India's bowlers failed to rise to the occasion

Leading up to the semi-final in Mumbai, India's batting had been brittle and under-performed barring, of course, the brilliant Virat Kohli.

When the batting finally clicked in the semi-final, the bowling that had been magnificent till then fell short of expectations. In that lay the irony, the lament, the cause and effect of India’s ouster from the World Cup. This is not to take a whit away from the West Indies’ superb effort. Almost everything, except winning the toss, was ranged against them when play commenced: conditions, crowd support, India’s run in form. But they overcame all these challenges spendidly.

Leading up to the semi-final in Mumbai, India’s batting had been brittle and under-performed barring, of course, the brilliant Virat Kohli. On a flat Wankhede pitch, the batsmen seemed to find their métier. Kohli, at his dazzling best, was at a notch higher, but this was only possible because the powerplay was productive: 55 runs scored and no wicket lost, a dramatic departure from the pattern of the previous matches.

The total of 192 was substantially more than anything they had scored in the tournament. But in this was also a message to the India bowlers: the match could only be won by control, accuracy and discipline. Normally, one would add luck — so integral to sport — also to such a list. But while one dismissal off a no-ball can be attributed to ill-fortune, two is an indictment of low concentration and poor execution of drills.

As it turned out, Lendl Simmons, not originally in the West Indies squad — in fact not having played serious cricket for four months through injury — made capital of these lapses to send India packing out of the tournament, and the country into gloom. Some have argued that India’s batsmen did not quite go full throttle after the blazing start, that the score was 15-20 runs fewer than what should have been possible.

But this is akin to Monday morning quarter-backing: to wit, being wise after the event. Fact is that West Indies recovered splendidly every time there was a crisis. After the power play yielded 55 runs, the bowling tightened up considerably, backed up brilliant fielding. In the death overs particularly, Dwayne Bravo was superb, stifling Dhoni and Kohli.

Then in the run chase, at 19/2 and the much-feared Chris Gayle back in the dugout, it looked like the West Indies would fold up easily and early. But Charles Johnson, Simmons and Andre Russell showed gumption, ambition and power to turn the tables on India in style.

How much did losing the toss impact the result? To be fair, batting second was always an advantage at the Wankhede because of the dew. But this wasn’t unknown to any Indian player, and can’t be a major psychological hurdle to overcome. The real problem was that the bowling just didn’t measure up to the demands. Specific instances of the two dismissals of no-balls apart, the Indian bowlers, especially the spinners bowled too short on this pitch.

This allowed the West Indies power-hitters more scope to free their arms, find the gaps or clear the field. Just perhaps there was also a tinge of overconfidence with the early dismissal of Gayle that led bowlers to be profligate rather than in control.

By the time Johnson was dismissed, the crisis had been averted. Simmons had built on his luck and Russell used the promotion in the batting order to reveal why he is so highly regarded in the T20 game. I am loath to be overly critical of the Indian cricketers. The Twenty20 format is notoriously unpredictable.

Who would have thought at the start of the tournament, for instance, that the final would be played between West Indies and England! But there will be some remorse certainly at what might have been with a more focused and sustained effort. All told, this is a terrific India team. Winning 13 of the last 16 matches played — and in three different countries — is perhaps unprecedented in this topsy-turvy format.

This suggests that there is no dearth of talent and ambition. Vindication of this comes from the ICC rankings for T20, in which India are clear and way ahead as the number 1 side. Alas, the title that matters has eluded them.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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