Right from the 10-wicket drubbing by Pakistan in last year’s T20 World Cup opener, the Indian team has talked incessantly about showing more intent, a fearless approach, and being more aggressive with both bat and ball. But it all came full circle with another meek capitulation in this year’s T20 World Cup with a 10-wicket drubbing by England, the only saving grace being that it came in the semi-finals this time.
Virat Kohli made 57 in 49 balls in last year’s game against Pakistan, and 50 in 40 balls this time against England. Strike rates of 116 and 125 rarely win T20 matches because they extrapolate to a team total of around 150, which isn’t good enough in this format unless it’s on a dicey pitch.
Hardik Pandya’s blast at the end took India to 168 in Adelaide, but even that proved too little on a good batting wicket. England made short work of the chase, getting the target in a mere 16 overs, two overs less than what it took Pakistan to finish off India last year.
The 68 runs India got in the last five overs, thanks to Pandya, showed how tardy they were in getting to 100 in 15 overs (and only 62 in 10 overs). After the early loss of K.L. Rahul, Kohli’s inability to attack the spinners in the middle overs was evident again. The poor form of Rahul and Rohit Sharma also meant that India were unable to take advantage of the powerplay.
England’s bowlers performed as well as they did because they were allowed to. It’s one thing to talk about intent and risk-taking; it’s another matter to put that brand of cricket into action. Skipper Sharma, to be fair, has tried to set an example, but form deserted him. Rahul paid the price for being tentative against Pakistan, South Africa, and England, failing in all those games against the major teams. Kohli chose to play in the old-fashioned mode of an anchor who tries to accelerate at the end. It came off brilliantly in the opener against Pakistan, but getting 28 runs in the last 8 balls only happens once in a blue moon.
India compounded the problem at the top by underutilizing Rishabh Pant. Firstly, they dropped him to rope in a ‘finisher’ on the verge of retirement, Dinesh Karthik, on the basis of a few cameos in the IPL on flat wickets. Then they brought back Pant just before the semi-final, but failed to push the left-hander up the order to attack England’s leg-spinners Adil Rashid and Liam Livingstone. The latter got away with conceding just 41 in 7 overs on a ground with short square boundaries, whereas India’s two finger spinners went for 57 in 6 overs. The whole world knows that wrist-spinners are more effective on Australian wickets, as Rashid and Pakistan’s Shadab Khan have shown. But India did not give Yuzvendra Chahal a single game despite him being a top performer in the last IPL.
More fundamentally, India blundered in leading their attack with medium pacers who rely on swing. They did get some swing at the outset because of the cool and cloudy early Australian summer. But that approach got badly exposed on a batting-friendly Adelaide wicket under a hot sun.
The bounce that Chris Woakes extracted to dismiss Rahul shows the folly in India’s planning for the World Cup. Taller, faster bowlers like Avesh Khan, Mohsin Khan, and Mohammed Siraj were ignored, and the spearhead was Bhuvneshwar Kumar whose habit of bowling expensive 19th overs had already cost India dearly in the Asia Cup.
Kumar got thumped for 25 runs in his first two overs with the new ball to set up England’s chase, just like he was smacked for a four and six off his second and third balls by Mohammad Rizwan in last year’s World Cup. Those who don’t learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them. Finally, India probably need a coach more in tune with today’s T20 cricket than Rahul Dravid.
Sumit Chakraberty is a writer based in Bengaluru.