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Move on from India vs Pakistan

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MS_Dhoni_cricket_IndiaFor a day, Kolkata was the center of the cricketing universe. Eden Gardens was like a black hole, sucking in everything and everyone that holds love for this game. That is the power of an India versus Pakistan contest, with the added tag of a World Cup/T20 World Cup encounter.

Rain tried its best to play spoilsport, but whoever was in control of the weather in that part of the world must have been a cricket fan too. Yes, the ceremonies in the beginning could have been dispensed with to get a full match. But the hyped up occasion and the Cricket Association of Bengal’s enthusiasm perhaps warranted it. Either way, we got an 18-over-per-side game, and maybe we should be thankful for that.

The game itself didn’t disappoint, with all the oohs and ahs associated with such a contest presenting themselves at opportune moments. Let us consider the key take-aways of this most recent India vs Pakistan match.

To start with, the arch-rivals didn’t read the pitch properly, but it hurt Pakistan more than it did India. The Eden Gardens’ wicket was a ripper, surprisingly, and a tough one to bat on assuredly. Pakistan looked up with more interest than they looked down, thus playing an extra pacer and ending up a spinner short. They gambled on winning the toss and bowling first. They played two bets and lost both. India bet only on the toss and came out lucky.

The other issue of note in that game was Pakistan’s muddled thinking, especially reflected in their batting order. Shahid Afridi coming out to bat at number three was disappointing. There are only two outcomes when he is at the crease and the ones like his 19-ball 49-run knock against Bangladesh are rare these days. Yes, they needed someone to make an impact but not in the short term; rather for the entirety of the innings after a slow start.

 

When the likes of Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik and Umar Akmal are sitting on the bench, it is a definitive wrong call to send Afridi at three. Yes, he decides, for he is captain. But it doesn’t mean Afridi should be captain, or that he always makes good choices. The decision to make him skipper for this T20 World Cup was based on the condition that he will retire soon after.

How is that, from any angle, an optimal criterion to pick a leader? And now, after the six-wicket loss, there are rumours of sacking him, midway through the tournament when the team can still qualify for the semis. Call it comedy or tragedy, this can happen only in Pakistan cricket.

Chasing 119 then, India were in a spot of bother at 23/3 when Virat Kohli rescued them once again. There is something resolute about his batting that seems to go from strength to strength in every innings, never mind the pitch conditions or match situations. At the crease, he is Superman, gaining his energy from the sunny spotlight of expectations of a billion fans. His persona is replete with blue overalls, only missing the cape and red undies, but that would be too literal.

Worryingly enough, the rest of the batting line-up, the top-order in particular, is acting like Kohli’s kryptonite. Let there be no doubts that India made mistakes in this match, and it was only sheer pressure that got Pakistan, which allowed them to escape.

 

For starters, as mentioned above, the Indian team management read the pitch wrong for the second match running. They have Harbhajan Singh and Pawan Negi twiddling thumbs in the dugout when either of them should have been playing in Nagpur and/or Kolkata. If New Zealand play three spinners as per the pitch and India do not, it tells you that the Men in Blue are being stubborn about their thinking.

Yes, Hardik Pandya is a handy all-rounder, especially considering only two full-time pacers are in the eleven. But on those two pitches, did they really need a third pacer? He has bowled 3 overs in those matches for 1/35, justifying selecting a spinner ahead of him. If there is fear that the lower order may become lightweight, well, Negi’s ‘big-hitting ability’ was why he was included in the squad.

Moreover, playing Negi would have given added leeway to drop Suresh Raina. He hasn’t had a great run since his return to the side, but this isn’t about his form. This is about having a better batsman at number four, in conditions where the spinners are wreaking havoc. While India have fared badly against spin in the last 2-3 years, there have been impressive performances from Kohli, MS Dhoni and Ajinkya Rahane in those matches. One of these three batsmen is not in the playing eleven.

At this juncture, it is vital to realize that India are languishing in fourth place in Group Two after Australia beat Bangladesh, with a worrying net run-rate that is currently lower than Pakistan’s net run-rate, despite Pakistan losing two games to India’s one.

It is time to move on from the win over Pakistan, signifying 11-0, and consider the task at hand.

Pakistan have lost to New Zealand and will finish their last match (against Australia) before India, who will take on the Aussies in their last match at Mohali on March 27. That game will likely be the decider for the second semi-final spot. And how this situation plays out over the next six days or so, will determine the fate of this ‘group of death’.

 


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