better. Second, I think the wicket is definitely (a factor) when you are bowling second,” said India’s batting coach Vikram Rathour. said in a pre-match press conference, “And third, I think we didn’t really score enough runs on the board to build that pressure. Once you just want to defend 110 runs, bat second.” It becomes easier for the team doing it.
Looking at the big outfield in Abu Dhabi, India may bring in either Chahar or Ashwin for Varun.
As far as batting is concerned, India’s T20 approach has always been an extension of their ODI batting blueprint – put the wickets in front before throwing the kitchen sink on the death. When they lost wickets in the beginning – Pakistan game – their progress got checked. When singles and doubles dried up in the middle overs – New Zealand’s game – they resorted to poor shot selection.
The blueprint was set when MS Dhoni was the captain, but as England is showing, T20 cricket has evolved. Batsmen need to be more courageous from the start now, without being foolish. In fact, Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings followed the method this time in the IPL through Faf du Plessis and Ruturaj Gaikwad. India, along with Dhoni as his team mentor, are old-fashioned.
When asked about India playing fearless T20 cricket, Rathore’s answer was somewhat generic. “I think it will happen to any team. Any international team will go through this.” The fact is that though India have quality batsmen from top to bottom, Suryakumar Yadav is their weak link in batting audacity.
the sun is getting better
India initially did not have a net session on the eve of the match, but later opted for an alternate session. Yadav, who was ruled out against New Zealand due to a back spasm, was seen doing some fitness exercises before batting in the nets. He also did fielding drills like others. If he is declared fit, the middle-order batsman is likely to replace Ishan Kishan in tomorrow’s game.
Afghanistan has three good spinners. But there is a gulf between the two sides and India’s real fight is against low confidence levels. Some Indian expatriates like business tycoon and cricket mentor Anees Sajan are refusing to give up and doing their math. “If India conceded 300 runs in their last three matches and chased them down in 30 overs, their net run-rate would climb to +2.” Anis seemed optimistic. He has two franchises in the Abu Dhabi T20 League and knows his cricket.
However, adopting the conservatism, the team is not looking too far ahead. “We are not going to be good at maths anyway being cricketers. So I think the focus at this point is to play good cricket, win matches and win the remaining three matches.