Just 112 runs to win in 96 balls with all 10 wickets in hand — on Tuesday night at the Dubai International Stadium, Hong Kong were cruising towards the biggest upset of this decade, if not this century. Thanks to that Herculean effort by their openers Nizakat Khan and Anshuman Rath they had the game covered despite chasing 286 to win. But in the end, their inexperience cost them.
Nevertheless, a 26-run victory against a team which doesn’t even have ODI status should be considered as a disappointing day in the office for the Indians. Initially, prior to the Pakistan game, this particular fixture was being perceived as match practice by the entire cricketing fraternity. Everyone expected India to finish the formalities as quickly as possible so that they could preserve their energy for Wednesday’s high-profile clash against Pakistan.
But cricket never ceases to amaze us.
Indian bowlers had to fight out of their skins to bail the team out from a difficult situation. Even till the 45-46th over, Hong Kong seemed to be in the game.
Meanwhile, this spirited effort has not only stunned the tournament favourites and given them a nice little wake-up call, but it has also highlighted a few vulnerable areas in this Indian squad.
At first, while batting first, Indian batsmen dominated proceedings till the 40th over. The Hong Kong bowling looked very harmless and the batsmen faced no difficulty negotiating it. But, despite the odds being in their favour, the batsmen played very conservatively. After 40 overs, India were 237 for two, maintaining a run rate which was less than six.
Here one can argue that as the opponent was Hong Kong, Indian batsmen were a bit complacent to put in the extra effort. But over the years, this conservative approach has often been a problem for India in limited-overs cricket. They depend heavily on the likes of MS Dhoni, Hardik Pandya and other finishers for a strong flourish in the last 10 overs. And when it doesn’t come off, things can look a bit ugly, like it happened on Tuesday when India managed to get only 48 runs in the last 60 balls of their innings and finished at 285 instead of 320.
Now let’s focus on the bowlers, who were wayward for the most part.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who is making a comeback in the team, looked rusty. With the new ball, he did not seem to have any rhythm. His partner, debutant Khaleel Ahmed, too found it difficult to make an impact early. He was hit for two boundaries in his second over. And the third seamer Shardul Thakur was just pathetic with his line, length and discipline, giving away 41 runs in the four overs he bowled. He bowled a ten-ball third over that had three free hits and eventually cost 17 runs.
After 12 overs, Hong Kong were cruising at 77 for no loss.
Then, a desperate Rohit Sharma turned to his spin duo of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal to bring some sanity back to the proceedings. But they were equally unimpressive, at least at the start of their spells and both were negotiated very sensibly by Nizakat and Rath. Desperate for a breakthrough, the skipper then introduced part-timer Kedar Jadhav, but he was dominated by the batsmen.
The India spinners took a lot of time to understand the right length as well as pace for that slow track. Initially, either they were too full and hit down the ground. Or they were too short, which allowed the batsmen to place the ball in the gaps over the in-field.
Finally, when the spinners sorted out their lengths, things started to happen. Though they couldn’t bowl Hong Kong out, they somehow managed to win the match, much to the relief of many fans. However, a team with a better technique and more experience of handling quality spin wouldn’t have left the game drift after getting that 174-run opening stand.
From the Indian point of view, this match should be treated like an eye-opener. The schedule in this Asia Cup is very cramped and by the end of this week, they will play three more matches. Hence, if they don’t improve quickly, other teams will expose their weaknesses.