Lessons unlearned

Team India’s current misadventure in the ongoing in the T20 world cup in the Caribbean seems to be a case of “those who do not learn from history are bound to repeat it.” In the 2009 T20 world cup in England, the Indian batsmen’s inability to handle sustained short-pitched bowling was severely exposed by West Indies and England.  India were unceremoniously booted out of the 2009 tournament in the super eight stage, having put in a meek effort. As always, there was a big outcry over the new line of India’s young brigade that could not handle the short ball but was soon forgotten as the attention turned towards the more traditional formats of the game and then, eventually, IPL 3.

The teams selected for the 2009 tourney and the 2010 are virtually the same, even the shoulder injury to Virender Sehwag. Although, it is possible that the Indian selection committee may have been influenced by the recent matches in the Caribbean, which had featured slow and low pitches, similar to the ones you typically find in the Indian subcontinent, where the Indian players would feel right at home and it is tailor-made for their front foot, hit through the line type of stroke play.

In all fairness, India came in to the super 8 stage of the tournament on the back of 2 very convincing victories, against novice Afghanistan and a pretty good South Africa. It must be noted that these games were in St. Lucia where the pitch was on the slower side. However, India ran in to a rampant Australian side that seems to have figured out the T20 format, finally, and has a group of players, some of them with specific skills for T20 (Warner, Nannes, Tait to name a few) and a solid core of veterans (Clarke, Husseys, Johnson, Watson) . The fact that this match took place on a pitch that provided the most bounce of all Caribbean pitches, Kensington Oval, Barbados,made it doubly hard for India. (At this point, I would like to point out double standards of some people – Those that complain that Indians struggle on bouncy pitches but quickly disregard any good wins India may score on a turning pitch against a top notch team like Australia. It takes as much cricketing skills to win on square turners as much it does on bouncier ones).

I am still puzzled about the choice by MS Dhoni to opt to field first, after winning the toss. Australia’s batting is deep and giving them a free reign without the pressure of a run chase, did not seem like a good idea then, and the fact that MS Dhoni did it again in the WI match is beyond me. That was first of many tactical mistakes made by India. MS Dhoni has used YK Pathan to bowl within the power play and instead of throwing the ball to him, he opted for Ravindra Jadeja which irreversibly shifted the momentum to the Aussies. Another misstep by Dhoni was to give a second over to Jadeja, right after he was hit for 3 sixes in his first over and he promptly went on to dish three more.

The composition of the team also brings up a few question. Why opt for part-timers when you have a specialist spinner in Piyush Chawla? If the idea was to lengthen the batting line up, Jadeja coming in at #8 is as good as Harbhajan or Chawla at #8. As luck would have it, Jadeja dropped two crucial catches (one in each game) off Watson and Gayle, although both were slightly tough chances.

I am positive that its just not Indians who have trouble against fast, short-pitched bowling. In the T20 format, where the teams need to get a move on, no matter the situation, any batter could be troubled by it. Its to Australia’s advantage that they have 3 bowlers capable of bowling at more than 90 mph and have the height to exploit the bounce in the pitch. WI had Kemar Roach, Jerome Taylor and although Darren Sammy is not fast, could still extract disconcerting bounce with his height.I am not trying to make excuses for Indian batsmen but just stating the facts. If India were to have tall bowlers, I am sure they could have troubled the Aussies too!

The disappointing aspect of the two losses is not that India lost or the batsmen had a tough time, its the fact that none from the top order had the stomach for the fight. Considering, a bowler can only bowl 1 bouncer an over, the top order needed to absorb the barrage of short balls and hold the inning together by not losing too many wickets in the first 6 overs. The batsmen tried to pull their way out of trouble (which isn’t their forte) and played right in to the hands of the opposition. Only Rohit Sharma put up a fight in the game against Australia and Dhoni against WI. In spite of all their problems, India got within 50 runs of Australia’s total with 3 overs to spare and 30 runs of the WI total with 2 overs to go. Wickets in hand, India could have certainly won one of the two games.

If anything, after the game against Australia, India needed to bat first after winning the toss. With the bouncer bowling expected, the idea for the top order should have been to not lose wickets early. A specialist spinner or a pacer should have been picked instead of Jadeja.

Still, not all is lost. Thanks to the bashing of Sri Lanka by Australia and a dispirited effort by WI against Sri Lanka, India still can get to the semifinal if they beat SL tomorrow (by a good margin) and expect the Aussies to lend a helping hand. Of course, this opens the door to the question: Do we even deserve a spot in the semis? That sort of question (as seen on twitter and TV shows) is ridiculous. Its not about how you get there.. All that matters is, whether you get there!

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