Defending champions India came into this edition of ICC Champions Trophy as one of the red-hot favourites. Prior to the event, it was being argued that this Indian team is probably the most balanced unit in the tournament, thanks to their power-packed batting line-up, backed up by an impressive bowling attack.
However, on Thursday, the unexpected defeat against the relatively inexperienced Sri Lankan team has shown that Virat Kohli team is not invincible. In fact, in his post-match press conference, the skipper himself mentioned that.
Kohli also mentioned that India had “enough on the board at the half-way stage”.
But did they really have enough?
The standard of the batting in limited-overs cricket is quite high these days. Scores in the range of 320-330 are being made and chased down quite frequently. In fact, in England, Eoin Morgan’s team has raised the bar quite high. Since the 2015 World Cup, they have achieved the 350-mark more often than any other team in the world.
So, the questions arises here, on a flat Oval wicket after putting up 321 on the board, especially after the start they got, how can Kohli think that India had enough on the board?
“I think batting wise we did really well. We obviously have to consolidate and then explode in the end, and that’s the way we always play. We don’t – we’re not a side that always plays explosive cricket throughout the 50 overs,” this was Kohli’s explanation.
The problem with this Indian team is that they tend to bat too conventionally in 50-over cricket. Their strategy is to bat normally till the 30-35 overs over, then try to explode in the final half. Till the Sri Lanka game, the formula had been working quite smoothly for India.
But Thursday’s defeat has pointed out a loophole in this tactic.
Before Sri Lanka’s batting exhibition at the Oval, no other team had reached the 200-mark against the Indian attack (including the warm-up fixture), since they landed in England for this edition of Champions Trophy. From that regard, Kohli thought 321 was good enough for Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, he did not plan for an off day of his bowling unit and probably that cost the game for India.
After getting a 138-run opening stand, India scored only 80 runs in the phase between 25 to 40 overs. This was clearly unacceptable from a batting line-up, which many believe is the best in the business. On these flat wickets, India are playing six proper batsmen and two all-rounders in the form of Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja.
The team management is ready to sacrifice Ravichandran Ashwin’s place in the playing eleven to play an extra batsman, Kedar Jadhav. But so far in the two league games, Jadhav got only one opportunity to bat – against Sri Lanka, when he scored an unbeaten 25 off 13 balls.
Thus, when India are taking the luxury of playing an extra batsman, then they should not get complacent after reaching 320. They have to target the 350-mark to provide their bowlers’ more breathing space, even on an off day like they had against the Lankans.
Often we have seen in the first powerplay, the openers do not try to get an attacking start like the Alex Hales and Jason Roy pair does for England or David Warner-Aaron Finch pair for Australia. Both Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma do not try to take advantage of the fielding restrictions, instead, they play risk-free cricket and try to reach 45-50 in this phase.
Here, India should not miss out the opportunity to score an extra 10-15. Those runs can be handy in the final outcome of the game and both Dhawan and Rohit are well capable of doing it without taking much risk.
Similarly, in the middle overs, with five fielders inside the 30-yard circle, the batsmen can be a little more aggressive. Against Pakistan, they got bogged down in the middle and it took a Yuvraj-Virat masterclass to bail them out of the situation. Same thing happened against Sri Lanka as well. It seems, the Indian think-tank has to be reminded that they bat deep and this batting depth should be utilised fully.
Hope ahead of their knock-out fixture against South Africa, Kohli and the team management will identify this tactical error and work on it.
“Maybe we will have to push harder now in the next few games to give us a 20-run cushion. Maybe after seeing a result like this, because we’re playing on the same ground as well,” from these words of Kohli after Thursday’s defeat, one can get a feeling that he has started thinking about this.
Good signs for India?