By Nishad Pai Vaidya
In the lead-up to a big-event, a defeat to the arch-rivals Pakistan isn’t something the Indian team would have wanted – even if it was a ‘warm-up’ match. A number of former players and fans have said that when the two countries face each other on the field of play, the competition is intense, irrespective of the status of the game. India have maintained an unbeaten record against Pakistan at World Cups (both the 50-over and T20 versions) and if one counts the other warm-up they played prior to the start of the ICC World T20 2009, the record gets stronger. However, this time around Pakistan recorded a win and exposed an obvious Achilles heel in the Indian ranks.
The thing that worries Indian fans wasn’t the defeat itself, but the manner of the defeat. In the slog overs, India had the advantage as the asking rate was soaring and the task was getting tougher for Pakistan. But, the Indian bowlers leaked runs at a haemorrhaging rate as the Pakistan batsmen made merry. In the last six overs, Pakistan needed 75 runs – a tough equation. Consider this: here is the make-up of the runs conceded by India in those overs: 19, 11, 16, 7, 16 and 6 (the final shot to finish the game). What is astonishing is that 42 off those 75 runs came off sixes alone in those final overs.
Bowling has never been India’s strongest asset and whenever the team has done well, the attack has been determined and has applied themselves rather an overt exhibition of talent. Take the 2011 World Cup for example. At the start of the tournament, the Indian bowling hardly looked world-class as they struggled to contain the flow of runs. However, they peaked at the right time and were showing more application in the middle at the business end of the tournament. The result as they say is history.
India’s remarkable run at the ICC World T20 2007 was a result of complete team-work. If one looks at the Indian bowling in that tournament – one could see that it wasn’t one bowler who dominated. If one of them had a good day, the others would chip in to support and bowl around him. Rudra Pratap Singh had a brilliant outing in the crunch game against South Africa and the others capitalised. Likewise, S Sreesanth was brilliant in the semi-final against Australia and the others rolled their arms over in support.
In T20 cricket, games can be won within a passage of play as the opposition would find it difficult to recover from a slump due to the paucity of time. Keeping this theory in perspective and bringing into equation India’s title triumph in 2007, one can say that India need to replicate its performance. They would do well to pick up on those strategies. What we saw against Pakistan was a collective failure with only Ravichandran Ashwin having a decent day. One bowler might have a fantastic day, but the others simply cannot afford to undo his hard-work. They need to be disciplined and maintain the pressure to complement the bowler who is has done well. More importantly, they have to cover-up for someone who isn’t having a good time in the middle.
With the defeat to Pakistan, calls to field five bowlers have intensified. The question is: How much would a fifth bowler help? After all, five specialist bowlers played the warm-up and yet couldn’t defend a score of 185. Also, one mustn’t forget that the same bowling attack defended a smallish total against Sri Lanka in the first warm-up. Irfan Pathan was the pick of the bowlers with five victims to his credit. Are some of India’s fans and well-wishers jumping the gun simply because it was a loss at the hands of Pakistan?
Even if Mahendra Singh Dhoni decides to play five bowlers, it wouldn’t be the easiest option. The whole make-up and balance of the team would change and he would have to take a few tough decisions. If the five bowler strategy is finalised, Pathan would have to double up as an all-rounder and bat at No 7 seven. Zaheer Khan would be the second seamer in the eleven with Lakshmipathy Balaji and Ashok Dinda fighting for the third spot.
Such a move may also allow India to play two spinners as fielding four fast bowlers wouldn’t make sense. Ashwin would be the certainty and Harbhajan seems to be the second choice. Harbhajan’s comeback was a bit of a surprise, but he did well in the warm-up against Sri Lanka and should be ahead of Piyush Chawla (another surprising selection) in the pecking order.
In the situation India find themselves in, playing five bowlers would have far reaching implications on the batting. Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh and Rohit Sharma were pencilled as the irreplaceable top seven. The first five names are absolutely indispensable and cannot be dropped to make adjustments.
Thus, India have to make a Hobson’s choice – between Rohit and Yuvraj. Rohit was brilliant in the game against Pakistan and it is a format where he can break free to move on from his recent struggles. On the other hand you have Yuvraj – whose comeback has been emotional and inspiring. India may have to drop him with a very heavy heart to make way for the extra bowler. Dhoni is known to be a shrewd leader who has taken brave decisions with regards to selections in the past. Will he have the heart to drop Yuvraj – however inspiring his story maybe, he still hasn’t attained a peak level of fitness?
(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)