If you had a checklist of what all India would have wanted to avoid, it is almost a certainty that all of that came true in this game.
Try batting first? We know how that went!!
KL Rahul issue? Came pretty true!
Overreliance on Suryakumar Yadav? Hmmm!
An off day for Ravichandran Ashwin? Okay.
Injury to Dinesh Karthik? Stop now.
This is not what India wanted, especially against a challenger, South Africa. In an ideal world, India would have wanted to test themselves out in the most challenging of conditions. But all of that could go wrong, goes horribly wrong. Having won the toss, it was pretty brave of Rohit Sharma to opt to bat.
There was some spice on the wicket, it was pretty fitting for the South African pace attack to exploit. After two failures, it was a prime opportunity for Rahul to “block the noise” but the reality was far from different. Like Rishabh Pant, it was a project that India wanted to pull off, and had it happened, we would all never be here.
Now, it is where India have a major struggle. Batting coach Vikram Rathour came out and backed the 30-year-old to be the one. Plenty of times over the past year, every press conference has had a question on Rahul but the answer has always remained the same, we back him. On days like Sunday (October 30), you wonder why?
It is days like these that can make you a hero! Or in Rahul’s case, a nightmare for the management. Everyone around you are backing you to the tilt but very often you find yourself in this position of vulnerability. It is almost like you are walking on negative confidence, if there was ever such a thing. With every failure, there is writing on the wall.
South Africa yet again brought up this familiar headache for India. What do they do with him? India have their hands tied, and dropping him during the T20 World Cup is another precedent that they don’t want to set. But they are left with almost no choice at this point.
At 26/2, out came Suryakumar, not for the first time in such a position. Just a week before, he walked in such a tight-roped situation against the arch-rivals, Pakistan. If you politely enquire with Suryakumar, he would consider it as a failure. Well chuck that, his standards are so high, like Kohli’s, that the dip is instantly noticeable.
Despite walking on the tightrope back then, he tried performing a few tricks, which ultimately helped him on Sunday. Tightrope, unicycle, a pace attack that literally was chucking fireball, one after the other. But it rarely mattered. He rode with such zen, putting India in a good position instantly.
Suryakumar’s mantra has been simple: force the opposition to make a mistake by making the first move. Against the Proteas, he made the first move, the second move, chuck that, several of the moves of the day, putting the fiery bowling unit in a spot of bother.
When he walked out, having scored 68, accessed several parts of the ground that fielders learnt about, it was more negative than positive for India. Their reliance, or overreliance in this case, came out true. In more ways than one, it yet again proved the same ol’ point.
At this juncture, you really don’t really need a soothsayer to say such things. You’d think India’s worries ended there, right? I mean, you are partially right. India’s move of batting first pretty much turned out in the worst possible manner. Suryakumar was just a silver lining? Or was he more than that.
Then came the tough part, India’s bowling thus far have been inch-perfect. In fact, there is not a finger that you can raise over how they have performed with the white-ball thus far. Yet again, thus far being the keyword. When South Africa were in tatters, at 3/1, 8/2 and then 24/3, there was a sense of security amongst the Indian fans.
And at the other end of that spectrum were the Proteas fans, who had a few prayers up their sleeve. David Miller and Aiden Markram were just two of them. It was a situation that was perfect for India, given that both Ashwin and Deepak Hooda provided them with the positive match-ups that they were looking for.
Before this clash, chuck that, before the start of the tournament, it was widely expected that the off-spinner would play a crucial role against Pakistan and South Africa. The night was perhaps best made for him, with the Proteas already tattering at 24/3. But then, his form took a hit. A major dip that no one saw coming.
After his first three overs, the off-spinner had just bowled the one dot ball. After four overs, it was five dot-balls but having picked just the one wicket, you wouldn’t be wrong to say that Ashwin failed when India needed him the most. Against a batting type that he would love a second round of a battle.
If you think the misery was somewhere ending. It wasn’t. Karthik, India’s first-choice wicketkeeper limped off the field. In hindsight, India would have never wanted this to happen at the T20 World Cup, against a strong opposition. India could have gone 3/3 and sent out a strong message to the opposition. Rohit would be angry that India never challenged the Proteas enough, in Perth.
Or maybe we are reading too much into it. But either way, all that could go wrong, went wrong for India. The only positive being: it came during early stages of the competition. But the familiarity of the issues indeed might be worrying.