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T20 World Cup: Failings in power-play, opening partnership, choice of spinners contribute to India's semifinal exit

Ravi Shastri, the former India head coach, would say on-air, "That’s high. It’s over Virat and England win. They have given India a real hammering here." Thursday was the night where nothing went India’s way, right from the toss to Buttler and Alex Hales making their bowling attack look toothless.

The sinking feeling of India going down in the knockouts of a World Cup was back all over again. But the 10-wicket thrashing at the hands of England at Adelaide on Thursday, will take a long time to recover from for the Indian team and their die-hard fans. In their wildest imagination, no one would have ever thought that India’s campaign will come to an end this way.

Surely, the tide was looking to be different for India till it ended up in an all-familiar fashion. Visuals of India going down at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 2015 ODI World Cup semifinals or at Old Trafford, Manchester in the 2019 edition, or the hammering by West Indies in 2016 T20 World Cup semifinals began to cross the mind as Adelaide annihilation became a foregone conclusion.

India had arrived in Australia in early October, on the back of winning 26 out of 35 T20Is since their early exit from the 2021 T20 World Cup. They had a new captain, new head coach, a new ultra-attacking approach with the bat and playing practice matches in Perth as well as Brisbane to adapt to the conditions sounded extremely logical to end a nine-year wait for a World Cup.

But when the main tournament arrived, the attacking approach with the bat just evaporated, especially in power-play. It was just sheer luck or brilliance of Virat Kohli, Suryakumar Yadav and bowlers that India were able to mask the poor starts in power-play as well as lack of solid opening stands.

KL Rahul had fifties against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. But when tested by stronger bowling attacks like Pakistan, South Africa and England, his scores read 4, 9 and 5, respectively apart from 9 against Netherlands.

Skipper Rohit Sharma did not fire with the bat in the tournament. Though he made 53 against Netherlands, it was a scratchy effort. With other scores of 5, 15, 2, 15 and 27, Rohit often fell while playing his favourite pull shot towards fielders in the deep.

With Rahul not being in his free-flowing self, Rohit was stepping up to be the accelerator and fell in the process of doing so. It was no different in the semifinal, Rahul giving a simple catch behind off Chris Woakes and Rohit pulling in the deep off Chris Jordan.

Opening partnerships between Rohit and Rahul have been generally formidable, averaging 46.26 with five hundreds and 15 fifties. But in T20 World Cup, there was not a single fifty-plus stand. Their highest stand was just 27 against Zimbabwe whereas the other stands were 7, 11, 23, 11 and 9. India’s run rate for opening stands was just 4.98, lowest in the tournament and behind 5.58 of Netherlands and 6.27 of Afghanistan.

Rahul’s indifferent form and Rohit’s diminishing returns meant India never made great use of power-play as the top-order had never in it to challenge quality bowling attacks. Granted that the bowlers were calling the shots majorly in the first six overs, but being conservative, instead of looking to take the attack, badly hampered India.

In power-play run rates for 2022, India scored at a high 8.59 per over in bilateral series. But in Asia Cup 2022, it went down to 8 per over, before plummeting to just 6.02 per over in the T20 World Cup. Both Rahul and Rohit were out four times each in power-plays this year.

Rohit’s strike-rate in T20Is this year was at a high 142.4, before going down to only 106.4 in T20 World Cup. Rahul, who played T20Is from Asia Cup onwards after recovering from injuries, had a strike-rate of 129.1, which became 120.8 in the showpiece event.

India’s batting was largely carried by Kohli, Suryakumar Yadav and to some extent, Hardik Pandya. Both Kohli and Suryakumar accounted for 52.97 per cent of runs scored by India in the T20 World Cup while Hardik brought out finishing fireworks in the last five overs to carry India from 100/3 in 15 overs to a sub-par 168/6 against England.

Against England, India were never allowed to rebuild quick. As Buttler employed spinners Adil Rashid and Liam Livingstone, India’s batting just never looked to break free in the middle overs, resulting in India’s top-three making 82 runs off just 73 balls. The conservative approach meant their overall average also went down in the tournament, to just 29.71, compared to 32.79 in bilaterals and 37.75 in Asia Cup.

With the ball, in the absence of Jasprit Bumrah and Ravindra Jadeja, India relied big time on Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Arshdeep Singh to make use of swing in power-play. It did work majorly, but were unable to do so against Bangladesh and England, twice at the Adelaide Oval.

But if one were to look in closely, India missed a high-pace enforcer like Bumrah to build pressure post power-play and also a potent wrist spinner to give vital breakthroughs in the middle overs. It is a phase where England, Pakistan and South Africa capitalised on to get/continue solid partnerships.

Australia is supposed to be a place where wrist-spinners thrive, evident from someone like Adil Rashid or Shadab Khan thriving. But India curiously didn’t play an experienced Yuzvendra Chahal at all, going in for finger spin of Ravichandran Ashwin and Axar Patel.

Barring matches against Netherlands and Zimbabwe, Ashwin and Axar has overall figures of 1/169 in 17 overs at an economy rate of ten runs per over. Axar, deemed as a like-for-like replacement for Jadeja, went for 8.62 runs per over, and took only three wickets. Chahal, on the other hand, was warming the bench and becoming the host of ‘Chahal TV’ digital show.

Despite a team full of heavyweight superstars and hosting the most competitive T20 league in the world in form of IPL, the quest for a World Cup slipped away from India yet again. All the jazz about embracing of new T20I approach with same personnel as in 2021 and being proactive with tactics/matchups was reduced to being a footnote when it was needed the most.

With 2024 edition of T20 World Cup in West Indies, its high time that India catches up with the rest of the world in approaching T20s with a progressive way, even if it means wholesale changes in personnel. Otherwise, being regressive in an ever-evolving format will give you the same heartbreaks again.

<br>–IANS

nr/akm

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