GAME PLAN: A World Cup wake-up

Jaideep Ghosh

Bengaluru :  India's Hardik Pandya with teammates celebrate the win over Bangladesh during the ICC World T20 match  between India and Bangladesh at Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on Wednesday. PTI Photo

Bengaluru : India’s Hardik Pandya with teammates celebrate the win over Bangladesh during the ICC World T20 match between India and Bangladesh at Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on Wednesday. PTI Photo

People are going hysterical about Hardik Pandya’s last over in the match with Bangladesh at Bengaluru on Wednesday night. Not quite clear why.

He bowled two length balls that were sent to the boundary, followed by two full-tosses. Any team with a semblance of common sense would have won at a canter.

But….

Anyway, I guess the euphoria was expected. Not often that you win a game with the rival team with two set recognised batsmen at the crease, chasing two runs off three deliveries with four wickets in the bank.

It was more a defeat snatched from Bangladesh rather than a win that India earned. But doesn’t matter which side you look at it from, the hosts claimed to vital points.

This, the race for the semi-finals, seems to be something that was getting lost in the euphoria of the previous math – the one with Pakistan.

Now, for these two neighbouring nations, the World Cup comes in two stages – before their match and after that.

As it stands out, the International Cricket Council and BCCI know that one India-Pakistan match would get them more revenue than the rest of the tournament together, so invariably, these two teams are pitted together, at all age groups and formats of the sport.

This time too, India and Pakistan faced off, after a lot of drama surrounding the venue – Dharamshala came and went. Then the Pakistan government and the cricket board took this golden opportunity to make things awkward for India and BCCI. Security teams were sent, a lot of play-acting followed.

Then Pakistan arrived and lost to India.

One part of the World Cup was over.

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

But in all that drama, the real purpose of the tournament, to win the Cup, was lost in the stardust. So much so that the whole country was still preening in the Kolkata victory and almost didn’t notice Bangladesh walking past.

India haven’t done themselves any favours in the tournament in terms of run-rate, nor in the poor show with New Zealand (which was dismissed as a glitch), nor in the narrow win with Bangladesh.

So they find themselves in third position on the table in terms of run-rate. Even though they have four points, both Australia and Pakistan are in a position to make two more points and challenge India.

One would dare to assume that Australia will beat Pakistan. They desperately need the points, while Pakistan don’t mentally seem to be in the fight any more. They do have two points from the win over Bangladesh, but their World Cup too surrounds around beating India. And they’re still waiting for that.

As for India, it would serve all concerned very well indeed to get their game back in place.

The win at Bengaluru is now consigned to history, but some lessons need to be learned and addressed immediately if the side wants to make a realistic charge into the knockout stage and beyond.

For one, the batting is still porous. The opening stand is dodgy, with Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan neither being too fluent.

Sharma seems to be out to dominate and decimate all comers, with very limited results. His penchant to attack any form of bowling is irrespective of whether the track is true or not. It was the same in Nagpur, Kolkata and Bengaluru. He just swung wildly, or tried to.

Dhawan, on the other hand, takes his sweet time, which is fine, so long as then he plays till the 15th or 16th over. But no, he will score a painstaking 15, and then get out.

Suresh Raina came up with some good against Bangladesh, but that had as much to do with the fact that he had done nothing against New Zealand or Pakistan.

So essentially, it’s Virat Kohli. Be it setting up a score, or chasing one, the Delhi boy is the one all and sundry look at. If he has an off day, relatively, as he had against Bangladesh, we’ll struggle.

Bengaluru :  Team India celebrates the win over Bangladesh during the ICC World T20 match  between India and Bangladesh at Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on Wednesday. PTI Photo

Bengaluru : Team India celebrates the win over Bangladesh during the ICC World T20 match between India and Bangladesh at Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on Wednesday. PTI Photo

Mahendra Singh Dhoni is being hailed as the supreme leader with the instinct and impact to change fortunes. He did do a sensational job with the gloves (or without) on Wednesday night, but as for the bowling options, he had pretty much run out of them by the time the 19th over began.

All said and done, it is the bowling that has kept India afloat.

Ashish Nehra is a man reborn, while Ravichandran Ashwin is in some of his best form now.

Jasprit Bumrah had a disastrous start in the field against Bangladesh, but it was his over, the 19th of the visitors’ innings, that won the match for India.

Ravindra Jadeja has done his part as the left-arm spinner, while Pandya has tried, as has Raina.

One still feels India could have played another specialist spinner. But who are we to question the judgement of the supreme leader!

As things stand, India now face a virtual knockout match with Australia (presuming the Aussies beat Pakistan). That one will decide who accompanies New Zealand into the semi-finals.

It won’t do to try and protect 11 runs in the last over and bowl Pandya against rampaging Australian batsmen. India will have to deliver on all fronts if they have to succeed.

They have it in them. Time to unleash all weapons.