Before facing Kiwis, India need to take stock, fine-tune engine   

India have enough experience, wisdom and pedigree not to be able to overcome the odds. It’s impossible to see them having two bad games on the bounce, but New Zealand, their next opponent at T20 World Cup, will not make things any easier

Virat Kohli, Citizenship Amendment Act, CAA, four-day Tests, ICC, BCCI, anti-CAA protests, India vs Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka tour of India, ICC T20 World Cup 2020
At the risk of sounding painfully repetitive, it must be remembered that India’s last global silverware came as long back as in 2013, at the Champions Trophy.

The knee-jerk reactions to the events at the Dubai International Stadium reiterate how short public memory is. The same bunch of boys that was lauded for exceptional efforts in Australia at the start of the year and England during the summer is now the object of much scorn and outrage, all because it couldn’t keep its implausible winning streak against Pakistan in World Cups intact.

There is no good way to put a positive spin on a ten-wicket drubbing. India were well below par in their opening Super 12 game of the T20 World Cup and were duly punished by a ruthless Pakistan team which slipped into the detached-attachment mode that has been such an integral part of India’s campaigns against their neighbours in global competitions previously.

Also read: Pakistan’s win over India only the beginning, not end of the journey

To be fair, Virat Kohli offered no excuses, readily admitting that his side had been ‘outplayed’. All these years, Kohli hasn’t sought to hide behind reasons imaginary or real to wish away sub-par displays. The skipper also insisted that their predicament did not warrant pressing the panic button. He was spot-on; after all, this was the first of India’s five games in the Super 12s, and while the start was far from ideal, it’s not the end of the road. Not by a long stretch.

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That said, India do have long hours of introspection before their next encounter, against New Zealand who perennially punch above their weight in World Cups. The week leading up to the October 31 clash offers enough opportunity to ponder over what India could have done better, what are the areas that need immediate addressing, what fine-tuning is required to get the engine back to ticking over smoothly.

To arrive at answers, India will have to go back to the drawing board and take a serious, unbiased relook at the events of Sunday. True, Shaheen Shah Afridi bowled an outstanding first spell that spelt doom for Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul. Admittedly, Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan batted them out of the contest with a mellifluous synthesis of timing and power and industry and intelligence. But should India have allowed them to stroll home unchallenged? Where was the famed intensity in the bowling, the tigerish resolve in the field? How did the flatness that is such a no-no in the Kohli lexicon hang over the squad like a thick envelope of fog? Why were the bouncers aimed at the helmet put away in cold storage? Why was there no attempt to pitch the ball fuller and force the batsmen to drive down the ground, a far more dangerous proposition than getting the ball to bounce hip-high and watching it mercilessly dispatched off the back foot on both sides of the wicket?

Most crucially, did the Indian batting really go AWOL?

Pundits have installed India as one of the favourites to go all the way, like they have been doing at multi-team tournaments for a while now. At the risk of sounding painfully repetitive, it must be remembered that India’s last global silverware came as long back as in 2013, at the Champions Trophy. Since then, India have made the knockouts of every ICC tournament (the T20 World Cup in 2014 and 2016, the Champions Trophy in 2017 and the 50-over World Cup in 2015 and 2019), but ultimate success has proved elusive.

Also read: India vs Pakistan: After ice age, Super Sunday to see sparks fly

The backing India’s campaigns have historically received stemmed from impressive records in bilateral faceoffs and the form the team brought into big events. This time around, it is debatable if India boast the same air of confidence in their formidable batting. If the Indian Premier League 2021 is the barometer against which to measure India’s immediate batting performances, the signs aren’t particularly encouraging.

In these same conditions, a majority of India’s batsmen struggled to impose themselves during phase two of IPL 2021 in September-October. With the honourable exception of Rahul, who finished third in the list of run-scorers with 626, the rest of the batsmen failed to get a measure of the slow surfaces that defeated their free-stroking ways and threw their timing off kilter. As is his wont, Kohli plugged away manfully and finished with more than 400 runs, but he wasn’t the dominant force one has come to expect of him. The Mumbai Indians troika of Rohit, Suryakumar Yadav and Hardik Pandya were even less prolific, and Rishabh Pant was forced to eschew his spontaneity because the conditions dictated so.

The lone reserve batsman in the squad, Ishan Kishan, only came into his own right at the end of Mumbai Indians’ campaign when, after a litany of woes in the middle order, he was thrust into the role of the opener and ended the IPL with two muscular half-centuries. With question marks over Pandya’s fitness status – an x-ray ruled out any fracture in his right shoulder, where he was struck by Afridi, and the results of an MRI to assess soft tissue damage are awaited – India will have no option but to bring Kishan in if they want to stick with the additional batsman should Pandya be ruled out. That will necessitate a rejig in the batting order, with the left-hander going to the top of the order to link up with Rahul and forcing all others to drop down one spot. Were that to transpire, it won’t so much be a desperate measure as a move designed to maximise the impact Kishan can make with the bat.

The true surfaces at the ICC Academy that allowed India’s batsmen to embrace uninhibited ball-striking might have raised false hopes of a return to their very best, but even then, it was obvious that the pitches during the World Cup would be more challenging. India have enough experience, wisdom and pedigree not to be able to overcome the odds. It’s impossible to see them having two bad games on the bounce, but New Zealand will not make things any easier. It isn’t panic stations, yet, but India haven’t made things any easier for themselves as they chase another knockout berth.

 

 

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