174 runs. 82 balls. That was the equation of the fourth wicket pairing between David Miller and Quinton de Kock on Sunday evening. The Guwahati crowd was fully entertained, by both snakes
and sixes, the latter taking over the mood in an awe-inducing manner.
Do the math. Miller and de Kock came together with the score at 47-2 in 6.2 overs. For the next 13.4 overs, they smacked Indian bowling senselessly. That’s 2.12 runs per ball and 13.18 runs per over. 111 of those runs came off the last seven overs – that’s 15.86 runs per over in the death overs of a tall chase. It was staggering hitting, deserving of a win.
On any other day, Miller and de Kock should have won the game for their side. It was a mystifying lack of bowling control from the Indian bowlers. And yet, the Proteas fell short by 16 runs. It was only possible because India had amassed its fourth-highest total in T20I cricket – 237/3.
In a way, yes, Sunday was a death trap for the bowlers. In hot, humid conditions at Guwahati, they were like mere bowling machines. 458 runs in 40 overs – bloodied and gruesome from all the hitting, they might as well have asked the crowd, “Are you not entertained?”
The key differentiation is in the manner of hitting from both sets of batsmen. South Africa’s momentum came only after one-fourth of the innings was done. While the Proteas did score 45 runs in the powerplay at 7-plus an over, when chasing 238, that is simply not good enough. In contrast, you have India’s powerplay hitting – 57 runs in 6 overs at 9 an over.
From the standpoint of a grand 237-run total, even that might not seem enough. But again, the differentiation is in the manner of batting. South Africa was chasing, India was setting a target, and that alone cast a shadow in the latter half of the game. De Kock’s slow pace at the start, impacted by those two early wickets from Arshdeep Singh, dictated South Africa’s loss. In comparison, KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma were unencumbered from the very beginning.
Perhaps, that’s one of the key advantages of batting first in T20 cricket, even if most teams choose not to do so. You can arrive on a fresh pitch and attack from the outset. If it comes off, the bowlers will hunt leather for 20 overs and your team is on the front foot. You can dictate the pace of proceedings, for the chasing side is doing just that – chasing the game.
And this facet of T20 batting underlined the difference between both sides on Sunday evening. South Africa bowlers were already beaten by humidity, and then Indian batsmen ran amok. Indian bowlers were treated the same, but for a small part of the innings, they got on top of the visiting batsmen. The margin – a mere 16 runs.
If beating Australia in a bilateral T20 series at home is the proverbial cake, then beating South Africa for the first time (in a similar equation) is the cherry on top for team India. Four T20I wins on the bounce against two top contenders at the upcoming World Cup, and you can say the Men in Blue are slowly gaining momentum.
While Indian bowling has struggled at the death for some time now, the key positive derived from these twin series’ wins pertains to batting. Since the last T20 World Cup, much time and resources have been warranted to improve this aspect. Finally, the Indian batting is taking shape in the way both the skipper and the coach had envisaged it. Simply put, Sunday’s performance was just perfect, the proverbial blueprint for the upcoming World Cup in Australia.
Two performances stood out. Suryakumar Yadav, of course, for, he is in irresistible form at the moment. Give him 20 deliveries and he will deliver 50 runs for sure – that’s his strike rate and the graph gains vertically the longer he bats. He had reached 50 off only 18 balls and then proceeded to finish with 61 off 22 – a strike rate of 277.27.
It could have warranted a fresh round of debate over whether SKY should bat at number three. But for Virat Kohli himself striking at 175, with 49* off 28 balls. Their 102-run partnership off only 40 balls was no less. If Miller-de Kock provided the finishing touch, SKY-Kohli set it all up. The differentiation, again, was in gaining momentum from the top to the middle.
While SKY is India’s key hope at the World Cup, he would not be able to do it all by himself. He needs to bat with a free approach, and for that, you need the top-order to fire. Rahul and Rohit putting on 96 off only 59 balls was the perfect set-up for SKY to come and play his marauding hand. The manner in which the duo batted, in particular Rahul, makes for some wonderment.
In the initial stages, Rohit attacked the bowling more. As pressure eased off thanks to his start, Rahul slowly came into his own. This free-minded approach is vital for Rahul, for he tends to overthink even when he is at the crease. This is a disturbing aspect of his T20 batting, seen time and again at both Kings XI Punjab and now at Lucknow Supergiants. He tries to do too much, takes too much responsibility and thus ends up shackling his batting style.
It is an over-complication, one that comes through more so when chasing. Batting first, especially with his partner in full flight, liberates Rahul and brings forth his attacking streak. Sunday’s performance was perfect then, both from his individual and overall team perspective, thus highlighting India’s strength and providing food for thought. Should India try and bat first at the World Cup, thus asserting themselves on the opposition and tying up its death bowling weakness?