How does a team prepare for playing in conditions where the overwhelming presence of dew is a debilitating factor? That is the question that the brains of Indian cricket will have to grapple with really hard if they do not wish their bowling unit to be mercilessly clobbered like it was on Sunday.
A total of 192 was certainly a par score because crunch matches like the one between India and the West Indies in the ICC World T20 semi-final are seldom tall-scoring affairs. Of course one could go on about the failure of a set Rohit Sharma to rattle up a 70-plus score as the major reason for the team not getting to a total of 210 or 220 runs. But the fact is the total of 192, which India finally made, should have been good enough for them to romp home, even on a dew-kissed outfield.
The early dismissal of Chris Gayle (5), West Indies’ most destructive batsman, and the tried and tested batting heavyweight Marlon Samuels (8) was a tremendous boost to Indian hopes. But these successes rather than spurring the side on, led to setting in of complacency.
This was a terrible folly because Johnson Charles (52 in 36 balls), the other opener, had shown in the past that he could be a thorn in the side of international teams. Way back in 2012, when the West Indies won the World T20 title, he had stunned England with a fantastic knock of 84. Apart from him, there were still many more power-hitters India had to silence before they could breathe easy.
Unfortunately though, India let their guard down all too soon, perhaps relieved by the early dismissal of Gayle. They relaxed a wee bit and before they knew it, Windies batsmen had jammed their foot in the door and prised control of the match.
Simultaneously, Ravichandran Ashwin, supposedly the kingpin of India’s bowling attack, flopped for the second match in succession. His callous no-ball was quite simply the turning point of the match. For any spinner the no-ball is an unpardonable transgression, much less for a bowler of international repute. At that crucial juncture, the no-ball reflected a careless approach to the task and also spoke poorly of his practice regimen.
Lendl Simmons (83 n.o. from 51 balls) was on a mere 18 in a score of 49 for 2 at that stage. His slash went off the top edge and was superbly pouched at short third man by Jasprit Bumrah. A replay, however, exposed Ashwin’s no-ball and set in motion the events that spelt India’s doom.
Simmons, who had flown in just hours before the match as replacement for the injured Fletcher, belted the ridiculously unimaginative bowling attack with impunity. The couple of times he mishit, the generous no-ball hand-outs, first by Ashwin and later by Hardik Pandya, reprieved him. On another occasion Ravindra Jadeja stepped on the boundary rope in the process of catching and gifted him six runs.
There were plenty of other offerings that Jadeja bore for the West Indies on the day. He, like Pandya, had no clue about where to place his deliveries. True, bowling with a wet ball is akin to bowling with a bar of wet soap. It is precisely for this reason that he ought not have tried to spin the ball. But try he did. And at a pace that came on very tidily for the batsman’s comfort. Charles, Simmons and even Andre Russell (43 n.o. from 20 balls) partook of these free hits with lip-smacking delight.
Pandya looked just as bewildered at bowling with a wet ball and with Ashwin unable to effectively grip the ball, the Indian bowling unit simply collapsed under pressure.
Only the experienced Ashish Nehra, probably used to bowling under similar conditions during Delhi’s winter months, came away unscathed. The fact that he had bowled three of his overs upfront when dew had not yet become a major factor might have contributed to the economy rate of his bowling (4-0-24-1).
On the day Dhoni sorely missed the services of another experienced medium pacer. Lack of choice forced him to go to Pandya (4-0-43-0) and Jadeja (4-0-48-0) even though it was apparent as early as the 10th over that their bowling was a liability in the given conditions.
The fact that Wet Indies won with a mere two balls to spare will rankle the Indian team for long. Were the two no-balls — with its attendant runs, extra balls and free hits — the contributing factor? That’s for the offenders, Ashwin and Pandya, to squirm over.