A typical Virat Kohli innings; a late order Hardik Pandya innings; a last gasp Dhoni blitz and a Mohammed Shami seam masterclass combined to dump the West Indies out of the 2019 edition of the World Cup. Here are the main talking points:
Big Brother Is Watching You: “Cricket,” wrote John Arlott back in the day, “is a most precarious profession. It is called a team game, but in fact, no one is so lonely as a batsman facing a bowler supported by ten fieldsmen and observed by two umpires to ensure that his error does not go unpunished.” That was then. Today you have the third umpire, the technology-empowered Big Brother, to add to the batsman’s paranoia.
At the halfway mark, ‘not out’ was a globally trending topic on social media. During the break, host broadcaster Star lined up a dozen former Indian players who – no surprise – unanimously declared that Rohit Sharma was not out.
It happened in the 6th over. Kemar Roach bowled one just back of good length on the line of fourth stump and made it bend in to off; a tentative Rohit went half-cock forward pushing down the line. The ball jagged back through the gap between bat and pad; the appeal for caught behind was turned down on the field, but upheld on review. And there lies the problem – bat and pad were fairly adjacent; the visuals suggested that the ball nicked the bat’s inner edge and the pad’s knee roll.
Hot-spot showed an incriminating murmur as ball passed bat – but was it off bat or pad, was the hotly debated question, with the consensus – emphatic in the commentary box, even more emphatic from Rohit Sharma’s wife, whose reaction was played on endless loop, and virulent on social media – was that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to overturn the on-field umpire.
I think it was out; I think, too, that the problem lies in the way frames are frozen when using the hot-spot. The third umpire asks for one frame at a time. But for clarity on such close ones, showing the entire hot-spot line from the moment the ball approaches the bat to the moment it passes the batsman would, I suspect, be more useful. In this case, from the same evidence, I thought the ball nicked bat, and brushed pad – a full line on the hot spot would have helped show two spikes. Or not.
Basics never go out of fashion: Why Sheldon Cottrell, who with the full length found swing at pace to take out two New Zealand wickets in his first over, would go back to the shorter length is a mystery – and why he didn’t take his cue from his opening partner Kemar Roach is the sort of thing the analyst on the outside can never figure; surely commonsense suggests that bowlers talk to each other?
Cottrell, and a totally off-color Oshane Thomas, went for 113 in 17 overs. Against that, Roach first, and then Jason Holder, on a pitch that had little or nothing in it for them bowled at a few clicks under their top pace; they held the line down the channel, the height on the ball calculated to hit the top of the stumps. The results spoke for the efficacy of the old-fashioned virtues of line and length: between them, they bowled 20 overs for 69 runs and took five wickets, and their lengths held the secret – Holder bowled 58% of his deliveries on length in the channel; Roach was even better, bowling 63% on that length and line.
The drip-drip of dots: Old Trafford has biggish boundaries. During the initial powerplay, the bowling side has to defend all that acreage with just two fielders; between overs 11-40 you have a maximum of four fielders. You would imagine that a great batting side – and everyone keeps saying India is a great batting side – would cash in, judiciously going over the top early to force alterations in field placement and the bowler’s lengths, and then work the singles in the gaps that open up. But no – India seems to adhere to the mantra of batting in second gear till the very end.
There are 300 legitimate deliveries in an innings; in India’s, 163 of those went unscored of. Commentators are fond of saying that the impact players will “make up” at the death – but you can’t “make up” for missed opportunity, you can merely mitigate some of its negative effects.
The Muddle In The Middle: Teams appear to have figured out the key to India’s batting: get one of the openers out in the first ten; get either the surviving opener, or number three Virat Kohli, out before the 20th, and expose the weak underbelly of the lineup.
Once Holder, with his almost perfect length, got through the defense of a steady, but not authoritative, KL Rahul, India’s Achilles Heel was cruelly exposed. For all the talk of his “talent” – a quality that, till date, is more hyped than displayed – Vijay Shankar in current form looks a misfit at number four, his principal problem being that he does not seem unable to rotate strike.
The third wicket partnership was worth 28 runs; 14 came from Kohli off 14 balls; Shankar scored 14 off 19. Looks ok, till you consider that 12 of Shankar’s runs came off 3 fours, which means that off the other 16 balls, he managed just 2 singles – the kind of batting that can frustrate the batsman at the other end. And frustration showed, vividly, when the number four nicked off to Roach – Kohli, at the other end, slammed his gloves down on the ground and looked ready to self-combust.
And then there is MS Dhoni, who today came behind Kedar Jadhav in the order. In the last over of the Indian innings, MS began with a six to midwicket off Oshane Thomas; refused two singles; smacked ball four to the long off boundary; played out another dot; then finished the innings with a pulled six over square leg. Typical of the “finisher” we routinely exalt – but the problem lies in what came before.
MS came out to face the last ball of the 29th over; Virat Kohli was out off the second ball of the 38th over. The 57 deliveries produced 40 runs. Virat scored 21 off 25 balls faced; MS just 17 off 32 deliveries faced. What the statistics don’t show is how often he played a succession of dot balls, took a single off the last ball, then played out more dots while Kohli was marooned at the other end.
Consider the phase of play just before Kohli overhit a half-tracker from Holder to midwicket: The 24 balls between overs 35 to 38 produced just 14 runs. This, remember, is the phase you are looking to accelerate, particularly if you were scoring at under five in the early phase. Holder in the 37th cost three. Dhoni started with a dot, then a single; Kohli took a single next ball; Dhoni played out two dots and took a single last ball. Next over, Fabien Allen – who had been comfortably handled in his first spell (5-0-34-0) – started with two dot balls to Dhoni; then a single; Kohli took one off the fourth ball; Dhoni played out two dot balls. 12 balls, of which Kohli faced two and scored two while Dhoni faced the other 10 for 3 runs.
That was the sequence leading into the 39th over. Holder’s first ball was superbly picked from outside off to the deep midwicket boundary with the trademark Kohli wristwork; the next ball was a half-tracker that Virat, feeling the pressure of having to keep the board moving, hit out at and found midwicket well inside the circle.
Tell me that the lack of momentum at one end did not contribute to the wicket at the other end (and pretty much the same situation prevailed when Hardik Pandya walked out at the fall of Kohli’s wicket, forcing him to play uncharacteristic shots to change the momentum), and I’ll sell you the Brooklyn Bridge, cheap.
Not to make too much of a to-do about any one player, but merely to make the point that reputations don’t win tournaments – performance does. And Dhoni’s current performance, coming on top of the problems with Shankar and Jadhav, can prove costly at the business end of this tournament. (In passing, remember the 52-ball 28 against Afghanistan in the previous game? Dhoni could have been gone for 8 off 15 today, if Shai Hope did not, off one ball, twice fumble a stumping with Dhoni so far out of his ground he did not initially even try to get back).
The bright spot was Virat Kohli, who played in a way that mocked the struggles of his mates. Everything that can be said about a Kohli innings has been said umpteen times; the graphic encapsulates his all-round game. In 33 ODI innings thus far, Kohli has scored 1912 runs against the Windies – only Javed Miandad has scored more (1930 runs, in 64 innings).
When the score was 37, Kohli got to the 20,000-run mark in international cricket. It took him 417 innings to scale this mountain; Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara, who got there before him, took 453 innings each to get there. Enough said?
There’s something about Shami: Bhuvaneshwar Kumar bowled beautifully earlier in the tournament. When injury put him on the sidelines and Mohammed Shami took his place, Bhuvi would have expected to walk back in once fully fit.
Good luck with that – Shami, on the back of his hat-trick in the previous game – produced a masterclass today. He beat both edges of Chris Gayle and turned him inside out, then took him out with a short ball that induced a panicky pull and a tame catch to mid-on. An over later, he produced the classic quick bowler’s delivery – full, straight, swinging in late and going right through Shai Hope’s attempted drive to hit the top of off.
It was the seam position that had fast bowling greats Michael Holding and Ian Bishop salivating in the commentary box: As it comes out of Shami’s hand, the seam couldn’t be straighter if he had used a plumb-line. And what that does is helps with both swing in the air and both-ways movement off the deck.
They used to say of the Clive Lloyd-led West Indies that it did not matter if the batsmen didn’t get runs; whatever they got, their quartet of fast bowlers would get the opposition out for less.
India is now that team. Its score, after winning the toss and batting first, was if anything about 30 runs under par – but it didn’t matter. Shami produced the early magic; Hardik Pandya’s slower ball trapped Ambris in front; Kuldeep teased out Nicholas Pooran; Kohli and Chahal conspired to knock over Jason Holder, with the captain putting a fielder on the edge of the circle at extra cover and asking the bowler to get Holder driving. Yessir, done. In no mood to let the game drag on, Kohli then turned to Bumrah, who promptly got Brathwaite – at the venue of his heroics in the previous game -- nicking off for MS to hold diving to his right and, with his very next ball, trapped Allen in front.
The story of the Windies implosion can be told through the partnership figures: 10 for the first wicket; six for the second; 55 for the third between Ambris and Pooran; 9 for the fourth; 18 for the fifth; 9 for the sixth; 0 for the seventh… Never mind, point is, at no stage where the Windies allowed to get a toe in the door.
It was surgical in its precision: Shami made the two crucial incisions (and, just for fun, came back to take out the Shimron Hetmyer, the last of the recognized batsmen left standing and Oshane Thomas the last wicket to end the match); his mates ripped through the rest.
With two matches left to play and just three points to their name, the West Indies are out of the tournament. India, with 11 points in six, are now the only team to remain undefeated thus far. They have England, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka coming up, and even one win in three puts them in the semis.
Seems like a golden opportunity to work on that middle order before the death matches begin.
PostScript: The cricketing gods have a sense of humor – and they love to rub it in. Rohit Sharma at slip reeled in a sharp catch off last man Oshane Thomas. The on-field umpire’s soft signal was out; on the review, the third umpire overturned it. Sharma’s wry grin said it all.