India rode on Virat Kohli’s 55* (34) to come out on top against Pakistan, who lost to the Men in Blue in a world cup game for the 11th time in their history. India’s six-wicket victory on Saturday night keeps them in the hunt for a place in the last four, which was under huge threat, though, after the mammoth, 47-run defeat to New Zealand in Nagpur last Tuesday. MS Dhoni’s devils are currently in third position in the Super 10 Group 2 of the ICC World T20 2016, with Bangladesh and Australia still to play against.
India’s defeat to the Blackcaps came as a shock to the entire cricket world. The world T20 2014’s finalists got a taste of their own medicine and could not even put up a fight – when chasing 127 for victory – against a side that has little experience in India’s spinner-friendly conditions. In hindsight, however, why getting the New Zealand game out of the way, despite the damaging defeat suffered, can prove to be a good thing for India?
When you look at India’s Group 2 opponents, it is they, along with New Zealand, who are the most balanced sides. Hosts India are hard to beat on their own den and came into the world T20 2016 on the back of 10 wins from 11 Twenty20 Internationals (T20Is). The most conspicuous aspect about the current Indian T20 side has been the reliability exuded by their bowlers. That has been the biggest improvement they have made since losing the T20I home series to South Africa by 0-2 late last year.
New Zealand, who many cricket fans and pundits alike felt would struggle without Brendon McCullum and find it hard to thrive in spinner-friendly conditions, have played brilliant cricket so far and are showing why they are a force to reckon with. They have loaded their squad with spinners – Ish Sodhi, Nathan McCullum and Mitchell Santner – who have already delivered the goods for their side, especially in the win over India in Nagpur, where together they picked up nine Indian wickets. Most of their batsmen are good players of spin and have the Indian Premier League (IPL) experience to go with it too. That is why Cricfooty suggested New Zealand as a genuine contender for this edition’s T20 world title, and Kane Williamson’s side could well go the distance, like they did at last year’s ICC World Cup 2015.
You can expect India to have it a little easy in their upcoming games against Bangladesh and Australia. Pakistan probably let themselves down – and played it into India’s hands – by playing just one specialist spinner on a dry, turning Eden Gardens pitch. But Shahid Afridi’s side are bowling-heavy and their batting does not really strike fear in the opposition captain and bowlers’ minds. You can hardly say the same about New Zealand.
Bangladesh have a good squad too, and in Shakib Al Hasan and Mahmudullah, they have two players who will be really vital to them going past the Super 10 stage of the sixth edition of the ICC World Twenty20. The problem with Bangladesh is their inability to handle pressure. They have produced some worldie moments in the last year or so, beating India and South Africa in bilateral series at home and getting to the final of the Asia Cup just before T20 world cup commenced. But when the pressure cooker is on, can they transcend their game? It is doubtful, to say the least. They have a good team spirit with Mashrafe Mortaza as their captain, but find it hard to control their emotions.
Coming to Australia, they have plenty of power-hitters right through their batting order, starting from David Warner to Mitchell Marsh, who bats at No. 6 or 7. But are they a complete T20 side as New Zealand? If you ask me, I would say their bowling lacks the venom to trouble good batting sides. Josh Hazlewood is the spearhead of their bowling attack with no one to really back him. Hazlewood himself, would not enjoy bowling in these conditions, where he cannot expect the ball to move around in the air or off the seam. From India’s perspective, Australia would not worry me as much as New Zealand. And the evidence is already there: the Blackcaps have won their games against the Men in Blue and Australia, in their first two Group 2 fixtures of the Super 10 stage.
Another reason why India can be relieved of having already played New Zealand, is the nature of pitches they seem to be getting.
The Nagpur pitch overwhelmingly assisted the spinners from both teams and India, given their incompetence against international spinners in recent years, could not stand up to New Zealand spin trio’s efficiency. They fell like nine pins, exuding total ambiguity in tackling N McCullum, Santner and Sodhi.
The Eden Gardens pitch was similar to the Nagpur one, though very few expected it to assist spin as much as it did. And Pakistan did not have quality options to hit India with spin. Afridi is one of the best spinners in the T20 format, but he is not the sort of spinner who turns the ball a long way on any pitch and from that perspective, can be easy to smother.
Bangladesh will relish playing on a pitch similar to the ones the hosts have played in their first two games. But it remains to be seen if Shakib, Arafat Sunny, etc. can do the kind of damage New Zealand did to India, who they play at Bengaluru on Wednesday. We will wait on that one!
Talking of spinning options, Australia do not have many either. Ashton Agar, Adam Zampa and Glenn Maxwell are their primary spinning options, who are not wicket-takers but can do a containing job. And importantly, they do not know how to exploit the pervasive conditions in India, where the cricket season is fast approaching its culmination, having started in October with South Africa’s tour of India. The pitches, therefore, are not going to get any quicker. If anything, they are only likely to slow down further, as we head into the ninth edition of the IPL.
Taking into account the aforementioned reasons, India, who have a history of starting slowly in major tournaments, could well benefit from playing New Zealand first. It has, I would say, given them a leeway to recover, which they might not have had otherwise.
This article does ‘not’ say India will win their remaining two games in the group, against Bangladesh and Australia, who have limitations in their squad, unlike New Zealand. The suggestion, however, is that India might be able to recover from their damaging defeat to New Zealand last Tuesday, as the other three teams do not have the same kind of balance, nor the wealth of spinning options, as the Blackcaps. India still have to play well and especially bat better, in order to progress into the semifinals of the world T20 2016.