Indian bowlers clean up the batsmen’s mess once again!
Despite only three points from six games, West Indies were technically still in the running for a semi-final spot in this 2019 Cricket World Cup.
A bright and sunny Thursday in Manchester began with mathematics. Despite only three points from six games, West Indies were technically still in the running for a semi-final spot in this 2019 Cricket World Cup.
It was a simple equation, really. West Indies had to win each of their three remaining games, while everyone else in the running had to either lose all of theirs, or beat each other (Pakistan versus Bangladesh, for example). It was possible – anything can happen in sport, and cricket, right? Well, the Indian batting almost made it happen.
Rohit Sharma perhaps got a tough decision. Maybe, there was an edge; maybe there wasn’t. It doesn’t matter – instead, it matters that his hot streak at the start of this tournament is starting to cool off. Could it be the effect of missing Shikhar Dhawan at the other end? Yes has to be the answer, and it is not just Rohit who is missing the attacking left-hander.
Indian cricket, in its entirety, is missing Dhawan. He gives those quick starts that take pressure off Rohit, and then takes the innings deep into the 35th over, allowing the middle-order to take over control of the game. This hasn’t happened for two games now, against Afghanistan and West Indies, on slower tracks than usual. The difference has been KL Rahul’s dismissals, which come quite early in the innings for team India’s comfort.
In Southampton, Rahul played a reverse sweep and threw away his wicket. In Manchester too, he failed to play straighter and was bowled to an incoming delivery. At both instances, India lost their second wicket before the 25th over and Vijay Shankar walked in at number four. He is under pressure – backed by the selectors as the captain, he has been suitably hyped up, but the runs haven’t come. India were three-down in the 27th over, both against Afghanistan and then against West Indies.
It isn’t India’s ODI template, pure and simple, thus transferring added pressure onto the middle and lower order. It has a dual impact – first, on Virat Kohli, who has played two fluent knocks in these two games but failed to get a big one. A consistent loss of wickets at the other end makes Kohli the focal point of India’s innings. You would think he doesn’t feel it, but he does. At this point in time, Kohli isn’t batting for himself but the team, indicative in how the gears start shifting down and he starts to think of the acceleration point.
The other impact is on MS Dhoni. At Southampton, the deficiency in his batting at this late stage in his glorious career became too obvious. He has a problem rotating strike against spin, and even with limited spin resources, West Indies were able to replicate that issue for Dhoni. The Indian think-tank tried to negate it by sending at number six, but Kedar Jadhav’s early dismissal put paid to it. Thereafter, the Indian innings in its latter half was once again a mighty crawl, especially after Kohli’s dismissal.
Dhoni’s personal template is to start slow and get time under his belt, before he takes the bull by its horn, making up for lost time at the death. It didn’t work against Afghanistan, but it did against West Indies – difference in pitches, bowling attacks, et al. The underlying point is India were short by atleast 30 runs in Southampton and by another 20 runs in Manchester. The summation of all their issues isn’t lost on other teams, and attacks like Australia, New Zealand and England/Pakistan (if they make it to the knock-outs) will make this line-up pay.
Of course, it goes without saying those teams will also be afraid of this Indian bowling attack. The marvellous Jasprit Bumrah, an in-form Mohammad Shami (or the miserly Bhuvneshwar Kumar) and then the two wrist-spinners, brought up by Hardik Pandya, Vijay Shankar and Kedar Jadhav – it is a wholesome attack, arguably the best in this tournament and perhaps India’s best in ODI cricket.
Two matches running, this attack has proven its worth. Two matches running, they have dug India out of a low-scoring hole. Two matches running, they have cleaned up the batsmen’s mess. Two matches running, they have squeezed the opposition batting and then put on a chokehold. Two matches running, Afghanistan and West Indies have surrendered in run-chases they would otherwise back themselves to finish victoriously.
Kohli’s confidence in his bowlers is at an all-time high. He has deployed Bumrah to cut off the early quick scoring in powerplays, and later brought him back for wickets in the middle overs. Shami has been a revelation in Kumar’s absence – eight wickets in two matches poses a selection headache whenever the latter returns to full fitness. The two wrist-spinners found drift and grip in spin-friendly conditions.
But the real surprise has been Pandya –that Jadhav has bowled only one over in these two games shows a real step-up in the all-rounder’s bowling. It is a primary reason why this bowling unit has clicked and there has been no respite for the Afghan or Windies’ batting line-ups. Unlike their fellow qualifiers, the mercurial cricketers were never in the hunt at Old Trafford. It was always going to be a hit or miss type of chase – they simply didn’t have the resolve Afghanistan did, and duly folded up, unsurprisingly.
The extra-ordinary pointer from both games though is that India didn’t panic. Despite two mediocre batting performances, and sub-par scores, they believed in making up those 20-30 runs in the field and with the ball. Whether this same trick works against England on Sunday, or against Australia in the knockouts remains to be seen.