By Nishad Pai Vaidya
In a format where consistency isn’t a common feature, Shane Watson has defied the notions to clinch his third consecutive Man of the Match Award. There is nothing on the cricket field which is outside his comfort zone. Watson the batsman is a juggernaut who can tear any bowling attack apart with thunderous brutality. The bowler is a stable option who supports the frontline seamers with wickets and discipline to complement it. To have a player like him in the eleven is a captain’s dream as he adds the extra dimension to the side.
The Indian’s bore the brunt of Watson’s dominance as he bludgeoned them into submission with both bat and ball. Although he had fantastic support from his team-mates, to perform brilliantly in both departments is simply commendable. India were setting a good platform for a good score, but he came back to dent them with wickets. With the wickets of Irfan Pathan, Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina – Watson denied India a chance of putting up a big score.
The striking feature of Watson’s batting was the remarkable ease with which he carted those sixes. The Indian spinners – Harbhajan Singh and Piyush Chawla had marred England on the same surface and that department was strengthened by the return of Ravichandran Ashwin. However, Watson adjusted to the pace of the surface and was easily transferring his weight on his feet. All the confidence India gained from the win against England was crushed by this belligerent display as David Warner complemented Watson brilliantly.
Despite the good Australian performance, India can look back and ponder what might have been? Prior to the start of the game, one may have felt that benching Virender Sehwag would have been a good option considering the argument of retaining the winning combination. In hindsight, people would be swayed by the argument that Sehwag - being the game-changer he is – should have been a part of the eleven. However, the more surprising move was that of opening the batting with Irfan Pathan.
Pathan is a decent batsman who can chip in with runs, but that isn’t his major role in the side. He is primarily in the side for his bowling – something that has grown from strength to strength in the recent months. One mustn’t forget that an overemphasis on his batting had vastly affected his bowling in the past and dented his confidence big time. By opening the batting with him, India were merely adding to his burden and it was too much to expect a good start from him. He managed to play a few good shots, but his overall performance was below par.
The choice of opening with Pathan is surprising because of the number of options they have in their batting line-up. With Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma in the side – Pathan should have been an outside candidate to take up Sehwag’s spot. Kohli opened in the T20 international against New Zealand at Chennai and scripted a fantastic knock. On the other hand, Rohit Sharma has opened for India in the past and has been in some form off-late. Thus, it would have made more sense to open with either of Rohit or Kohli instead of Pathan.
Suresh Raina should be promoted up the order as he has the potential to rally the innings around him. In previous T20 internationals and in the Indian Premier League (IPL), he has proved his value at No 3 – a spot that allows him the opportunity to build the innings and then tee off. While he may be a good finisher, he is certainly a big asset at the top in this format. However, if the in-form Kohli has to bat at No 3, Raina should be in at four. Yuvraj Singh batted at No 4, but is yet to get back into his groove at the highest level.
Given the heavy defeat, India have a tough task ahead of them to qualify for the semi-finals. They need to undo the damage inflicted on their net run-rate and then aim at a spot in the knock-outs. Their next opponents are arch-rivals. Pakistan’s win in the warm-up game would hold them in good stead and Dhoni is clearly under pressure to get his eleven right for the crunch game.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar's dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44)