There was a time when India-Pakistan clashes used to end up in nail biters. We needed stunning cut sixes over third man, five-wicket hauls and last-ball full-tosses being smashed for sixes to find a winner, or even separate the two sides. No more, as the gulf in quality between the arch-rivals is ever expanding, and it is perfectly evident from each meeting.
Rain though can be an equalizer, especially when it comes and goes without any prior warning. Thereafter, there is sun and cloud-cover in equal measure, and the players have to go off more than a couple times. In such situations a settled batsman can be put off his focus, while the bowlers can get on top within a single spell.
Sunday, at Edgbaston, the same rain was a humongous factor. Yet there was serenity about the game, in particular the Indian innings. In a way, it was begging to burst into life, after three intervals as the Men in Blue were put into bat. Nothing untoward happened though as the Indian batsmen showed why they are so feared in world cricket at present.
Their planning and execution took out the unpredictable element that rain showers bring to limited-overs’ cricket. For their part, even Pakistan avoided obliteration under pressure for the most part. They had a plan at the beginning with left-arm spinner Imad Wasim bowling, but then Wahab Riaz let them down. Thereafter, it was about restricting India, and the fielding side just let the ball slip, quite literally.
When Yuvraj Singh was dropped, he was on 8*. It was a sitter. That’s the simplest explanation, for international cricketers – nay professional cricketers – are expected to take such catches. It was a chance that changed the game, as India seized momentum riding on the left-hander’s explosive knock and batted their opponents out of the game. It underlined the sluggishness in Pakistan’s fielding, and that factor was the biggest differentiator between the two sides, never mind other aspects.
There was one particular shot that Yuvraj played – top-edging Riaz in the 46th over to third-man. It wasn’t a catch, but could it have been? Perhaps, for it needed some agility from the third-man fielder. He, however, didn’t take the first step inwards until the ball was descending in its arc towards the ground. Why is this important? The fielder in question was 18-year-old Shadab Khan. For his age, you would think he would have been more energetic in the field, certainly like some other youngsters we can find in Indian cricket.
It is a general malaise of Pakistan cricket perhaps, and is becoming increasingly obvious by the day. Catches go up, only for them to be grassed, and the bowlers are left kicking dust off pitches. Almost as if this aspect of the game – highly crucial in determining the difference between a 280 and 300 target – goes missing from the Pakistan team’s collective intellect.
Sample this, for this poor trait of their game was most obvious when Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan were batting. In a stunning move, Pakistan opted to open their bowling with left-arm spinner Imad Wasim from one end. It was a good ploy, not giving the shot-making openers pace to work with. And yet, it failed, for the packed fielding cordon on the off-sider – backward point, point, cover, extra cover, mid-off – were all too deep. They were standing on the edge of the 30-yard circle, and this allowed Rohit and Dhawan to play with soft hands, just drop the ball and run.
Rohit got 10 singles off Wasim, and Dhawan ran 15 off him, totalling 25 out of 33 runs against the left-arm spinner in between wickets. It was a proper tactic, apparent throughout the Indian innings, and it was staggering to see Pakistan were none the wiser, even after so many rain breaks when they could have discussed this crucial aspect. It bordered on gross negligence and cost them the game.
“I would give our batting 9/10 (in terms of planning and execution),” said Indian skipper Virat Kohli, after the match. It doesn’t go to say however that they were good in the field either, with a range of misfielding and dropped catches witnessed as well. Kedar Jadhav stood out, grassing the simplest chance of the match perhaps, making even Pakistan look good for a moment.
“I would give our fielding 6/10, and that also, I would give all 6 points to Ravindra Jadeja,” the skipper added. He could have been making a joke, but in the end, the all-rounder justified his inclusion in the playing eleven with that direct hit to run out Shoiab Malik. If you are going to play one spinner in these pace-suited English conditions, Jadeja is miles ahead of R Ashwin in terms of athleticism and fielding alone, and perfectly suited to the limited-overs’ formats.
Even so, this was the worst fielding display by an Indian outfit since, perhaps, the first day’s play of the first Test in Rajkot against England (November 2016). They dropped four catches that day and let the visitors score 600 runs. Pakistan, of course, didn’t have the same perseverance, or wherewithal, in their batting line-up.
Yet, the bottom-line herein is that the Indian fielding was below par for most of the time spent in the field, so much so that you have to really rack your brains to recall the last instance of such poor showing in the field in an ODI (or even T20I).
On the positive side though, it gives the Men in Blue something to work upon ahead of their next game against Sri Lanka in London on 8 June. Ever since landing in England, they have been busy ticking all boxes in terms of batting and bowling preparation, and in getting used to conditions here after spending months on sub-continental pitches.
Dogged with controversy too, the defending champions had simply slipped below the radar and were considered – at best – fourth-best favourites for the title after England, South Africa and Australia. With this comprehensive win they have sent out a message to factor them in as potential champions again, especially if normal service resumes in fielding standards against Lanka.