GAME PLAN: India would be well served to have more than one batsman

Jaideep Ghosh

FILE: File Photo of West Indies batsman Chris Gayle.  Photo - PTI

FILE: File Photo of West Indies batsman Chris Gayle.
Photo – PTI

Suddenly, it is down to three teams, as the ICC T20 World Cup reaches its pinnacle. Three, because there are two that will be matching wits and skills at the Wankhede on Thursday, while England head for Kolkata and wait to see how things go.

One of the features of such tournaments is that teams tend to travel to all the centres in the host nation, to meet the schedule. Almost every team is shuttling from grounds to hotels and airports. In this scenario, any side that gets to play two matches at one venue can be considered lucky.

So England were the lucky ones when they met New Zealand at Ferozshah Kotla. This has been their centre for the last two games, including a crucial match with Sri Lanka, where they escaped after a late charge from Angelo Mathews.

New Zealand, on the other hand, have played five matches in the tournament, all at different venues. They did exceptionally well to make it to the semis with an all-win record, given that they had to inspect and gauge every pitch before taking a call on what team to play.

Unfortunately, their game plan came off the rails at Kotla. Their strategy throughout the tournament had been to bat first and then let the bowlers strangle the batsmen.

It worked fine till they reached Kotla, which is a devilishly difficult ground to defend a small total on.

A small total was what cost the Kiwis a shot at the title round. They looked all set to score at last 170, if not more, at the end of ten overs, but losing seven wickets for 34 runs doesn’t really augur well when defending.

Then Jason Roy made it a walk in the park for England. Though leg-spinner Ish Sodhi made a late challenge, the total was just too small.

So England stepped up, and now wait for the big one – hosts India taking on West Indies at Wankhede Stadium.

If sheer momentum is any indication, India seem to be galloping. The assault Virat Kohli inflicted o Australia was practically unprecedented, and it sent India sailing into the semi-final.

There, they have the smiling Darren Sammy waiting for the, with his band of Caribbean super stars, all of whom are deceptively jolly and smiling, till you bowl to them.

India are favourites for the tournament, they always were. But the real picture is that the batting is struggling. You cannot possibly have one batsman winning them all for you.

The openers never seem to get off the ground, Suresh Raina is largely a tourist, and Yuvraj Singh is out of the running. Not that he was particularly effective at full tilt.

Bengaluru :  India's Virat Kohli plays a shot during the ICC World T20 match against Bangladesh at Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on Wednesday. PTI Photo

Bengaluru : India’s Virat Kohli plays a shot during the ICC World T20 match against Bangladesh at Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on Wednesday. PTI Photo

So barring Kohli, Mahendra Singh Dhoni was the only one who has shown signs of form, but more often than not, he is coming in way too late.

Hardik Pandya has come in and carted a few, but this is hardly the formula that will succeed every time.

The only time Kohli failed, in the first match against New Zealand, India lost. That pretty much sums it up for India.

The bowling has come good almost throughout the tournament, with the veteran Ashish Nehra rejuvenated, and Jasprit Bumrah, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja doing their bit.

But bowling and one batsman isn’t the highway to success, and while India’s winning streak is flattering, it takes only one mistake, a miscued shot or an inspired piece of fielding to end things for your only batsman.

He could even be run out at the non-striker’s end when the ball ricochets off the bowler! It’s all a game of an instant.

To hope that this one instant won’t come and sting India at the wrong moment is a very optimistic viewpoint, if not outright foolhardy.

The West Indies has bowlers who aren’t ever considered to be the best. But in Samuel Badree and Dwayne Bravo, there bowlers who can change the fortunes of a match in an instant.

As for the batting, Chris Gayle, Johnson Charles, Bravo, Sammy, Andre Russell and the others make any long and expansive explanations superfluous.

India have, in the past too, slipped on banana skins they haven’t even looked at. Classically, in the 1987 World Cup, where they were so tagged to win that they completely forgot about England in the semi-finals, and their campaign ended there.

So India would do well to focus on Mumbai. For, there lies the stairway to the Garden of Eden, where England await.