“We experienced 45 minutes of bad cricket, and that put us out of the World Cup.”
Virat Kohli had a crisp and clear assessment of India’s failure against New Zealand in the semi-finals. Chasing 240 for a win and spot in the finals of the mega event, India wilted under trying circumstances to be bowled out for 221.2
Kohli was talking about the top-order collapse which had India at 5/3 inside four overs. A boisterous blow from which India seemingly never recovered. The top-order collapse has proved to be India’s undoing in all of their big matches in the last four years. Be it the 2015 World Cup last-four match against Australia or the 2017 Champions Trophy final against Pakistan.
But should we easily buy into the assessment put forward by Kohli? Wouldn’t that be brushing the problems with India’s batting on the day or in general under the carpet? Wouldn’t that be an oversimplification of India’s loss?
Yes, India had a terrible start against New Zealand at Manchester, yet they had Rishabh Pant, Dinesh Karthik, Hardik Pandya, MS Dhoni, Ravindra Jadeja and Bhuvneshwar Kumar in their ranks to get to the end of the chase. All capable wielder of the willow.
The big games are very little about the difference in the quality of the sides. The ‘smaller’ teams don’t generally make it to the big stages. The big games are more about handling the pressure, making the right decisions and proper application.
It was here that Kiwis beat the South Asian giants. Both sides went into the match with enviable bowling line-ups which spit fire with the cherry in the hand. The batting made the finer differences.
Manchester as a venue dished out runs in this World Cup. Just in the previous game at Old Trafford, both South Africa and Australia managed over 300 runs. But the semi-final track was not going to play according to the expectations. And Kiwis read it early and better than India.
The slow nature of the track turned the semi-final into a battle of attrition. It was more like Test cricket. The two-day stretch due to rain delay just added the poetic touch.
"It was a test match feeling almost, being not out overnight and having been a little bit restless. But we talked yesterday about 240 being a competitive total,” said Ross Taylor after the win.
The Kiwi batting brigade outscored their opponents by not scoring the runs. As broadcaster Mark Nicholas revealed on Wednesday morning, New Zealand’s 46.1 overs innings on the previous day was loaded with 150 dot balls. Henry Nicholls, Kane Williamson and Taylor ate up a lot of deliveries in the middle overs but the worth of it is now in gold. Most importantly, what they managed was to avoid a collapse in middle overs after Indian bowlers tasted early success.
Williamson and Taylor’s partnership in particular where 65 was added in 102 balls made for a frustrating and baffling display. The intent was questioned. But the pair knew what they were doing. There was no need for flashy drives, instead grit, gumption and gallant was required and they had plenty of it.
On the other hand, after early blows, India’s rebuild work kept hitting roadblocks with the middle-order that comprised of Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya being lured in by the dark forces to play the big shots and make mistakes as the pressure of dot balls mounted.
Pant and Pandya needed to follow the Williamson-Taylor blueprint but they relied on instinct. One would say, they were playing according to their nature but the biggest stages demand controlled aggression at times. One would say, Pant and Pandya are no match to Williamson and Taylor but one earns his salt by defying the odds.
After a horrible start of 5/3, India compounded their misery with rash shots and reduced to 92-6.
One of the dismaying facts of the semi-final clash was India’s decision to make MS Dhoni bat at No 7. The veteran has been guilty of over-stretching chases on occasions in this World Cup but his wicket has always been a tough task for bowlers.
He may not hit you through the line, but you won’t be easily able to get through his gates as well. With an ODI average of over 50, Kohli and Co for some reason, kept Dhoni waiting in the dressing room till they were left with no other option.
Dhoni at a No 4 or 5 would not only have arrested the collapse but could also have dragged along his partners, rescuing them from succumbing to the guilty pleasure of hitting big shots.
“In a run-chase like this, you cannot send a batsman like Dhoni at number 7. He could’ve come to bat early and batted the entire innings. Then we would have had Jadeja, Pandya and Karthik, whose contribution in four and five overs have been immense in the past. He (Karthik) struggles only when he has to begin the game from scratch,” Former India captain Sourav Ganguly said in his post-match analysis.
In a 240-run chase, with patience being the virtue, Dhoni was the ideal guy to pull the strings, with Pandya being the power-hitter to set fire to the rain in death overs. But Kohli had other ideas.
Explaining the decision after the match, Kohli said Dhoni “was given this role of playing with the lower order after the first few matches”.
But that’s incorrect. The only three matches in group stages where Dhoni did not bat at No 5, against West Indies, England and Sri Lanka, was for the reasons that India either wanted quick runs in middle overs or the finish was a formality.
The only positive thing about India's batting on the day was Ravindra Jadeja’s fighting knock of 77. But it did bigger damage, it gave us hope and the promises were not delivered.
In this World Cup, India gave us hope and the promises were not delivered.