India’s batting was inept against New Zealand on a pitch that assisted spinners. That’s like saying the prawn vindaloo failed to titillate the taste buds; it just shouldn’t happen. India are supposed to revel in those conditions and the opposition crumble, but on this occasion it was the exact opposite.
Why did India’s batting crumble like a badly baked apple pie?
It was a combination of ego and faulty technique. India, having held New Zealand to an eminently attainable target, decided they were going to flex their muscles and intimidate the opposition by an overt show of superiority. Instead of just making sure they reached the target and pocketed the all-important opening points of the tournament, they decided to try and annihilate New Zealand.
This led to faulty technique, whereby they became obsessed with front-foot play and went searching for the ball, instead of being flexible in judging length and then reacting accordingly. Players like Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, who were so adept at calmly working the ball off the back foot through the onside, would’ve blushed at the ineptitude of the next generation.
However, the Indian batsmen didn’t need to visit YouTube to find an example of the right approach; all they had to do was watch the following games on television.
First, it was a brutal attack from Chris Gayle that tore England apart and then the controlled aggression of Tillakaratne Dilshan saw Sri Lanka safely home against the Afghans. It wasn’t technique the Indian batsmen need to note but the desire of these two senior players to see their team home to victory.
The value of getting those first points on the board in a compressed tournament was never more obvious in the contrast between India’s approach and that of West Indies and Sri Lanka.
Not only does India’s loss in those circumstances make them more vulnerable to opponents who are suddenly emboldened by their failure to cope with familiar conditions, it also means they can’t afford another slip up. That is not the ideal lead-in to a match with arch-rivals Pakistan, especially when the visitors are buoyant.
Nevertheless, India’s bowlers did well against New Zealand and they should be confident against a brittle Pakistan batting line-up. Pakistan’s top order may have succeeded against Bangladesh but India’s attack will be tougher.
India’s other task will be to try and deflate Shahid Afridi’s confidence and quickly reduce his influence on the game. Pakistan tend to mirror Afridi’s mood and this is something for India to exploit.