When left-arm spinner Imad Wasim came on to bowl the second over of the Indian innings in Birmingham, everyone watching was perplexed. It was a 10:30 am start (local time), under grey skies, and with Mohammad Amir getting some movement at the other end, it only made sense to bowl pace from both ends using the two new balls.
Forget the end result — India won by 124 runs — for a moment. Just focus on what happened in the first ten overs, or even 9.5 overs, for that is when the rain intervened. Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan put on 136 runs for the opening stand, in keeping with what has been happening in the other matches. Bangladesh got off to slow starts against England and South Africa, New Zealand did the same against Australia, and then the mighty South African line-up too struggled against Sri Lanka — all following the same template.
There is an intriguing trend noticeable at the 2017 Champions Trophy. Despite the 10:30 am start (local time), early movement from pace bowlers is noticeably absent. The tracks have been on the flatter side yes, but in England there is always an element of swing. There have been the odd times when the ball has moved indeed, mostly in Birmingham, where the pitches so far have provided equilibrium between bat and ball.
So, we have seen that sides batting first have taken it slow and then gone on the offensive. Is this a trait that could play into India’s hands once again? While most teams are focussing on the strategy of keeping wickets in hand, the Men in Blue basically thrive on this facet. The key element herein is Virat Kohli again, for the no 3 batsman is a class apart and helps build the innings, whether coming in early or in the middle overs.
Prior to this tournament, Kohli wasn’t in the best of form, as seen during the Australia series and then in the IPL, wherein he was laid low by injury. He had one hit in the middle during the preceding week, and it showed in how his timing was off for a majority of his innings on Sunday. So much so, he ate up deliveries and finally had to admit giving strike to Yuvraj Singh.
“I could not go for the big ones because it was tricky. We went off about four times. And we came back in, and so as a player who likes to play the long innings, till the end and usually plays like that for the team, it becomes very difficult to find momentum every time you come back. And all you've got to do is play yourself in again. When Yuvi came in, we didn't go back out again,” said Kohli after the win.
In this scenario, Kohli did what he does best, and that is running between the wickets. For once, Rohit’s run-out was not due to a mix-up between the two, rather a technicality. And so, the Indian skipper batted in a laborious manner to score 45 not out off 57 balls. Thereafter, he smacked 36 runs off 11 balls. The change about came through sheer willpower, and brute force obviously, as he deposited Hasan Ali for a six over long on.
Let it be said here though that Kohli didn’t really carry India to a match-winning score. That was down to mostly Yuvraj Singh, and partly to Hardik Pandya. The former blew the Pakistan attack away with some destructive hitting, after being dropped, while the latter simply deflated them.
It would be easy to say that India won owing to the opening stand giving the innings a stable foundation, or even down to the middle-order smacking Pakistan to every corner of the ground. Rain too had a major say in things. But let it also be said here that India’s strategic ploys had a fair share of adventurism about them. It was different from the kind of decisions former skipper MS Dhoni made.
They were bizarre, mindless even but most of them worked out the way he anticipated them. The bottom-line being it was tough to explain some of his decisions, and would often leave those listening afterwards perplexed. Kohli’s decisions have a conviction about them, and bear a well thought-out reasoning even if not successful.
First, there was the simple matter of leaving out Ravichandran Ashwin. “We felt the extra pacer can be used better in these conditions,” said Kohli.
Secondly, the inclusion of Yuvraj was fairly obvious, given how he had been brought back for this particular tournament. And third, it wasn’t easy promoting Pandya ahead of Dhoni.
“It was a collective decision. We discussed this in the middle, and everyone in the dressing room agreed that sending out Hardik at that stage was the right thing to do,” the captain explained afterwards.
India didn’t enter this tournament as favourites, but showed enough reasoning on Sunday that they are a contender to defend their title. They achieved this through boldness in thought process, and conviction in execution of the same plans, succeeding in a high-pressure big game against the arch-rivals.
Perhaps Sri Lanka too will not test them, much like Pakistan, but sterner battles lie ahead (read: South Africa), and a potential semi-final clash with England/Australia (as of Tuesday). Kohli and company would do well to replicate the blueprint they set against Pakistan in the beginning of their title-defence.
Updated Date: Jun 07, 2017 08:44 AM