Indian plans go up in smoke

02-04-2016
DH

India had a near perfect build-up for the World T20. MS Dhoni and company began their preparations with three T20 Internationals against Australia on absolute shirt fronts, winning the series 3-0. Soon after, they hosted Sri Lanka for another three-match series on a mixture of surfaces and clinched it 2-1, before embellishing their prospects with the triumph at the Asia Cup (played in T20 format).

Having gotten into the T20 groove, India were the overwhelming favourites to win the tournament in their familiar environs. Their batsmen were in prime form and bowlers were in fine rhythm but even the best laid plans can go wrong. Look at West Indies; they hadn’t played a single T20 International this year and they were just coming off an ugly pay dispute with their Board (WICB). Not an ideal build-up to a tournament of this magnitude but they are still alive and kicking in the event. The contrasting fortunes of these two countries, in a way, also reflect the fickle nature of the format.

India did manage to put behind the defeat in the first match against New Zealand by winning the next three matches en route to semifinals but in each of those wins one could sense certain vulnerability, especially when it came to batting. The only time they came close to being convincing was against Australia following a nervy win against Pakistan and a lucky escape against Bangladesh.

The batting relied heavily on Virat Kohli who was instrumental in two of their crucial wins and nearly did it for them in the semifinals. Despite their trump card, R Ashwin, not being at his best, the bowling remained impressive until they ran into a brick wall called the West Indies. Though a hitherto lacklustre batting sprang to life on Mumbai’s belter, the bowling came apart in hostile conditions; perhaps giving weight to the harsh assessment that the Indian batsmen are good only on flat tracks and that their bowlers can’t be effective on such pitches.

“I think the spinners had some assistance, but as the dew came in it became difficult for them to turn the ball,” said MS Dhoni when asked if Indian bowlers are less effective in less helpful conditions.

“The seam gets wet and the surface becomes a bit greasy so it comes on to the bat nicely. I feel we have seen that our spinners do struggle in conditions like these. If you remember, in one of the T20 World Cups we were knocked out because of one bad game (against Australia in 2012 in Colombo) and in that game there was a bit of dew … or I don’t remember, maybe it was rain that got the ball wet… so that’s where our spinners find it difficult. It was quite evident. Ash (Ashwin) only bowled two overs, (Ravindra) Jadeja we were forced to bowl the last quota of his overs otherwise he would have only bowled three overs,” he explained.

That in three of India’s five matches, Ashwin – Dhoni’s biggest weapon in the run up to the tournament -- couldn’t complete his quota of four overs (he bowled a total of 15 overs in five matches) highlighted India’s problems in crunch situations, especially when they encountered slightly better batting conditions.

Asked if he thought of bringing Ashwin to bowl in the death against the West Indies, Dhoni replied in the negative. “No, it was not in my mind looking at (Andre) Russell and the big hitters and the amount of purchase there was on offer,” he said.

“That was not the best time for him to bowl. When the wicket is turning, I like to take that gamble of keeping a few overs of the spinner so that if needed, I can make him bowl, but if not, I don’t have to waste it.”

The rub of the green too wasn’t in India’s side in the semifinal. It began with Dhoni losing toss at a venue where dew was going to have a big say while bowling second. Lendl Simmons, whose unbeaten 82 trumped Kohli’s 89 n.o., was out twice but on both occasions bowlers had overstepped. Having ridden a massive stroke of luck against Bangladesh, India, however, had little reason to complain about luck.


How did the Indian cricketers fare in the T20 test? Here’s our report card...

Rohit Sharma (3.5/10): His 31-ball 43 in the semifinal against West Indies notwithstanding, the opener managed no more than 88 runs in five hits (average 17.60 and strike 107.31), failing to provide strong and solid starts.

Shikhar Dhawan (3/10): After managing just 43 runs from four matches, the opener was dropped from the side for the semifinal, highlighting his struggles. Like Rohit, failed to provide momentum at the top of the order.

Yuvraj Singh (5/10): Though not fully convincing, his partnerships with Kohli against Pakistan and Australia were important and his three overs (when he dismissed Steven Smith) against the latter were equally crucial. Injury spelt a premature end to his run but was useful without being spectacular.

Suresh Raina (4/10): A fighting 30 against Bangladesh in a low-scoring affair and three wickets saved the southpaw from total embarrassment. Much was expected from his bat but managed just 41 in four innings.

MS Dhoni (8/10): Did a decent job with the bat and his running between the wickets with Kohli showed how fit the skipper is even at 35. His wicket-keeping stood out (four catches and as many stumpings) while he was super cool with his captaincy in crunch situations before West Indies and the conditions blunted him a bit.

Virat Kohli (9/10): He is the number one batsman in the side, then there is daylight and then there are others. A tally of 273 runs (staggering average of 136.50 and a strike rate of 146.77) from five innings is a testimony to his consistency. Won two matches on his own and nearly set-up a semi win.

Ravindra Jadeja (5/10): The all-rounder had his moments, especially with the ball, but couldn’t deliver in crucial junctures. His bowling and batting against Bangladesh proved useful.

Jasprit Bumrah (5/10): The paceman was India’s find of the year but that aura took some beating in World T20. He struggled to get his yorkers right and couldn’t prevent the flow of runs. His dismissal of Chris Gayle was his biggest moment of the event.

Manish Pandey: The Karnataka batsman can’t be rated as he didn’t get a chance to bat.

Ajinkya Rahane (4/10): The right-hander, replacing Dhawan, managed a sedate 40 that helped India get off to a good start but struggled to accelerate despite spending long time at the crease.

Ashish Nehra (7/10): The veteran paceman was easily the best Indian

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