By now, most of you would have recovered from the many palpitations experienced during the Super 10 Group 2 match between India and Bangladesh at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru last night. Humdinger, nail-biter, thriller, you name it, because there is no dearth of words to describe what was a great Twenty20 (T20) game that the ICC World Twenty20 2016’s hosts, India, won by a mere run and thereby kept themselves in the hunt for a place in the last four.
In hindsight, it is not hard to admit that Bangladesh gave it away and proved their ineptitude against the big boys, once again. Chasing 147 for their first victory of the group stage, they stayed on course for much of the game. Even when they needed 11 off the last over, to be bowled by Hardik Pandya and with Mushfiqur Rahim and Mahmudullah at the crease, you would have fancied the Bangla Tigers to get over the line. And then, having brought the equation down to two runs from three balls, very few could have not trusted Bangladesh to win. But in the end, they found a way to lose and India would be mighty relieved about remaining in contention for a place in the world T20 2016 semifinals.
Looking at it from their perspective, though, ahead of Sunday’s showdown against Australia at Mohali, why do they have huge improvements to make and concerns to address despite last night’s win against Bangladesh?
At the outset, it is important to remind ourselves that India have now won 12 of their last 14 T20Is – an absolutely stunning record. T20 is such a mercurial format, which can change in an over or even in a matter of balls and therefore, is hard to produce consistent results in.
But India, like they did in the home series against Srilanka in February, have returned to winning ways straight after losing to New Zealand in Nagpur in their first group game of the sixth edition of the T20 world cup. That is a positive because it tells you about the character of the side, taking into account the manner of the victories as well, against Pakistan and Bangladesh. Both of them were high-pressure games that India simply had to win after the ignominious 47-run defeat suffered against the Blackcaps. And, ultimately, they hung in there and bailed themselves out of pressure-cooker situations.
If I was a part of the Indian think-tank, though, I would be concerned about the three, continuous batting failures in conditions which are by no means foreign to Indian batsmen. I would also be particularly concerned with the openers failing to provide the team with good starts. Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan have not only consumed a lot of deliveries in the three games but seldom looked fluent as well. And it has not been a case of the bowling being extraordinary and hard to score against. Yes, of course, the conditions have made the task of free-scoring players, which Rohit and Dhawan are, tough. But the Indian openers simply have to do better and alleviate the excessive pressure being put on Virat Kohli, who has had to steady the ship in all the three games India have played so far.
Now, against Bangladesh, India very nearly ousted themselves from the tournament by playing on a poor pitch. The cricket season in India, which began last October, is fast approaching its end, and the pitches have gotten slower. But I just wonder if there is an intention behind not leaving grass on the surfaces. At Nagpur, the ball turned square, Eden Gardens shocked every one of us with the vicious turn it offered and Bengaluru was hardly any different either.
Contrary to popular belief, India’s batting is not as strong as it appears. Kohli is the only one who is exuding any sort of confidence and a level of control, which no other Indian batsman except Dhoni maybe, has shown so far in the three games. And all three Indian opponents have bowled to the conditions and consequently, forced the Indian batsmen to work extremely hard for their runs.
The victory against Bangladesh was delivered by the Indian bowlers, who did extremely well to keep their side in the game even when the required run-rate had dwindled to just over six runs (60 from 54) with nine overs to go. Some of you might point to the fact that the pitches have been slow and India have quality spinners – Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja – to exploit the pervasive conditions.
But I can tell you, it’s not easy, especially when you do not have too many runs to play with. India set Bangladesh a target of 147, and Mashrafe Mortaza’s side needed just 7.35 runs-per-over from the very beginning to win the game. Bengaluru is renowned for being a good chasing ground because of the relatively small boundaries and a lightning quick outfield. Taking the aforementioned factors into account, it truly was a magnificent performance from the Indian bowlers. Not to forget Dhoni as well, who rung in the changes that worked out for him and India. The decision to bowl Ashwin in the 13th over of the Bangladesh innings proved to be a masterstroke, with the off-spinner dismissing Shakib Al Hasan and keeping India in the game. The Bangladeshi southpaw was striking the ball well and was threatening to take the game away from India, but his wicket at that stage was indispensable.
Like Pakistan, Australia do not have many spinners in the first place and are unlikely to trouble the Indian batsmen as much as the Blackcaps and Bangladeshis have managed so far. The Mohali pitch had a good covering of grass too, for the game between Pakistan and New Zealand on Tuesday night. Those are good omens for the Indian batsmen, who can play their natural game and make themselves heard on the world’s grandest stage. Overall, India have their bowlers to thank for keeping them in the tournament by delivering a one-run victory against Bangladesh in Bengaluru last night.