Dew, toss, fatigue: Ousted India attempt to rationalise early exit in T20 World Cup
India's hopes of making it to the semi-final were lost after New Zealand beat Afghanistan by eight wickets in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.
In the end, rather symbolically, it was New Zealand which showed tournament favourites India the exit door again. After halting India in the 2019 ODI World Cup semi-finals and the 2021 World Test Championship final, Kane Williamson’s side knocked India out of the 2021 T20 World Cup after easing to an eight-wicket win over Afghanistan in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.
New Zealand, a team with limited player pool and without any big budget T20 league, became the second side to qualify for the semi-finals from Group 2 after Pakistan. Left stranded at third, India quickly called off their optional practice session ahead of Monday’s final group tie against Namibia—which is now inconsequential—as players brooded over what might have been.
India’s inability to hold their weight in knockout rounds of ICC events has been sticking out like a sore thumb. This time, they have also missed the bus to reach the last four; the previous time that happened was back in the 2012 T20 World Cup. Virat Kohli will thus have no ICC titles to show as he ends his India T20 captaincy stint, with his ODI leadership too unlikely to be retained.
Was India’s ill-fated T20 World Cup campaign a result of lost tosses, as the team management puts it? Or did India end up fielding a bunch of able but tired athletes burdened under the stress of the bubble life? The truth, in parts, lies in both. Still, can a fancied India—with the BCCI as the game’s commercial epicenter which runs the world’s biggest T20 league—sit comfortably behind the blanket of toss and bubble fatigue, knowing well that they could not identify a squad of 15 to withstand the varied conditions at a global event? The national selectors and the new coaching staff led by Rahul Dravid will have to find solutions and rebuild a side for next year’s T20 World Cup in Australia.
For now, let’s address the questions. Statistics say no team has won batting first in the seven evening World Cup matches played in Dubai so far. Two of them included India’s defeats against Pakistan and the Kiwis. New Zealand did beat Scotland batting first in Dubai, but that was an afternoon game.
“I am not giving excuses. But the toss plays a very, very vital role here, which I think should not be of consequence. It gives an undue advantage,” Bharat Arun, India’s bowling coach, said in a virtual press meet on Sunday. “There is a huge change in first innings and second innings batting, and that shouldn’t be the case in a short format like this.”
However, India knew the schedule well in advance and had the opportunity to pick a squad with back-up options should Plan A fail. In one of the evening matches in Dubai where Afghanistan ran Pakistan close batting first, they used a lot of spin, including in the powerplay overs. India resorted to similar tactics but only after the two losses. A couple of their seamers, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Shardul Thakur, looked listless.
Another missing link has been the gaping hole in India’s middle order. In the last two matches where openers Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul fired, India raced to victories. Against the tougher Pakistan and New Zealand tests in which they lost early wickets in the powerplay, there was no one to resurrect the innings. India had 151 to defend against Pakistan, but the bowlers failed miserably.
“The wicket kind of eases out when you come on to bowl second. But we should have batted better,” Arun admitted. “In the first match, we had a chance to defend the total, but we looked a little below par.”
While the wicket does tend to ease up in the second innings, not every evening match in the tournament has been heavily dew-affected. Things haven’t been anywhere like the winter games in the northern or eastern parts of India where the cricket ball resembles a cake of soap. England won defending in an evening game in Sharjah against Sri Lanka. Similarly, South Africa posted a strong total and defended it in an evening game against England.
Pakistan, the tournament’s in-form team, stuck to a formula of taking their batting innings deep without undue risks before exploding. The Indian team failed to adapt and tweak their tactics according to the conditions.
The other defence put up by India is that their World Cup miss has been a tale of a mere two failures. Captain Virat Kohli called them “aberrations”. “We have played well across formats in the last two to three years. You can’t judge a team based on one or two matches. It can happen with anyone in T20 cricket,” said Ravindra Jadeja after the Scotland match.
But that’s the essence of tournament cricket; of soaking in the pressure when the big matches come calling against strong opposition. It’s something India have failed to do in multiple ICC events now.
Arun also outlined player burnout to be one of the determining factors. “Maybe a short break between the IPL and the World Cup would have done a lot of good for these boys,” he said. The rules here have been laid down by the administrators, with an expanded IPL and equally strenuous international calendar ahead.
The bowling coach called for specialist bowlers for specific formats to ease the workload. “In our country, we have a very good pool of fast bowlers. So, we can afford to field different teams for different formats,” Arun said. “That way not only can we understand the different talent available, we can also keep our bowlers physically and mentally very fresh.”
Having a team aligned to T20 requirements for better results, and not just for workload management, is an idea Indian cricket has implemented only half-heartedly. With the debacle on the world stage, such a roadmap will need to be fast-tracked and infused with more purpose.