India have just dropped their opening Super 8 game against Chris Gayle’s West Indies side and are now precariously placed in the last position of what is inarguably the the Super 8 “group of death”. What this means is they now have their backs to their wall and will be confronted with must-win games the rest of the tournament. Before I take a look at what they need to do, let’s take a look at what they did and didn’t do in this game.
MS Dhoni won the toss and chose to bat, in this game, a throwback to his “bat-first-no-questions-asked” policy of the 2007 World Twenty20. It seemed like the correct decision in the time and probably was, in retrospect, the correct decision, but the Indian batsmen came up a bit short, literally, against the West Indian bowling attack. Gautam Gambhir looked in decent enough touch but the in-form Rohit Sharma fell after just 3 deliveries, trying to pull his Deccan Chargers teammate Fidel Edwards twice in a row. The first one was not well-timed but ran down the hill for a boundary; the second was a touch fuller and caught the top edge, with a good catch being taken by Lendl Simmons to give the Windies an early breakthrough.
The batting didn’t get much better for a while, with Suresh Raina being sent in at number 3 for the first time since India has arrived in England. Gambhir and Raina didn’t last long, with Edwards snagging Raina as he played a nothing shot after being softened up by two bouncers. Gambhir fell an over later, trying to hook Dwayne Bravo out of the ground and becoming the second Indian batsmen of many to fall prey to the short delivery. Dhoni finally arrived at the crease, having sent Yuvi in at number 4, and the two built a slow, but steady, partnership. Unfortunately, it was more slow than steady, with the two adding only 37 runs in a ball short of 8 overs, before Dhoni played an awkward square cut straight to the fielder stationed at deep point.
India had a breath of good luck after Yuvi was dropped in the same over, and him and Yusuf Pathan breathed some air back into India’s innings, adding 64 runs in about 5 overs. Yuvraj was in great touch and leant into the Windies bowlers, including the nippy Taylor, before becoming yet another victim of Edwards’ short ball. With him, India’s hopes of posting a big enough total also disappeared, although a cameo from Bhajji at the end gave the bowlers something, 153, to bowl at. As it happened, it was not near enough.
West Indies innings
The West Indies got off to a lacklustre start, with Gayle looking a shade of himself from the Australia match earlier in the tournament. In fact, he played out only the second maiden of the tournament against Harbhajan Singh! Andre Fletcher fell pretty early while trying to smack Irfan Pathan away, and Lendl Simmons came in to replace him. The two didn’t do anything flashy, but added the runs at a quick enough rate to keep the Indians on their toes. Both players were taking too long to score the runs, though, and Gayle finally fell while trying to slog-sweep Yusuf Pathan away.
The team then pulled off their most critical move of the tournament, by opting to send Dwayne Bravo in ahead of Shiv Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan. Critics and pundits alike have been screaming hoarse for Bravo to be given a bigger role in the West Indies batting, and he showed today why they have been wreaking this pain on their throats. He played a brilliant knock that reminded me of these two match-winning innings he played in the span of 3 days against India the last time we toured the Carribbean.
Although the required run rate was hovering between 9 and 10 when Bravo came in, he and Simmons knocked the ball around intelligently and with a boundary every couple of overs to keep it manageable. When Simmons top-edged one trying to execute the final push and Chanderpaul in, the game was evenly poised. That is, however, when Dwayne Bravo took over. Seeing that Chanderpaul would be more of a liability, he took most of the strike and dispatched our bowlers all over the park. A booming six over cover to end the game showed what pretty batting Bravo exhibited on the day, and also showed his pure match-winning capabilities. All the sixes he hit were in the 90-100 m range, and would have cleared any ground in the world.
India’s bowling woes continue. After getting off to a good start and strangling the opposition in the middle overs, the death bowling again let us down. Dhoni is going to have to think seriously of bringing someone more accurate, such as Praveen Kumar, into the mix in place of Ishant, who has been, quite frankly, deplorable after a good spell in one of the warm-up games. Luckily Zaheer looks like he’s back, and Irfan is swinging it at 85+ mph, so getting our death bowler straightened out could be the missing key in our bowling attack.
A thought on the fielding…
Our fielding today was horrible, in contrast with the West Indies’ who, although they dropped a couple of chances, took a couple of brilliant catches, including Simmons’ dismissal of Gambhir. In particular, their ground fielding was almost flawless, with only a couple of fumbles and I think no misfield. In contrast, India gave up 4 runs at least twice when a fielder misfielded the ball in the inner circle (the culprits I remember being Harbhajan Singh and Yusuf Pathan). Our ground fielding is already several rungs below South Africa’s and England’s, and if we don’t pull our socks up there, we have no hope of pulling off a miraculous jump into the semifinals.
A thought on the captaincy…
For a man whose gut instincts are usually pretty good, I thought Dhoni made several mistakes today. Obviously, he’s been under undue pressure from external sources (namely, the Indian media who continue to wrangle him about the Sehwag episode). However, the couple of oversights I would like to point out are as follows.
First, I think Dhoni should have come in at number 3 when Rohit fell. Not only has he habitually been coming in at number 3, but, in retrospect, a calming, nudgy innings is just what we needed at that stage (as Lendl Simmons proved later that evening). Sharma fell in the second over and both Indian batsmen already showed signs of struggling against the extra bounce and pace of Jerome Taylor and Fidel Edwards. Instead of exposing the young and aggressive Raina, Dhoni should have taken the onus to come in ahead of him and take some on the chest. Raina hasn’t had much batting in this tournament because of our opposition as well as the strength of our batting, so dumping him in at the deep end of the pool could potentially have been a bad decision.
Secondly, Dhoni mis-used Irfan Pathan. Pathan was the bloke who was getting the most swing and troubling the batsmen the most. He, ironically, brought home the best figures of 1/9 but bowled the fewest number of overs (2). Irfan should definitely have been bowling in the end instead of Ishant, who was coming on to the bat nicely. I was surprised Dhoni didn’t use him, in fact, since he has trusted Irfan with this role in the past, and since Irfan made his comeback into the ODI team. Again, maybe this was just an instance of the gut instinct going wrong.
What do India need to do?
Strangely, this result places us in almost the same situation that we were in the last edition of the cup, in 2007. Then, we had been placed in a group with England, South Africa and New Zealand. We dropped the first game to New Zealand by 10 runs (NRR of -0.5, here we have one of around -0.7) and then beat England and South Africa (in that order, which is the same order we have the games this time) to qualify to the semis ahead of both those teams. They say lightning doesn’t strike twice, but this coincidence is a little too much for me to keep up with!
In my opinion, we definitely have to beat South Africa if we want to go through. We won’t be able to do this with just one win (over England) and let the NRR do the rest for us. We’re already at the bottom of the table when it comes to NRR. If West Indies beat South Africa tomorrow, they’ve all but guaranteed their spot (unless England/India drop all their games, in which case it will become a three-way tie). I expect South Africa to beat West Indies, though. This group is wide open, right now, with South Africa being the clear favourites. It’ll be interesting to see how it pans out, but I have confidence in our team performing with their backs to the wall. It’s going to be a good few days of cricket!