Mumbai: The way he makes on-field decisions sometimes, it can be assumed that MS Dhoni relies on his intuitive powers more than any other reasoning. It isn’t entirely true though, for successfully leading the Indian team for almost a decade takes more than that.
As such, when he discussed the inclusion of Ajinkya Rahane ahead of Shikhar Dhawan for the all-important semi-final, it reflected the thinking behind this move. He talked about how the left-hander has not been able to convert his starts, in turn directly impacting the team totals and heaping pressure on the middle-order.
Then, he added: “If you see, where Shikhar had the edge was in a few games before the World Cup. Other than that if you see the statistics, Ajinkya, in conditions such as the IPL, has been among the leading run-scorers as an opener.”
It is very unlike the Indian skipper to talk about statistics. Generally, he balks at them, saying that “they don’t always tell the true picture”. Here they paint a bright one, telling the truth about India’s World T20 campaign that ended at the Wankhede on Thursday night.
Prior to this event, when India had gone on a run of 10 victories in 11 T20Is, Dhawan’s statistics — 258 runs in 10 matches at 32.23, a strike-rate of 126.47 — were mighty impressive. For the last two weeks, however, that form dissipated resulting in 43 runs in 4 Super 10 matches.
It put pressure on his opening partner Rohit Sharma, whose statistics nosedived as well; from 337 runs in 11 matches to just 45 runs in 4 matches before his 43-run knock in the semi-final.
With Suresh Raina (41 runs in 4 matches) also fighting his demons in the middle-order, the onus on scoring the runs fell squarely on the shoulders of Virat Kohli. He is the only top-order batsman to carry his superlative form from the last two months into the World T20, and has finished with 273 runs in five matches, an overwhelming average of 136.50.
You know what’s more astounding than that?
That the likes of Sharma, Dhawan and Raina, who have earned their reputations on bread-and-butter sub-continental pitches, together put on 172 runs in this tournament. That’s 101 less than Kohli alone.
Now recall their dismissals in the past matches. Sharma preemptively jumped out of his crease to Mitchell Santner in Nagpur, while Raina lobbed simple deliveries to fielders as catching practice against both New Zealand and Australia. Against Pakistan, Dhawan and Raina were done in by the extra pace and bounce of Mohammad Sami. Meanhile, Sharma once again fell to Mohammad Amir, never mind his jibe at the bowler of ‘not being anything special’.
Simply put, the top-order, on whom India depended so much, peaked too early and then didn’t show enough resolve to carry their form into the World T20. Dhawan was perhaps given the license to go all-out in the PowerPlay overs, yet he lacked the tolerance to see out those fielding restrictions and build a start. Sharma got bogged down too easily, given the lack of strike rotation, and it resulted in impatient shots.
For a moment, Raina’s plight can be understood considering that he is not a natural No.4 batsman and had been thrust into the limelight because of Yuvraj Singh’s poor form. It then puts a question mark on India’s 15-man squad then and the rigidity they displayed when picking their first-choice XI through the tournament.
Yuvraj’s selection was obviously down to the good form he showed in the Vijay Hazare Trophy in December last year, with 346 runs in 6 matches at an average of 69.20. In January, during the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 meet, Yuvraj managed only 56 runs in 4 matches (avg. 18.66), not a weighty proof going into the international T20 season.
Still, he served a purpose, bowling 14 overs in 11 matches before the World T20. Dhoni likes to have more than a few bowling options, and it suited his style.
However, this is where the rigidity in team selection comes into play. Against New Zealand, on a turning track where the opposition opted for a spin-heavy attack, India didn’t opt for Pawan Negi ahead of Hardik Pandya. It was the same case in Kolkata, where once again the pitch befuddled the team management.
Even more surprising, Yuvraj didn’t bowl a single over until the fourth group game against Australia. So it can be easily concluded that the move of playing the all-rounder as a stand-alone batsman — who scored 4, 24 and 3 in his first three games — was a failure.
Can it be asked here, if Rahane in the middle-order should have been given an early go? Or, should Manish Pandey have played the whole tournament, and not just come in as a backup for the semi-final?
These are the questions that should haunt the team management – and indeed the selectors – as they begin the postmortem of a tournament that promised so much, and delivered only a semi-final finish. India went in as favourites banking on their top-order, and hoping that their bowling attack would continue its good work.
For three of their five matches, the bowlers didn’t disappoint. In particular, Ashish Nehra delivered a performance that will become synonymous with his six-wicket haul against England from the 2003 ODI World Cup. Only this time, he was a much-experienced bowler, using his guile – and now-famous advice – to help the youngsters through, an able replacement for Zaheer Khan.
Jasprit Bumrah showed a tendency to let things slip with the new ball but his recovery with yorkers at the death promises a great deal for the future. Pandya, on the other hand, bought a little too much into his own hype.
Never mind that final over against Bangladesh, Pandya bowled poorly through the tournament. His pace isn’t suited for sub-continental conditions when he bangs in the short ones repeatedly. That he failed to recover his line and length over five matches shows how the team management, especially the bowling coach, perhaps failed to do his job.
Both the spinners – R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja – held their own until the semi-final. Yes, they failed against the West Indies. It was partly down to dew and partly their own errors – Ashwin with a rare no-ball and Jadeja with his full volleys outside off-stump.
But Indian bowling was never going to win the tournament on its own, against hard-hitting batsmen from around the world who have gotten used to IPL pitches. That this unit carried the team until the last-four, restricting New Zealand, Pakistan and Bangladesh to sub-150 totals, is commendable in its own right.
In the end, however, it came down to one man. Kohli was indomitable in this World T20, and just as in 2014, he couldn’t win the title on his own. Two years ago, in Bangladesh, the rest of batting line-up had failed to support him enough. The same story was repeated this time around as well.
This rings out what West Indies’ skipper Darren Sammy has been saying for the past three weeks. “I have 15 match-winners at my disposal.” Sadly for Dhoni, and team India, they had only one.