Analysing West Indies’ loss to India in the 1983 World Cup final, former England captain Mike Brearley identified a hobbling Clive Lloyd promoting himself to number four in the batting order as the turning point of the match.
Brearley reckoned that it would have been Lloyd’s final World Cup and the latter wanted to go out in glory. Confronted with a small target of 184, he promoted himself in the hope that he could play a substantial innings, but instead hobbled around on his injured leg. The loss of other batsmen, attempting big shots to overcome the limitations of Lloyd’s running between the wickets, spelt West Indies’ doom.
It is usually the small and seemingly minor tweaks that explode big time in key matches. India’s loss to Pakistan could probably be put down to similar minor errors that haunted and hampered them big time.
Captain Virat Kohli was probably scarred by the loss at the league stage to Sri Lanka at the same venue. At that time, his team failed to protect a target of 322 and that was subsequently put down to the absence of Ravichandran Ashwin from the bowling line-up.
Later, Ashwin’s bowling limitations in ODIs on flat tracks stood exposed. India had already experienced inadequacy in the bowling department in the semi-final match against Bangladesh when part-time spinner Kedar Jadhav was desperately pressed into service.
Still, Kohli decided to retain the same bowling mix, probably predicated by the need to retain a winning XI. He also must have thought that the spin of Ashwin would bring variety to the bowling.
However, in the process of retaining the winning combination, Kohli gave up on the third specialist pacer. This would have been either Umesh Yadav or Mohammed Shami. The absence of either in the playing XI impacted the team negatively after Jasprit Bumrah cracked under the pressure of bowling in an India-Pakistan final.
Bumrah, young and inexperienced, had never played in such an important match. And now saddled with the responsibility of keeping a check on Pakistan's opening batsmen, he flopped big time. He had trouble with his run-up — a classic give away of a bowler struggling with nerves — and also line and length. He bowled far too many wides and no-balls and completely eased the pressure on the opponents.
If Kohli had carried a specialist third seamer, he could have either opened with him or taken Bumrah off the firing line at the earliest. He was forced to remove him after just three ineffective overs but had to settle for a spinner.
With Ashwin coming inside the first set of powerplay overs, Pakistan had convincingly won the first round.
They went from strength to strength after that as Ashwin and Jadeja proved to be fodder for the inexperienced Pakistani batsmen. Ashwin struck to a negative line, but still went for big runs while Jadeja was totally ineffective. Of course, it was Bumrah who was the big let down among bowlers. However, by picking the wrong combination, Kohli was left without a cover for the inadequacies of his bowlers.
Additionally, Kohli probably erred in opting to throw away the toss. Conventional wisdom is to opt for batting first in big matches, especially if threat of rains later in the day or a green top pitch is not the issue. Neither was evident at The Oval.
Again, it is possible that Kohli was singed by the Sri Lanka result on the same track when India batted first and could not defend a target of 322. He was helpless on that occasion and must have reckoned that if India batted second he could be in control of things. Of course, Mohammed Amir had other plans, but that’s another matter.
Pakistan took their chances, batted freely and clobbered the over-anxious bowlers. Later, India chasing down such a daunting target needed one key ingredient: luck. In a big run chase, a bowler has to be lucky just once while the batsmen have to be lucky all the time. India just did not have that vital ingredient. In short, it simply was not India’s day and hence nothing, including luck, went their way.
When the dust of the defeat settles down India would need to take some hard decisions, including reworking the bowling combination. But that’s for another day. There are other battles that need to be addressed now.