A fourth century for Rohit Sharma, a sizeable opening partnership, and a Hardik Pandya masterclass in variations of pace helped India overcome its own deficiencies, and the opposition, to seal a semifinal berth. And Bangladesh, which has consistently punched above its weight through the tournament, found its hopes of progressing to the knockouts snuffed out.
Here are the key takeaways:
The politician’s syllogism: It was the BBC political sitcom Yes Prime Minister that introduced us to the logical fallacy that goes: We must do something. This is ‘something’. Therefore, we must do this.
48 hours after a defeat at the hands of England, the Indian team exemplified this fallacy with its choices. At the toss, Virat Kohli said he expected the wicket – the same as was used in the India vs England game -- to wear as the day progressed. Fair call – but if that is the read of the pitch, why drop a spinner and bring in a quick bowler (Bhuvaneshwar Kumar for Kuldeep Yadav?).
Alternately, if Bhuvi coming in strengthens the bowling, why not play to your strength and bowl first – particularly since Bangladesh has already shown, in this tournament, that it is capable of chasing a big score against a seam-dominant attack? Add to this the fact that India had only five bowlers in its ranks, with no sixth option to fall back on, and the call to bat first begins to feel bizarre.
“I love chasing,” Kohli said at the toss the other day against England – and his record in chases beggars belief. Here the choice was his; opting to bat first meant that a team with a shaky, unsettled middle order had to play with the pressure of not being sure what a good target to set on this wicket was.
The chart above makes a point – a bitter one for fans weaned on the notion that India are the best batting side of them all. In this tournament, Bangladesh has outperformed India in every phase of the game. Their batting is clearly their core strength, which is why it made sense to put them in first, so you had an idea of what score you had to chase against a bowling lineup with more weak points than strengths.
The correlation/causation conundrum: The interim between the game against England and this one was full of noise about the short boundary on one side of the Edgbaston ground.
In the hours leading up to the game we heard more about the short boundary – which, according to Kohli, dictated the choice of Bhuvi over Kuldeep, among other things.
When India batted, the short boundary they had been fretting about was clearly very much on their mind. Rohit Sharma was just 9 when, off the fourth ball of the 5th over, he attempted to thwack Mustafizur over that short boundary. Rohit’s pulling is one of the glorious sights of the game; here he looked plain clumsy as he attempted to muscle the ball and was lucky Tamim Iqbal managed to make a mess of a comfortable outfield catch.
In the 39th over, again off Fizz bowling one of his patented cutters, Virat Kohli looked to take advantage of that same short boundary; like Rohit, he overhit the ball and holed out to Rubel Hussain who was fielding in the exact same spot where Tamim had previously dropped Rohit.
Ironically, Shakib al Hasan bowled all his overs from the end with the short boundary. Rohit hit a six off a rare half-tracker from the premier all-rounder, but that was it. Against spin or pace, no batsman managed to profit from that boundary. And to add a coating of irony, Dinesh Karthik was reportedly included because of his penchant for the slog sweep which, it was felt, was optimal for that boundary. In the event, he got to bat with Shakib having just five balls left in his spell; he was beaten once, played out a dot ball, and managed just one run off those three balls.
India did not lose to England because of the short boundary; correlation is not always causation. And, while on this, it is possible to obsess way too much on one thing and allow it to dictate your strategy and tactics – and that never ends well.
Old failings, new fault-lines: There were two bright spots in the Indian innings. The first was an opening partnership of 180 between Rohit Sharma (140 off 92) and KL Rahul (71/85).
From the off, Rohit batted as if he was intent to prove a point. His slow starts have become a talking point, so this time he got off the blocks like a rocket, playing shots against his character – a slashed four behind point early in the power play is just one instance, as was the ugly hoik he nearly got out on. He also played a sufficiency of dreamy drives and easy-seeming front foot pulls. Barring that heavy-handed pulled six off Shakib, his seven fours and five sixes had the ‘vintage’ stamp.
Rahul played as you would expect a person who is perennially unsure of his role in the side – reserve opener? Stand-in number four? Seat-warming opener till Dhawan comes back? – to play. Like porcupines making love: cautiously, reining in his free-stroking instinct, only occasionally providing glimpses of his natural elegance.
Together, they put on 69 in the opening power play – the best for India in this tournament by a distance. Aside: Since I – among others – have been keeping an eye on India’s dot ball issues, the two openers did better at strike rotation than they have in their previous outings, but still managed to play 31 dot balls out of the first 60.
The reason they had a high-impact power play was the shoddiness of Bangladesh’s bowling and fielding. The latter was highlighted by that dropped chance and any number of fumbles; the former by the fact that the bowlers strayed in line and length often enough to allow the openers eight fours and two sixes in that period.
Rohit fell, immediately after completing his fourth century of this World Cup, to the short boundary syndrome; Rahul to the ‘omigawd they’ll be looking at my strike rate’ dilemma, and Kohli, again, to the short boundary the team had internalized like a mantra. And the wheels came off. Hardik Pandya used one bat for one ball, changed it for the second, and used it to tap an angled Fizz delivery to wide slip, giving the bowler his second wicket in the over.
Dinesh Karthik was another victim of the short-boundary mindset, trying to fetch a Fizz delivery angled outside off stump and muscle it over that enticing fence but failing even to clear midwicket inside the ring. MS Dhoni played a couple of cover drives that reminded you of those long-gone good times, but then lapsed into his now regular bad habit: turning down singles (including off the first two balls of the 50th over) under the assumption that he can “make up”, and tamely skying a Fizz bouncer.
The final ten overs produced a mere 63 for the loss of five wickets – a shambolic waste of a great platform.
The bright spark amidst the shambles was Rishabh Pant who, played the role of hustler to great effect. With just two balls under his belt, he played out four dots against Mossadek Hussain, decided he had seen enough, ran down the track and hit the bowler straight back over his head for six. When Shakib was brought back in the 37th, he paddled him for four. When Fizz bowled a double wicket-maiden in the 39th Pant – in defiance of the dogma that you try to rebuild after a blow or two – cover drove the first ball of the 40th, swatted the next to the midwicket fence, and then square drove the ball after that past point. He died by the sword he had lived by (48 off 41 balls), but before that he contributed 23 off 20 to a 43-off-34 partnership with his captain, and 25 off 21 in a 40-run partnership off 33 balls with MS Dhoni.
Bangla’s two and a half bowlers: Mustafizur – 10-1-59-5 -- was outstanding, particularly in the middle and the death where he used his extensive arsenal of variations to deceive Kohli, Pandya, Dhoni and Karthik. Shakib – 10-0-41-1 – is a premium all-rounder, the most consistent in this tournament. He showed why here, working the angles and, despite using the end where the short boundary loomed temptingly close, bowling with economy and control.
Pandya the Judo black belt: The foundational principle of the 134-year-old martial arts form Judo is jū yoku gō o seisu, which its founder the Japanese polymath Jigoro Kano defined as “softness controls hardness.”
In a bowling line-up featuring just five bowlers, the Bangladesh think-tank had clearly identified Pandya as the weak link, and predetermined that they would go hard at him. It says a lot, all of it good, for the street smarts of the young all-rounder that he outthought the opposition – and “softness” was the key.
Pandya’s usual routine is to hit the deck as hard as he can, bowl the permitted two bouncers in each over and use hard lengths for the rest. Here, he used “softness” – in each over, the pace swung wildly between the 140-142 that he tops out at, and the change-down to 120 or lower, and always, you were never sure which was coming. More to the point, he bowled both variants of the bouncer – the quick one and the one with pace off. And always, he anticipated what the batsman was looking to do, and countered it with the appropriate variation of pace.
His first wicket was fortuitous – Soumya Sarkar, who seemed to be finding prime form, got a half-tracker he wanted to commit mayhem on; the over-eager swipe ended up as a simple take for Kohli at cover.
The other wickets, though, were planned and executed to perfection. A 41-run stand off 40 balls between Shakib al Hasan and Liton Das cued memories of their unbeaten, match-winning stand against the West Indies. Pandya had beaten both Das and Shakib with slower bouncers in his previous over; here he bowled the same short length, but at top pace. Das went for the pull, the extra pace meant the ball got onto the bat quicker than he anticipated, and he holed out to midwicket.
The icing was the wicket of Shakib. In the 34th over, Pandya foxed the star all-rounder with a 127k delivery that held on the pitch and produced tennis ball bounce; the next ball was angling in to middle and leg – exactly right for Shakib’s go-to shot, where he steps away to make room and carves behind point. Only, Pandya had dropped the pace even more; Shakib – who by then had gone past his customary 50 and seemed capable of batting forever – tamely patted it to extra cover.
(Trivia alert: Shakib, at the end of his innings of 66 off 74 balls, has 542 runs in this World Cup thus far – two runs behind table topper Rohit Sharma on 544. And he has 11 wickets to go with it.)
Pandya, the weak link, ended with Soumya, Liton, Shakib – three scalps any bowler would be proud to own. And the normally aggressive youngster did it by going “soft”, playing against type, and outthinking batsmen who were looking to out-muscle him.
The chart above tells many stories. Of how the Indian innings lost momentum after the first ten overs. Of how India completely messed up the end. Of how, thanks in part to a Shami slower ball that Tamim Iqbal dragged on, Bangladesh failed to get its usual 50-plus start in the initial powerplay. And, not least, how the weak Indian finish had created an opportunity for the chasing side – one that Bangladesh could not capitalize on because of the Pandya show with the ball and the consequent loss of the batsmen most capable of seeing such a chase home.
There was a glimmer of hope for Bangladesh when Shabbir Rahman and Shaifuddin produced a 66-run partnership off just 56 balls for the seventh wicket, but Bumrah snuffed it out by taking a leaf out of the Pandya playbook and producing a straight, good length ball at about 25k less than his normal speed. Shabbir misread the pace and swiped all over it to lose his middle stump.
In the 48th over, Bumrah went the other way and produced a fast, reverse-swinging yorker onto the base of Rubel Hossain’s middle stump. The extent of pressure India was feeling at that point was evident when the bowler, not prone to displays of emotion, cut loose with an Oedipal expletive more familiar to his captain. He then produced another searing yorker, next ball, to destroy Mustafizur’s middle stump and seal a 28-run win, leaving Shaifuddin stranded at the other end on 51 off just 38 balls.
Among other things, this meant that Mohammed Shami, whose 8 overs at that point had gone for 61 – 17 in his 7th over, 11 in his 8th, and 7 in his 9th – was off the hook.
That was the story of this match: It was about India wriggling off the hook it had impaled itself on.
NB: If this analysis tends to focus on India’s deficiencies despite its win to seal a semifinal spot, it is precisely because India is in the semis. The men in blue have one more game to work out their kinks – from then on, follies and foibles of this sort could spell finis to the “Do sau gyaara dobara” dream cooked up by the marketing mavens.