Busy bees India pocket a clash of comprehensiveness

Bangladesh’s path to Super 8 was paved by their bowlers. In the campaign opener they kept Sri Lanka to 124/9 on a good batting wicket, removed South Africa’s top four inside five overs and defended the lowest total ever in T20 World Cup history against Nepal. An attack of enviable depth and variety, it mitigated their underperformance with the willow throughout the group stage.

Talking about roundedness, India’s batting too has all bases covered. The tussle between these well-oiled departments was the meatier of the two reasons why Bangladesh’s game with India promised to be watchable. The other being the feisty edge the neighborhood rivalry has had to it for a while now. The seeds were planted in the 2015 ODI World Cup by a controversial no-ball call which supposedly went against Bangladesh. MS Dhoni shoulder-charging Mustafizur Rahman stoked the ire, and the chain reaction electrified the 2016 T20 World Cup fixture in Bangalore and Nidahas Trophy in 2018. The heat even trickled down to the juniors; you could cut the tension with a knife at the U-19 World Cup final in 2020.

The diversity of resources at Bangladesh’s disposal meant they could challenge, rather optimally, the misfiring duo of Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli. Off-spinner Mohammad Nabi bowled through the PowerPlay without conceding a boundary to either of the right-handers, so Bangladesh took a leaf out of Afghanistan’s book, with Mehidy Hasan conceding just 14 runs in his first three overs. The pairing of left-arm spin and left-arm pace ails the Indian openers – Rohit has been dismissed cheaply by Shaheen Afridi, Fazalhaq Farooqi and Sourabh Netravalkar in this World Cup – and the alliance of Shakib Al Hasan with Mustafizur Rahman is a force to be reckoned with, especially on slow surfaces. Thankfully for India, the pitch at North Sound was a belter, allowing Rohit and Kohli the freedom to go down the track and hit across the line respectively to offset the negative match-up.

53/1 was their highest PowerPlay score in this event, and the established platform saw the middle-order dictate how India, this time around, were structurally set up to navigate the layered problems that Bangladesh posed, notwithstanding the double whammy inflicted by Tanzim Hasan Sakib in the ninth over. Part-timer Mahmudullah was introduced to tie down left-handers Rishabh Pant and Shivam Dube but Bangladesh were forced to make low-percentage choices from the opposite end. Tanzim was the designated death bowler in the absence of Taskin Ahmed, so they had to rotate Mustafizur, leg-spinner Rishad Hossain and Shakib. With the ball spinning back into the destructive southpaws and the pacer erring on the fuller side on a featherbed, Bangladesh leaked 63 runs in 6 overs after the halfway mark.

The blustery conditions in Antigua made it harder for Bangladesh’s tweakers to escape. A strong 17kmph wind was blowing right across the ground if you face the Andy Roberts End, assisting the natural swinging arc of Rishabh Pant in the 11th over off Mustafizur. Hardik was mindful of the elements too, choosing to hit Mehidy over the off-side rather than against the breeze in the 15th over.

Dube had the brute force to take the wind out of the equation during his 24-ball 34, a confidence-boosting knock that would buy him some breathing space after an ordinary start to the tournament. With a right-handed heavy batting order India have previously found themselves stagnating in the middle phases, especially in the aforementioned scenarios as KL Rahul’s power game had its own limitations and numero uno Suryakumar Yadav doesn’t have the best returns against left-arm spin. Dube’s six-hitting prowess is very useful in the Caribbean where grounds have short square boundaries, rendering sixes a major boundary currency. He contributed three to India’s 13 sixes – the most they have hit in a T20 World Cup match surpassing 11 against England in Durban in 2007.

However, three dismissals in the thirties and one in the twenties beg the question that India could have been smarter with their shot selection but Rohit is not overly fussed about set individuals carrying on to produce noteworthy scores, a divergence from India’s traditional safety-first approach to the shortest format. “Look, all eight batters need to play their role, whatever it is,” Rohit said. “We saw only one guy get a fifty, but we still got 196. In T20s, I don’t believe you need to get fifties and hundreds. How you can put pressure on the opposition is what matters.

“All the batters were trying to do that from the word go. That’s how we want to play and encourage ourselves to go forward. Yes, you need to understand the conditions as well, but we have a lot of experience in the squad, and we back them to use that experience on the field.”

The presence of bowling all-rounders Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel shortens India’s tail, which in turn liberates the top order to take more risks and thereby earn more rewards. If close attention is paid it becomes apparent that the freer mindset of the prominent batters manifests itself in small ways, like the degree of commitment in Kohli’s clean swipe off Shakib over wide long-on.

Due to USA’s lack of experience in pitch preparation, true wickets have come far and few in between in this T20 WC hitherto but now when they do come along, in the Windies leg, the PowerPlay turns all the more important while chasing. With the fielding restrictions on you want to tick as many runs off the total as possible because ‘’it tends to get slower at the end’’, as per Hardik whose 27-ball 50* took India to 196/5, their third highest total in T20 World Cups. Bangladesh ended the PowerPlay with 11 runs fewer than India, making it an uphill battle from there onwards.

The diabolic nature of the decks in USA and the consequent opening failures may have obscured the whole extent of India’s batting range but it shone through as the conditions marched towards normalcy. Versus an in-form, multidimensional bowling group, no less.



Broadcast Schedule

England v West Indies 2024
ENG v WI 3rd Test, Edgbaston
26th July to 30th July
Start time: 11:00 am BST