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.

india-england post-mortem: india out

Well that’s that. India’s batting let them down in a major way and we are now officially out of the tournament. As expected, the English bowlers bowled it “around the earholes” of the Indian batsmen with good effect; we managed only 59 off the first 10 overs. It is pretty pathetic to be in an international side in any format of the game and not be able to play short deliveries. I guess it points out a major shortcoming in the Indian domestic cricket structure.

Openers

Rohit Sharma and Gautam Gambhir failed once again as Sharma unluckily pulled one onto his stumps. I suppose the loss of Sehwag is beginning to show here–a part-time opener can go only so far. It may have been worth surprising the English, who had obviously made “bouncer” plans by sending in an unconventional opener, such as Yusuf Pathan. However, Dhoni left his “thinking out of the box” to make another ‘brilliant’ move. Gambhir looked in fluent touch for once, though, so I suppose that is one positive.

Middle Order

I haven’t seen an Indian batsmen play so pathetically against a short ball as Suresh Raina today, since the days of Sourav Ganguly. Not something you’d expect from one of the 5 cricketers named as the cricketers of the next century by Wisden. All the same. It appears he did not work on facing the short delivery in the nets, since he looked even worse against it than in the game against the West Indies. And instead of putting the pull shot out of the playbook, he decided it would be more intelligent to attempt it and obviously holed out. Sigh. This is the downside of picking “youngsters” I suppose. They do some really stupid things on the way up their learning curve.

Next came Dhoni’s “mastermind” move. Ravindra Jadeja. In my earlier post, I conceded that Dhoni may have made a correct choice by picking Jadeja, but any thoughts of that quickly vanished after his pathetic display of batting today. I believe Dhoni had sent Jadeja in to play the same role as England had sent Mascarenhas in to play: get some quick runs at the cost of a relatively cheap wicket. Unfortunately, Jadeja neither got quick runs nor got out nor rotated the strike. If his performance in the warm-up game against New Zealand was bad, this was downright unacceptable. I said after that New Zealand game that I hoped Jadeja was no where near our starting XI. I was wrong. I change that now to say that I hope Jadeja is never near an Indian international cricket squad in his life. He’s just not good enough–not for Twenty20 anyhow. He has now displayed that he not only lacks the ability to finish games, but he doesn’t have the ability to build a base for someone else to finish the game. He clearly shouldn’t be opening, so the only way I can see him in the game is as a pure bowler. I actually think Irfan Pathan would have been a hell of a lot useful with the bat than Jadeja was, today. All the same, it was still Dhoni’s mistake to send Jadeja in instead of coming in himself. As a result, Yuvi didn’t come in until the equation was too imbalanced (11+ runs per over required) and hence he was negated.

Lower Order

Yusuf Pathan showed why form players should be pushed up the order. Dhoni continued to struggle with the bat, but the two made a valiant effort to save the game, and got within 3 runs. Yusuf, in particular, hit a one-handed six to get the equation down to 9 from 2, but was only able to dig out a block-hole delivery the next ball to secure the win for England. Yuvi, who looked in good touch, was dismissed by a quickfire stumping opportunity by Foster off Swann, and that was honestly where we probably lost the match.

General Thoughts

A lot of the current crop of batsmen seem to display no on-the-field intelligence. Jadeja, for example, pulled 5 out of 6 balls in a Stuart Broad over. 3 of them were miscued and 2 of them he missed. In the age of innovative paddle shots, reverse sweeps galore and walking across the stumps, it is absolutely unacceptable that you stand in your crease and get eaten up by bouncers. You’ve had 2 days to plan against it and if you aren’t comfortable pulling it, think about other ways to counter it!

This was again in evidence in the penultimate over bowled by Stuart Broad. Broad bowled in the same area every single ball. The commentators knew what he was going to do, so the Indian think tank should definitely have had that knowledge. Yet Yusuf Pathan and Dhoni both stayed on their leg-stump guard and tried to hoick it to the midwicket boundary every single ball. Seriously? Move across the stumps. Walk down. Take guard inside/outside your crease. Don’t just follow the pig in front of you on the way to the slaughterhouse!

Fielding

After everything is said and done, the two glaring points of this match and this tournament was our poor fielding and our inability to play the short-pitched delivery. If you simplify the match naively, India would have won this game if Harbhajan hadn’t bowled one down the leg side on the last ball of the over, and Yuvraj hadn’t misfielded it. We gave away 5 runs on that ball and we lost by 3. England saved at least 15-20 runs more than us in the field, which is not acceptable seeing that we are not lugging around any of our “seniors”. These are all youngsters and should be at the peak of their fitness and athletic ability.

The Future

I will be supporting the Lankan team now. Mendis, Murali and Malinga seem to be the package that could just stop South Africa on what appears to be a clear path to the championship now. Sri Lanka’s batting still depends heavily on their openers firing, but their bowlers seem to have the ability to defend almost any total, regardless of how low it is. It’ll be interesting to see how their semifinal and perhaps final opponents address that problem.

india-england, mid-innings break

It’s a do-or-die match for India and Dhoni won the toss and opted to chase. Interesting that Dhoni almost knew that he was going to win the toss. Not that he can be faulted. It feels like he wins about 90% of the tosses that he’s participated in! Anyhow, he decided to go in with Jadeja to bolster the chase. It would have been interesting what he would have said had England won the toss and opted to field first.

Anyhow, India changed their line-up to bring in RP Singh for Irfan Pathan and Ravindra Jadeja for Pragyan Ojha. My initial thoughts on this line-up was not too positive. Jadeja had not impressed in the warm-up match against New Zealand and Irfan had been our most accurate bowler in the loss against West Indies, as I had pointed out earlier. Definitely Ishant should have been the one to go, but it appears that he retained his spot simply for being a right-armer, since evidently Praveen Kumar (PK) is not good enough (although he averages <30 in ODI’s, if I remember correctly).

India struck really early with RP removing Luke Wright in his first over. However, KP and Bopara led a good revival and built a quick partnership. Ishant continued to disappoint and ended up going for 36 off his 4 overs with no wickets but plenty of poor balls. Dhoni tried all the gimmicks, including getting Yuvi to bowl to KP, an experiment which, unsurprisingly, failed. It appeared that KP and Bopara were running away with the game until Harbhajan was brought on and he tightened the run rate up a bit. At the other end, Ravindra Jadeja shined with the ball, snaring both Bopara and KP in his spell.

That really spelled the end of England’s momentum as Mascarenhas, who was promoted at the fall of Bopara’s wicket to push the scoring, failed to get any sort of rhythm. England ended up posting 153 for the loss of 7 wickets, which is not a mammoth total, but is one that could cause the Indian team trouble if the English bowlers pick up a couple of early wickets.

Finally, a note on our ground fielding. It was worse than pathetic. Luckily we aren’t dropping any catches, but we continue to be extremely shoddy in the field. I think we are probably only ahead of Pakistan in terms of fielding, taking into account all the Super 8 teams. This was in evidence in what should have been the final ball of the innings with England on 148. Harbhajan bowled one down the leg-side (a cardinal sin given that it was the final ball and he should have been looking at just getting it to pitch rather than being a full toss). Yuvraj misfielded at short fine leg and the ball ran away for 5 wides.

Anyhow, Sharma and Gambhir have now come to the crease so it’s time to watch the game. I will have another update at the end of the match… a post-mortem, if you will.

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!