A team can come up with its best but still end up on the losing side. India got everything right in their semi-final clash against the West Indies. They posted a target of 192, formidable by Twenty20 standards, the top order came good for the first time, the magnificent Virat Kohli survived two run-out attempts in a single ball miraculously and delivered a stellar knock yet again, running between the wickets was fantastic and India had the destructive Chris Gayle back in the dug-out early.
Everything that should go right in a match was going right for the hosts. The fans could not have asked for more.
With so much going India’s way, they could not have anticipated the heart-break that was in store. The stunned silence in the stands in the end said it all. Cricket can indeed be cruel.
Now, did we really do everything right? Seen from the perspective of the match, the answer would be 'not really'. The total of 192 was below par on a pitch where 229 was chased down with ease. We were at least 30 runs short. We ran those brilliant twos, but the other team replied in fours and sixes. Our top order fired but in the hindsight, didn’t fire well enough. It could have done much better in terms of run rate on an easy wicket. Coming to the bowlers, those of West Indies were in far better control than the Indians. Only the experienced Ashish Nehra stood out.
On a pitch which has been favourable to sides chasing targets, losing the toss was the first setback for India. They have been chasing well in this tournament and would have loved to do it again at the Wankhede. However, knowing the nature of the pitch, they should have aimed at a higher total. Was Rahane’s 35-ball 40 poor batting given the circumstances? Was Rohit’s 31-ball 43 too slow? Perhaps yes. Both could have done much better since they understand the pitch much better.
‘India restricted to 192’ may sound funny but that is exactly what the West Indies managed to achieve. Their bowling revealed greater maturity and better planning given the conditions. That the Indian batsmen were running for those desperate twos and the occasional three meant they were not getting too many balls to clear the boundary. But for Kohli’s masterclass India would have ended with a far smaller total.
While India's batting didn’t measure up, the bowling too faltered. It has been a fragile bowling attack always, depending heavily on the odd brilliant performance of a couple of them. When R Ashwin, skipper Dhoni’s go-to man on every occasion, failed to weave his magic on batsmen it was all but over for India. Jasprit Bumrah was brilliant in patches but patches are not what the team needed. Someone one must ask the question whether Hardik Pandya is good enough to be bowling at this level. Ravindra Jadeja is another story. When they failed, they failed together.
It’s clichéd but it has to be told: the better team won. Those who have been viewing the recent success of West Indies through Chris Gayle only must take note. They are a complete team with competent players. They managed without Gayle's contribution. Had Lendl Simmons not been lucky with those no balls, they'd have still outdone India. While it was a credible team performance for India too, the Windies proved to be several notches higher.
Here’s something for India to ponder. The pecking order in T20 cricket has changed. England, New Zealand and the West Indies have now emerged as superior teams. They come much higher on the scale of collective ability. All of them have found their own formula for success in this format while India appears jaded in their approach.
It’s heart-break time for all. It should be introspection time too.