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Was it really a win for India?

Last updated on 04 Sep 2023 | 08:02 PM
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Was it really a win for India?

Sloppy fielding, poor bowling and other issues cannot be masked despite India progressing to the Super Fours of Asia Cup 2023

Three dropped catches in the first 26 balls of the innings, sloppy fielding and poor bowling – Rohit Sharma did not have a moment to smile in the initial stages of the match against Nepal. It was tipped to be an easy fixture for India, given how Pakistan rolled over Nepal, but the Asia Cup debutants made the best of their lives and, in the end, put up a competitive total on the board.

The Indian skipper won the toss and opted to have his bowlers have a go in the tournament, bowling first, as they were denied a chance after the entire second innings was washed out against Pakistan. It was a scratchy performance from the pacers in the initial stages of the innings, largely by Mohammed Siraj, who had not bowled in a competitive game since the Port of Spain Test against West Indies in July. 

In fact, his bowling partner Mohammad Shami had not played a single game since the World Test Championship (WTC) in June, yet he showed better control and accuracy. 

Siraj has been a revelation in ODIs, especially in the powerplay, where he has taken the most wickets (26) at an economy rate of 4.3, but today, his four overs in that phase against Nepal cost India 24 runs. Things could have been very different had Virat Kohli held on to a sitter off Siraj’s first delivery. It would have been the perfect return to international cricket after a small break, but it wasn’t to be.

While he eventually picked up three wickets, conceding at an economy rate of 6.5, Siraj was too stubborn to adjust his lengths and continued to bowl short. Kushal Bhurtel, earlier in the innings, used the pace to perfection and pulled the ball over the fine-leg fence on more than one occasion.

In fact, when Siraj bowled back-of-length or short, the batters scored at a whooping strike-rate of 227, which ideally should have been a warning sign.

But when he pitched it up, he fared a lot better. In the four balls preceding Gulsan Jha’s dismissal, Siraj went short against him. A ball before the southpaw’s dismissal, Jha continued to stay on the back foot and cut Siraj, but the fielder at backward point stopped a certain boundary. Siraj then sensibly went full outside off, and Jha edged it to Ishan Kishan. 

Rohit’s frustration was evident when he ran up to Siraj as if to say, "Why aren’t you bowling more of that?"

In fact, if there is any consolation to Siraj, the rest of the fast bowling unit, too, did not ball full enough for some reason. Collectively, when they bowled short or back of a length, they conceded at a strike-rate of 166. 

What India would have loved is to have Jasprit Bumrah roll his arm over for a few overs in this game. Now, when he returns, it will be in a high-pressure Super Four encounter without bowling a single delivery in the group stages.

However, there were a couple of tick-offs for India in this game. Shubman Gill had single-digit scores in five out of his previous nine white-ball innings and will be glad to get some runs under his belt. Ravindra Jadeja’s bowling performance, too, was a huge positive. Before this game, the left-arm spinner has picked up just six wickets from seven innings in ODIs since 2022, but he outshone Kuldeep Yadav with three vital strikes.

Against Pakistan in the first game, we saw Kishan and Hardik Pandya step up and rescue India, and now we have had the openers Rohit and Gill get among the runs, going into the business end of the competition. Also, KL Rahul’s imminent return for the upcoming matches is certainly a bonus for India or a headache. 

Siraj and his fellow fast bowlers would hope that their ‘one poor game’ is over and they can enter the next stages of the Asia Cup sharper. Bowling yorkers have become a rarity these days, especially for the Indian pacers. They have bowled only 5.5% deliveries in that length to tailenders (8-11) in ODIs since 2022. 

Their focus has been bowling back of a length to batters 8-11 of late, and have not fared well. 

Even against Nepal, they let the last four wickets get 84 more runs as they barely bowled yorkers to the tail, allowing them to put up a total that would give their bowlers something to defend. India certainly need to improve on that front, and Bumrah’s return could certainly change that. 

The same goes for their fielders too, who have dropped 49 catches in ODIs since 2022 – as many as the West Indies have in this period. While today’s drops did not prove costly, they very well could in crucial encounters, say, in a must-win match in the World Cup. 

Just ask Herschelle Gibbs!

While India may have won by 10 wickets, there are a few wrinkles they would want to iron out before the World Cup. A glance at the points table would say that they have indeed progressed to the Super Fours, but the problems persist with the World Cup just a month away. They potentially have seven ODIs and a couple of warm-up games ahead of the mega event to do so.

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