T20 World Cup: Zimbabwe stand between India and semis
R Ashwin stresses on the need to be clinical in the last group match in Melbourne on Sunday
It’s Virat Kohli’s birthday. He cut a cake—“Rishabh ate it,” Ravichandran Ashwin said at the press conference—with Paddy Upton who shares the birthday and went about his business just like any other day.
A long hit at the nets, bookended by discussions with other players and the coaching staff, Kohli at 34 was just as intense as he was on 33. Later, when he came out of the dressing room to cut a cake that the travelling Indian media had got for him, Kohli was asked tongue-in-cheek if a bigger cake lay in wait next week (after the final). “Preferably I would like to cut just one cake, which is then,” he said.
You can sense the hunger to win the World Cup, not just in Kohli but in every member of the Indian contingent. There is also a degree of caginess. One defeat and three wins, two of which went to the wire, it hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for India. Part of it could be attributed to the challenging conditions thrown up in Australia due to the tournament being played this early in the season.
The other reason is that India just haven’t clicked together emphatically, even in one game. Four more wins and the Cup is theirs, as laid out by coach Rahul Dravid before the last game. But the tricky part may have just started.
India play the last group match of this World Cup against Zimbabwe on Sunday night. Since all other matches will be over by then, India’s semi-final fate will be well and truly in their hands. Pakistan will be hoping either South Africa or India stumble in the last round. India are favourites to win. An upset won’t surprise either. No Zimbabwe game is easy, definitely not against a side that beat Pakistan a few days back. It’s not only about the opponents, per se. The conditions, with an unpredictable format like T20, makes every contest a game of roulette.
“I think it's straightforward,” Ashwin surmised on how the journey has been for India. “No one win has come easy in this World Cup. See, as the game is wider in a Test match or something, you have a bad session, with the quality or the pure experience of a team you can always rally around and come back in a series. In T20 cricket the timelines are very little, so if it's not going your way, you can't, like, say okay, we'll look after it later on. You have to take the initiative and go ahead and try to put the pressure back on the opposition.”
That the plans had to be modified after coming to Australia is evident from the way Yuzvendra Chahal keeps warming the bench and the openers are taking more time to get their eye in. The transition hasn’t been without a few stumbles here and there. But the damage has been kept to a minimum so far--just one loss to South Africa.
“In this case every team has adapted beautifully and every team has a decent bowling attack. The grounds are big. The wickets are having a little bit in it for the fast bowlers up front. So, it has evened out the contest beautifully,” said Ashwin. “It’s safe to say that if the grounds are pretty decent, a lot many more teams and a lot many more cricketers will have to value and rely back on skill. This competition has kind of evened it out, I think.”
This perspective shows India are taking nothing for granted. That is why almost the entire team turned out at the nets even though this is a game against less-fancied opponents. The message is loud and clear--India can’t let their guard down.
“We need to be clinical, as clinical as possible,” Ashwin said. “Like I said, we know no team is a pushover. You will have to still go in there, counter the early pace with the bat and still bowl good balls to be able to generate pressure. Good teams will be clinical and will put the pressure on such days, and it’s a must-win contest. We know that. Like in every other contest in this World Cup, it’s a must-win encounter. So, we are looking forward to the game. Zimbabwe have played some wonderful cricket, so we can't go in there and expect them to crumble.”