T20 World Cup: India must keep high hopes alive

Bengaluru - The 66-run victory over Afghanistan made their net run rate positive



By Sumit Chakraberty

Published: Fri 5 Nov 2021, 12:31 AM

India kept the high hopes of their fans alive with an emphatic win over Afghanistan on Wednesday. The 66-run victory made their net run rate positive. If they can produce similar margins of victory over two minnows — Scotland and Namibia — their net run rate could overtake those of Afghanistan and New Zealand. Then, if New Zealand lose to Afghanistan or Namibia, India could qualify for the semifinals despite losing badly to Pakistan and New Zealand. That’s a lot of ifs, but at least it keeps fans engaged.

SCOTTISH CHALLENGE

Scotland were having a horrendous time in the Super 12 until Wednesday when they were on track to beat New Zealand halfway through their chase of 173 in Dubai. Earlier, their pace bowler Safyaan Sharif struck twice with the new ball. Fellow pacer Brad Wheal also chipped in with two wickets. So they do have the capacity to unsettle India, who will be returning to the scene of their batting debacles, Dubai. The Scottish challenge may get a further edge if they win the toss and bowl first against India, because it’s another evening game where dew will play a part.

FEARLESS, BUT NOT RASH

India’s opening partnership of 140 against Afghanistan was brilliant, especially in the way that Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul were able to attack the deadly leg-spinner, Rashid Khan. Afghanistan captain Mohammad Nabi blundered by starting with two overs of gentle off-spin and left-arm spin, instead of pace. This allowed the Indian openers to get off to a flyer, before batting conservatively to reach 91 in 11 overs. It’s only in the last nine overs that India escalated the run rate to reach a mammoth 210. This seems to be the right template on the pitches in Dubai and Abu Dhabi where too many wickets have fallen to the new ball. Skipper Virat Kohli’s exhortations to be brave have to be tempered with eschewing rashness in the early overs.

STARTING WITH RAW PACE

Admittedly it was against a weaker opposition, but India’s start with the ball was just as effective as their batting. Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami, bowling at over 140 kmph, reduced Afghanistan to 17 for 2 in the first four overs. This was a far cry from the gentle medium pace of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who began proceedings against Pakistan and spinner Varun Chakravarthy, who opened the bowling against New Zealand. It has been evident from watching the Indian Premier League (IPL) that genuine fast bowling can exploit the uneven bounce and movement on the greenish wickets in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. It’s a pity India got this right only in the third match.

THIRD SPINNER

Even against a struggling Afghanistan, rocked by the loss of early wickets, Hardik Pandya and Shardul Thakur gave 54 runs in five wicketless overs, an economy rate of nearly 11. It seems clear that slow-medium stuff will not cut it on these pitches, especially at night with the dew. Unfortunately, India’s selectors have not given the team a third speedster who can bowl at over 140 kmph. The best option now may be to replace Thakur with a third spinner, especially as Pandya is also bowling. Chakravarthy has lacked bite on the Dubai wicket. But wrist-spinner Rahul Chahar could exploit the bounce to take wickets, as Adil Rashid of England, Adam Zampa of Australia, Ish Sodhi of New Zealand, and Shadab Khan of Pakistan have done. Besides, Scotland are more used to medium pace than spin.

BATTING ORDER

Kohli made the smart move by dropping down in the batting order after the big opening partnership against Afghanistan, tacitly acknowledging his inability of late to lift his strike rate in the middle overs. That would be the right play against Scotland too, unless a wicket falls early. India’s hopes stay alive only with a big margin of victory to raise the net run rate.

Sumit Chakraberty is a writer based in Bengaluru. Write to him at chakraberty@gmail.com


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