World T20: Don't blame Nagpur pitch for loss, India batsmen are not good against spin any more
Setting aside the debate on whether this was actually a good pitch for a T20 match, the much-vaunted Indian batting line-up must be kicking itself for not reading the signs when the Black Caps were batting first on Tuesday
Well, that is one way to describe India's capitulation against New Zealand in the ICC World Twenty20 opener. But that word has another association when it comes to Nagpur.
For the second consecutive international cricket match in Nagpur featuring India, the 22 yards in the middle is hogging the limelight. Remember the recent series against South Africa? Remember the Twitter outrage by former cricketers over the rank turner that the curator had provided?
Remember the ICC labelling the pitch 'poor'?
Well, that Test match saw Virat Kohli's team win the Test series against the-then No. 1 ranked team solely because India had the better spinners compared to South Africa. In a five-day match — well, three days like that Nagpur Test — the gulf in quality of spinners will undoubtedly come through. And just as the case was for most part of that Test series, India's batting in Nagpur was only marginally better than South Africa's.
As captain MS Dhoni said halfway through his post-match news conference in Nagpur, it's 'amazing we are talking more about Test cricket' after a crushing loss in the World T20 opener.
Not without reason too. The truth of the matter is, contrary to conventional wisdom, Indian batsmen have long since stopped being excellent players of spin. In fact, Kohli kept repeating over the course of that Test series to not blame the turning tracks for dismal batting from both sides and that the Indian batsmen were actually playing bad shots. Spin is no longer the great ally it once was for Indian batsmen. That's the reality, and the harshness of it was made evident in the 47-run defeat at the hands of Kane Williamson's New Zealand side on Tuesday night.
Setting aside the debate on whether this was actually a good wicket for a T20 match, the much-vaunted Indian batting line-up must be kicking itself for not reading the signs when the Black Caps were batting first on Tuesday. When Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja, of all people, were getting the ball to grip, rip and bounce, one should have known that batting won't be an easy task.
Given that, the way Rohit Sharma and Co set about chasing down 127, did not amuse Dhoni. There should have been some amount of caution exercised. After all, not so long ago on a green track in Pune, India paid the price for reckless batting against Sri Lanka. Poor shot-selection came back to haunt the hosts in Nagpur just like that night in Pune. And they capitulated against New Zealand on Tuesday just like that other night in Cuttack when South Africa dismissed them for 92 — India's previous lowest T20I total on home soil.
Shikhar Dhawan played a nothing sweep to Nathan McCullum first up and from then on, Mitchell Santner took over, mesmerising the batsmen with his orthodox left-arm spin. Rohit Sharma stepped out and then was too lazy to return to the crease despite a fumbling wicketkeeper, Suresh Raina once again perished to a leading edge, and Yuvraj Singh did not try to hang around for too long either. As long as Kohli was around, though, there was hope — and plenty of it — but he too fell for a rather loose shot outside off stump against the impressive leg-spinner Ish Sodhi.
It was a procession.
"I think there were quite a few soft dismissals from our batsmen. There was no partnership at all," said Dhoni after the match. "When you’re chasing 125 or so, we all knew the wicket was slightly on the slower side but the good thing is that we restricted them; I think 140 would have been a par score on a wicket like this. I think the bowlers did a good job. It was the batting department which could’ve done slightly better. We lost one wicket every alternate over and once the top order gets out like that, it becomes more and more difficult."
Fair assessment of the batting, no doubt. But it is also worth pointing out here that on a pitch where New Zealand spinners combined for figures of 11-0-44-9, the more seasoned Indian spinners went for 12-0-74-3. Ravichandran Ashwin never fully recovered from the two sixes he conceded in the first over and Ravindra Jadeja was so seemingly perplexed by the turn on offer that he lost his line, bowling four wides in the process. Dhoni's thumbs bore the brunt of his indiscipline. That Raina was India's best spinner on a rank-turner played a significant role in the outcome eventually.
The bigger surprise on the night has to be the New Zealand spinners thoroughly outperforming their Indian counterparts, and immense credit must go to Williamson for picking three spinners and leaving out the likes of Trent Boult and Tim Southee.
For India, this is a wake-up call. 79 all-out is not how one would expect tournament favourites to begin their campaign.
And going forward, the Indian think-tank would do well to be careful what kind of pitch they wish for.
Here's how Twitter reacted to India's defeat, with over 300K tweets with #INDvNZ and #WT20 during the match.
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