“India can now look at the positives and also improve on their weaknesses ahead of the big game”
India’s opening match against Hong Kong proved to be much closer than one expected. After managing to restrict India to well under 300, Hong Kong got to the best start possible. Their openers Nizakat Khan and skipper Anshuman Rath put away the below par Indian bowling and helped Hong Kong inch closer and closer to an improbable victory. Hong Kong, who recently lost their ODI status, had the momentum going into the chase after giving away just 48 runs from the final 10 overs. They dominated the first 34 overs, in which they scored 174 without losing a wicket of their chase as well, but the lack of experience in their ranks perhaps made the difference they found it difficult to chase down the remaining 112 runs from 16 remaining overs.
Once Rath was dismissed for 73, soon followed by Nizakat for 92, one sensed that Hong Kong are going to collapse and India will sail through to a victory. The likes of Babar Hayat, Kinchit Shah and Ehsan Khan did try their best to keep up with the required run-rate, but the experience of the Indian bowlers seemed to be just about enough to see them win.
Taking nothing away from Hong Kong, stand-in captain Rohit Sharma played what could be termed as a second string bowling line-up. India decided to give left-arm pacer Khaleel Ahmed a debut, Shardul Thakur and the returning Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Of course, they did not mess with the spin twins Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal.
Since his injury in England, in the middle of July, Bhuvneshwar has played just one competitive match, which was a 50-over match against Australia A, in which he returned with figures of 3-33. There was some rustiness in his bowling as he failed to hit accurate lines and lengths, also failing to hit the blockhole on many occasions. Shardul was a complete mess. When someone concedes 41 runs in 4 overs of an ODI match, you can sometimes say that it was bad luck – The bowler got the edges, but didn’t carry or there were a couple of catches dropped off the bowler. However, that was not the case with Shardul on this occasion. But like Bhuvi, Shardul too has not played a competitive match in a while. In fact, his last match was against Essex – A 3-day warm-up match, just ahead of the Tests.
It’s one thing being fit and another being match fit. Clearly, match-fitness eluded Shardul and also Bhuvi. Shardul bowled 10 deliveries in the 12th over, which included three no-balls and a wide as he was plundered for 17 runs off that over. He also bowled the 31st over of the innings and this time he was smashed for 13 runs. With India playing Pakistan next, we may just have seen the last of Shardul in this series.
If there was one positive in the bowling department – other than Chahal and Kuldeep doing their job efficiently – it was Khaleel Ahmed. The Rajasthan fast bowler bowled with great rhythm in his first ever ODI and got his just reward. He grew up idolising Zaheer Khan and incidentally, both fast bowlers returned with the same bowling figures – 3-48 – on their debut. He will be hoping that his international career to is as successful as Zaheer’s was.
It is almost certain that Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya will return for India in the match against Pakistan. We might see Dinesh Karthik and Shardul making way for them. Bumrah and Hardik were part of the Indian Test squad, which recently played five gruelling Tests against England and as a result have received an extended break. However, against Pakistan, the entire Indian squad will be rearing to go and so will the fans as this fixture will be played for the first time since the Champions Trophy final in June 2017.
India no doubt will have to improve their bowling against a strong Pakistan batting unit. Bumrah will be constantly reminded of the no-ball he bowled against Pakistan in the previous meeting that cost India the title, but this will be a great opportunity to put that behind him. Also, the inclusion of Hardik will add to India’s bowling and batting depth. India looked to their bench strength for the game against Hong Kong and will be glad that they gave it a shot. Now they know, where they lie. Every team has that one bad game in the tournament and India will be hoping that the Hong Kong game was that and would be happy to get it out of the way.
While both India and Pakistan are through to the final 4, the winner of this match will take the top spot in Group B. There is something at stake after all, however minimal. Also, fans are hoping that it will be yet another India-Pakistan final.
It is good that the Indian bowlers had a bad game right in the beginning of the tournament. With just two group matches, the room for error is minimum. India can now look at the positives and also improve on their weaknesses ahead of the big game. Hopefully, we will see Team India getting their balance right against Pakistan.