It was the 20th over of the innings. Mahendra Singh Dhoni, one of the most feared limited overs batsman, was on strike. The bowler was Chris Jordan. He delivered a quick, fuller than full length delivery and Dhoni had a crack at it. The ball crashed through the turf straight at the fielder at mid-off. He refused the single that was on offer so he could have the strike to face the last remaining delivery of the T20 innings, instead of Jasprit Bumrah. He was able to rush for two runs on the final delivery. That was in Kanpur, in the first T20I match between England and India.
Few days later in Nagpur for the 2nd T20I of the series, the routine repeated. Chris Jordan delivered another full delivery and Dhoni pasted it to the cover fielder. He chose not to take the single on offer as he wanted to face the final two deliveries of the innings instead of Amit Mishra. He was able to produce 1 run off the remaining two deliveries while Mishra was run out off the penultimate delivery and he was castled himself on the last delivery.
Dhoni is not at fault here. He has the power and the experience to clear the boundary and so it made sense that he would try to keep himself on strike. The blame is with the team composition that Dhoni is left handcuffed in the closing stages of the innings with players at the other end in whom he doesn't have the confidence to hit boundaries.
Even after the first game where India were woefully short of runs, the only change to the side was Mishra in place of Pervez Rasool, while Rishabh Pant, Mandeep Singh and their boundary striking abilities (as shown in the previous column) warmed the bench. Even as India ended victors in this match, thanks largely to Joe Root's un-T20 innings, the logic behind Virat Kohli's selections for T20 are baffling.
In addition to the fact he seems resistant to lengthening the lineup with hitters, he seems also determined to have only one batsman taking the risks to score runs for the majority of the innings, while batsman at the other end is expected to rotate strike and play anchor. Both in Nagpur and Kanpur, it was Kohli who played strokes fraught with risks while KL Rahul poked and prodded at the other end. After the opening partnership was broken, Rahul took on the responsibility to hit boundaries. In the next meaningful partnership of the innings between him and his Karnataka teammate Manish Pandey, it was the same story: Pandey pottered on while Rahul looked for big hits.
Even with one batsman posting a score in excess of 70 runs and India losing only 6 wickets in 20 overs, they still ended south of 150 runs for the innings. At the innings break, CricViz's model pegged England as 80% favorite to win the game. That's how poor India were with the bat, only to be returned the favor in kind by Joe Root. Root tried his best to score boundaries or get out in the process but his mistimed shots kept finding empty spaces and didn't allow the big hitters further down more time at the crease.
How bad were India? In 114 1st inns where 1 bat has made 70-75 in 45-50 balls, only 6 teams have ended with less than 145.
— cricketingview (@cricketingview) January 29, 2017
Kohli's flawed idea of hitting from just one end in T20s brings to mind the Royal Challengers' chase of Sunrisers Hyderabad's 208 runs in IPL 2016 final. While Chris Gayle came out all guns blazing, Kohli looked to play the anchor and it wasn't till the 10th over of a huge chase that he even looked to play forcing boundary shots. That chase was lost between overs 6 and 8 where Kohli scored 8 runs off 10 balls while the required run rate was nearing 11 runs an over.
Kohli is a terrific batsman and is second to none when pacing an ODI innings. But the length of an ODI allows for batsmen to drop anchor, or defer to the other batsman to take the initiative. T20 does not allow such luxuries. The premium is on scoring fast, and scoring a lot, from both ends.
India not only hampered themselves with wrong selections but also by poor strategy. They got away with it in Nagpur while they were shellacked in Kanpur. As the final game of the T20I series heads to Bangalore, Kohli's “second home ground”, the fans would hope their captain would not resort to the same old tactics that prevented his side, RCB, from winning the IPL in 2016.