Super 8 Round-Up: India vs. Sri Lanka

Another match, another loss for the Indian team as we bow out from the Twenty20 World Cup taking, in all probability, the West Indies with us. This match was particularly bad for us because we made a great start to a game and some apathetic batting once again prevented us from not only winning the game, but winning by the 20-run margin that we required to keep ourselves in the running for a semifinal spot.

A good start, for the first time in the Super 8 stage…

India started out well with a new opening partnership of Gautam Gambhir and Dinesh Karthik. Karthik looked energetic and lively and gave India a good start along with Gambhir. Karthik fell to a ball that stopped on him and produced a leading edge, but Raina and Gambhir steadied the ship. In fact, India reached 90/1 after the first 10 and it looked like we were really well-placed to make a strong score and be in with a chance to remain in the West Indies.

However, it was important to note that we weren’t really scoring our runs in boundaries or sixes–more in singles and twos. The pitch and outfield were certainly slow (it took GG about 3 overs to figure out that he shouldn’t pose after each of his drives, which cost us about a run every shot), but it seemed like we were content with poking it around and building a base. Fair enough…

Anti-climactic finish to the innings…

With a finishing crew boasting of big hitters such as Yuvraj, Yusuf, Dhoni and even Rohit, who can tee off on his day, it seemed like the stage had been perfectly set. But what ended up happening was extremely strange and anti-climactic. The hits just never came. As we moved into the 13th/14th over, I began to worry that we had left it too long. Big hitting doesn’t just happen. You can’t flip the switch and start stroking sixes. But it appeared like that’s what we thought. The overs leading up to the slog overs actually decreased our scoring rate. Instead of getting at least a run every ball, we were getting 3-5 runs an over.

When the time came to slog, we all began playing Jadeja-esque cover drives (you know, the type where we need three sixes but he middles it straight to cover?). I think mentally we were already out of the tournament and the players just didn’t make the effort to adjust to the different pitch. We ended up with just 163 runs on the board, scoring a measly 73 runs in our last 10 overs. Worse, we lost only 4 wickets. There was no intent and no execution. To keep ourselves in the hunt, we’d have to bowl the Lankans out for 143 or lower.

Great start with the bowling…

Our bowling innings got off to a dream start with Jayawardene and Jayasuriya back in the hut in the first 2 overs. I believe Sri Lanka were 6/2 at one stage with captain Sanga and Tillakaratne Dilshan at the crease. Dilshan clearly held the key, from my viewpoint at that stage. He was the one who was capable of keeping the scoring rate going while Sanga dug in and prepared to last it out till the end. And Dilshan did exactly that. He took a sword to the Indian attack that should have been rampaging. Instead of keeping the runs down in the Power Play after taking the two early wickets, we leaked them.

Luckily for us, Dilshan holed out to deep mid wicket off a mis-time sweep shot, both physically speaking and from the context of the game. Sanga gave him a piece of his mind, and it looked like we were back in the hunt again. The very able Angelo Mathews joined his captain at the crease… I can’t remember off-hand but I think this guy has been a thorn in our flesh in the past.

A Sanga special followed by a bludgeoning finish…

Sangakkara built a wonderful base based on singles, twos and the occasional boundary and then did what our top order should have done–hit out. He rendered Harbhajan Singh largely useless today and smacked a few sixes off our part-timers as well. Sri Lanka looked to have been out of the hunt from the perspective of the game, but always kept the magic target of 143 at an easy 7.5RPO with wickets in hand. By the time Sanga perished to a Vinay Kumar slower ball, Sri Lanka were well on their way to knock India out.

Angelo Mathews ensured that with a series of powerful strokes that found and crossed the boundary with ease. Again, the distinct contrast between the Sri Lankan death bowling and our death bowling was easily evident, as was the application and intent of their finishers compared to ours. They just wanted it more and it couldn’t have been more obvious. When Angelo Mathews was run out, Sri Lanka had not only knocked India out, but they were well back in the game, requiring 3 runs off the last ball. They had done this courtesy of 3 consecutive sixes–2 off Vinay Kumar and 1 off Nehra. With 3 runs required off one ball, the advantage had to be with India, since the Lankans basically needed a boundary to win the game. Perera, who had bowled so well earlier in the game to restrict the Indians, finished with a flourish and dispatched the ball over the cover boundary to complete a magnificent win for the Lankans.

What it means for the West Indies…

India can now confirm their return tickets from the Carribbean, but Sri Lanka and West Indies are still in the hunt for the second semifinal spot (it would take quite a massive loss for the Aussies to be knocked out). The equation for the Windies is as follows:

Batting First: West Indies need to win by 24 runs or more
Fielding First: West Indies need to chase down the total between 16 and 18 overs depending on the target.

Super 8 Round-Up: India vs. West Indies

Both India and West Indies needed a win to keep their chances in this tournament alive at more than a statistical improbability. Once again, it was the former World Twenty20 champions India who played a poor game of cricket and thus have effectively booked an early flight home. Just as in the previous edition, where back-to-back losses against England and South Africa led to our non-statistical elimination, we now rely on a rickety-bridge sequence of events to occur for us to have a chance. More on that later.

Starting off with poor team selection…

When captains stick to players who have failed, they are putting a vote of confidence in those players. This is generally a good thing to do, except if the player you are putting your confidence on is as pathetic a Twenty20 player as Ravindra Jadeja. I singled Jadeja out for a bashing in the previous match and I will do so here, again. However, today Dhoni takes the blame for selecting him in the first place. Once again, Jadeja made his effect felt in the match in all facets of the game. He started off with a misfield off a simple pick-up in the circle early in the game. He then went on to drop Chanderpaul, who added only 9 more runs but more importantly allowed a huge opening partnership to set the platform for a late onslaught.

When he came on to bowl, Jadeja leaked 27 runs in his 2 overs, which puts his total at about 60 runs in the 4 overs he has bowled in this edition’s Super 8. His first over featured 2 sixes in the first four balls, which coupled with the fact that he had given 6 sixes off his last 9 balls in the previous match, meant that Jadeja has given 8 sixes off his last 13 balls. That’s better than a six every other ball. That’s 4 sixes an over. Yet, he gets selected by Dhoni.

Finally, Jadeja was issued a vote of no-confidence by Dhoni when Harbhajan was sent in ahead of him in the batting order. A good decision, too, because Bhajji actually knows how to wield the long handle. Jadeja couldn’t even clear the infield when he was batting. In fact, he couldn’t even hit the ball in the air when we needed it to rain sixes. Sure, you don’t have the talent or strength to smack a maximum, but what about intent?

To summarize this tirade, please get Ravindra Jadeja the hell out of the Twenty20 squad. I don’t care if  you select him for ODIs or Tests but this guy should be way behind in the pecking order. India would have been so much better off by picking a real bowler and not going in with three specialists only. Sure, there’s the thought that our batsmen would be skittled out by the short deliveries (which they were. But if 7 batsmen are going to get out to bouncers, the 8th one isn’t likely to play a game-changer. Jadeja contributes nothing with the bat or ball. We should have played Piyush or Vijay Kumar.

Batting continues to struggle against short bowling…

The Indian team has NO EXCUSE for this one. They could have played the “surprise” card at the World Twenty20 in England last year when we were bounced out by the West Indies and then England. However, we’ve now had 10 months to fix it. We’ve known that the Twenty20 World Cup is going to be in the West Indies for a couple of years, now. We’ve known that we are shit against short bowling. But instead of doing anything, we prepare for the fiesta that is the IPL and its flurry of flat tracks. The fact that we don’t have a single pace bowler who can hit 140k’s is embarrassing in itself. The fact that international grade cricketers can’t pull the ball is pathetic. How the hell are these guys going to play ODIs and Tests outside of the subcontinent?

The mathematical uncertainty…

There is a tiny ray of hope for India to qualify to the next round. First, Australia will need to wallop both Sri Lanka and West Indies. Then, we will need to wallop Sri Lanka. This will put Australia at 6 points and India, West Indies and Sri Lanka at 2 points. However, for this to happen, Sri Lanka will need to be destroyed by both Australia and us since their NRR is at an imposing +2.850 compared t our -1.575.  I’ll post a mathematical update at the completion of the Australia-Sri Lanka game in the event that Australia win. To recap, if Sri Lanka win, India is mathematically eliminated. This will put Sri Lanka at 2 wins and since Australia and West Indies both have 1 win each and play each other, one of them will have 2 wins, which is more than India can manage.

Australia go in with 5 front-line bowlers. India went in with 3. </discussion>

india-west indies post-mortem

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.

Indian innings

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!