“We lost because of playing bad cricket for 40-45 minutes,” said a dejected Virat Kohli after India’s semifinal loss to New Zealand by 18 runs.
The captain’s disappointment notwithstanding, the plainly stated fact is the “bad phase” could have come at any time, to a team that depended on its top three to win matches.
In the group stage of this Cup, the top three has scored 64% of the team’s total runs – with Rohit Sharma outscoring the other two by a large margin and, in the process, breaking Kumar Sangakkara’s record of most centuries in single edition. What Rohit’s record-breaking five centuries disguised, though, was the fact that he was dropped 5 times under 10 runs. Each time, he cashed in with scores of 50+, most often converting those into centuries.
KL Rahul was slow to begin with. He played with a strike rate of 57, the worst in this tournament for an opener who has played a minimum of 300 balls. This put the onus on Rohit to ensure that India did not lose momentum during the Powerplay.
Virat, playing an unaccustomed role of anchor, was not at his best in the CWC 2019, though he did score 443 runs. He played two crucial knocks -- 67 against Afghanistan and 72 against the West Indies -- in conditions where batting was not cakewalk.
Insipid Middle Order
Through the league, India always had Rohit or Kohli to steer the innings till the end. In the semifinal, though, those two were bundled in single digit scores, and inevitably, the middle order – which till then had found themselves at the crease after 32 overs – were exposed as early as the 4th over.
Among the teams who qualified for the semifinals in CWC 2019, India’s middle-order batting average is the worst and the below stats is a testament of it
The early exit of the top order meant that Hardik Pandya, who is at his best when stroking freely, had to play against his natural instincts. He added 47 for the 5th wicket with Rishabh Pant, but it took an unusual 78 balls. Pandya played an uncharacteristic innings off 32 (62 balls), looking uneasy in the unaccustomed role of having to anchor the innings. All of it testified to the absence of balance in the side.
The elephant in the drawing room was MS Dhoni, one of the all-time great finishers in the game. When he walked in, India was 71/5 and that soon became 92/6. At one end, Ravindra Jadeja was playing the innings of a lifetime, stroking with freedom on both sides of the wicket and rattling up 77 off just 59 balls.
His partnership with Dhoni produced 116 runs, and put excitement back in the game and hope among the Indian fans – but while Jadeja was batting freely at one end, Dhoni contributed just 32 off 45 balls, in the process playing out 20 dot balls and then getting himself out in a desperate bid to make something happen. Kohli said in his post-match conference that Dhoni played behind Karthik and Pandya in the order because that was his assigned role – but alongside India’s problems with a malfunctioning middle order is the equally big problem that Dhoni is no longer the finisher he once was.
Injuries to Shikhar Dhawan and Vijay Shankar made matters worse for the team, forcing them to keep fiddling with the batting order. Kohli had called Shankar the complete package – but in the two games he did play, it turned out the package was pretty much empty of promise. It was only after the semifinal that India’s coach Ravi Shastri said the team needed a good middle order batsman; what is unclear is why the coach did not think of that before the team left for the tournament.
The other inexplicable factor is the role of Kedar Jadhav, who played in six of India’s league games before being replaced by Dinesh Karthik. It appeared as if the Indian management was not quite sure what its expectations were from Jadhav – he was dropped after a very slow innings in the chase against England, but the offie with the unusual action had taken 9 wickets in 10 games against New Zealand and might have given Kohli a better option that Karthik, who in this tournament scored a grand total of 14 runs after facing 34 balls.
Indian pacers were in top-notch form
One positive that India can take from their campaign is the solid performance of the Indian speedsters. After Bhuvneshwar Kumar pulled a hamstring in the game against Pakistan Mohammad Shami stepped into the breach and, in the four games he played, picked up 14 wickets with an average of 13.78, the best among pacers who have bowled a minimum of 150 balls.
In the match against West Indies, he swung the ball to remove Shai Hope with a ripper and then bounced Chris Gayle and Shimron Hetmyer out. He also took wickets at regular intervals against England to restrict them to 337, and ended with match figures of 5/69, thereby becoming only the fifth Indian pacer to pick a five-wicket haul in World Cups.
Jasprit Bumrah is India’s diamond. In 10 matches, he has conceded runs at 4.41 RPO, the most economical for a fast bowler who has played a minimum of 5 matches. His true value was as India’s bail bondsman – whenever India was in trouble, Kohli went to him, and he obliged with key wickets irrespective of the stage of the innings, as for example the two wickets he took against Bangladesh when, on 225/6 chasing 315, India’s eastern neighbor looked likely to hand Kohli’s men an embarrassing defeat.
The Indian spinners didn’t have a good outing though, especially Kuldeep Yadav who played 7 matches and could manage only 6 wickets, at an abysmal strike rate of 67 balls per wicket, the worst among all bowlers in the Indian lineup. This was a complete turnaround for a bowler who, heading into the World Cup, had notched up 55 wickets in 36 innings.
A team with glaring weaknesses, India did far better than expected in reaching the semifinal and, in fact, topping the league table. But it is precisely in knock out games that vulnerabilities become pronounced, and that was the case for India.
Now it faces the task that loomed before England after the 2015 World Cup, of rebuilding the side in its entirety – particularly since it is hardly likely that Dhoni, Dhawan, Rohit, Bhuvaneshwar and Shami, to name just a few, will be around for the next World Cup.