T20 World Cup: This time, focus on what wins games in Dubai

An out-of-the-box move for India would be to open with the in-form left-hander Ishan Kishan, moving KL Rahul to the middle order. — AFP
An out-of-the-box move for India would be to open with the in-form left-hander Ishan Kishan, moving KL Rahul to the middle order. — AFP

Bengaluru - After defeats at the 2019 ODI World Cup semifinal and the World Test Championship final, will it be third time lucky for India?

By Sumit Chakraberty

Published: Sun 31 Oct 2021, 12:04 AM

With Pakistan winning all their three games in Group 2 so far, the India-New Zealand encounter in Dubai on Sunday becomes a virtual knockout. Both teams lost their opening encounters with Pakistan, but India’s defeat was more comprehensive and it was at this same venue. So, India have more questions to resolve than New Zealand ahead of the do-or-die battle. After getting knocked out of the 2019 ODI World Cup by New Zealand, and again losing to the Kiwis in the World Test Championship final this year, will it be third time lucky for India?


Teams make their own luck by planning ahead. India got undone by the left-arm swing of Pakistan’s Shaheen Shah Afridi, who removed the two Indian openers in his first two overs. In Trent Boult, New Zealand have one of the world’s leading left-arm swing bowlers. But there are three differences with Afridi from which Indian fans can take heart. Boult is six inches shorter, about 10 kmph slower, and the Indians are used to playing him in the IPL. In fact, Indian opener Rohit Sharma faces him in net sessions of Mumbai Indians. So, treat Boult with the respect he deserves, but attack him the moment the ball stops swinging.


An out-of-the-box move for India would be to open with the in-form left-hander Ishan Kishan, moving KL Rahul to the middle order. Boult and his equally experienced bowling partner Tim Southee are at their best when they find their line, length, and rhythm. That’s harder to do against a left-right opening combination, especially when the left-hander gets on the attack pronto, as Kishan has done to great effect in recent games. Playing Kishan would mean dropping Hardik Pandya, who can be a match-winner on his day, but has been struggling to regain form after returning from back injury. It also means doing without the sixth bowling cushion of Pandya, if he’s now fit enough to bowl.


India need wicket-taking bowlers, especially with the new ball. Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Shami have the 140 kmph plus pace needed to take advantage of the Dubai wicket, as Afridi and Haris Rauf have done. That leaves no room for Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who is an exponent of swing with the new ball, but has been trundling at below 130 kmph after returning from a groin injury lay-off. Shardul Thakur, who took three wickets for Chennai Super Kings (CSK) in the IPL final at this venue, would be a like-for-like replacement. Another option would be a third spinner, trusting Shami to get his act together in the death overs. The Kiwis aren’t known for their prowess against spin, except for their skipper, Kane Williamson.


Captain Virat Kohli’s continuing struggle to lift his strike rate in the middle overs makes it imperative to have an attacking batsman at the other end who will have the confidence to use his feet and attack the Kiwi spinners, Ish Sodhi and Mitchell Santner. Both Rahul and Kishan are adept at this, so it works for India whether Kishan opens or plays in the middle order. Pandya is equally good at tonking spin, but his lack of form doesn’t inspire confidence. A second batsman to attack spinners, other than Rishabh Pant, is vital.


Both captains will be looking to bowl first if they win the toss. And this time, Williamson will probably open the bowling with his two main seamers, instead of sneaking in Santner for the first over, as he did in Sharjah against Pakistan. If Santner does come on, hoping to get away with a miserly over, the left-hander Kishan would be the right man to mess it up.

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

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