Unchecked: A disconcerting Asian freefall at T20 World Cup | Crickit
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Unchecked: A disconcerting Asian freefall at T20 World Cup

Jun 11, 2024 02:44 PM IST

Inability to play smart cricket has resulted in widening gap between India and Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka at ICC events

Two lowest T20 World Cup totals have been defended in two days now, unsurprisingly involving three Asian nations. Also, not surprising probably that those two nations are Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Litton Das of Bangladesh makes his way off after being dismissed vs South Africa(Getty Images via AFP)
Litton Das of Bangladesh makes his way off after being dismissed vs South Africa(Getty Images via AFP)

Sri Lanka too seem to be in a freefall, shot out for 77 against South Africa before failing to defend 124 on a dubious Dallas pitch where Bangladesh did their best to make the chase interesting by losing eight wickets. Sri Lanka and Pakistan were winless till Monday.

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Bangladesh have two points but are still far from being assured of progress to the next round. India, on the other hand, are coasting towards qualification with an all-win record.

Punching above their weight, Afghanistan are authoring a memorable trajectory but Asian nations apart from India being this inconsistent in ICC events has been the narrative for some time now. Since 2011, India have reached the semi-finals of an ODI or T20 World Cup in six out of eight editions, missing out in 2012 and 2021. Pakistan have made it thrice (2012, 2021, 2022), Sri Lanka twice (2012, 2014) and Bangladesh have drawn a blank.

As things stand now, chances of a Super 8 qualification look bleak for Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Bangladesh could have lived without that headache had they not fluffed a chase of 113 against South Africa on Monday. Then again, often have they failed to do the simple things right.

On an improving New York pitch, the brief couldn’t have been simpler — run down 113 playing risk-free cricket. At 83/4 after 15 overs, you could say Bangladesh were more or less on the right path. Towhid Hridoy was targeting the boundaries but he also displayed the maturity to gnaw away at the target with singles. Till Kagiso Rabada trapped him leg before, but only by the finest of margins.

By then, Bangladesh probably were already nursing a grouse over four leg-byes being overturned after Mahmudullah had successfully reversed a leg before decision. It still should have been fairly simple after Hridoy’s dismissal, but newcomer Jaker Ali complicated the chase by conceding three dots.

From there it was a game of nerves and Bangladesh are not great players when it boils down to that. "I should have finished the match from that position," Hridoy said later. "It's difficult for new batsmen to adjust to the conditions."

Recalibrating the batting approach to suit the two-paced nature of the drop-in pitches in the USA is a skill not many sides have exhibited. South Africa did though.

“I think David (Miller) showed us in the previous game (against Netherlands) how to bat on this wicket and it's almost a similar way that we bat in the middle overs in a one-day game," said South Africa’s Heinrich Klaasen, who top-scored with 46. "So, our mindset is not even close to T20 cricket. You just want to get in and find a way to bat at run-a-ball.”

Unlike in the ODIs or Tests, you need one or two people to put their foot down for seven-eight overs to turn the tide in T20 because that takes up a sizeable portion of the game time. South Africa got to 113 because of a 79-run stand between Klaasen and Miller. India got to 119 against Pakistan entirely because of Rishabh Pant occupying one end from 12/1 to 96/5.

In comparison, Pakistan’s largest partnership on Sunday was 31, Bangladesh’s was 44. Looking back, Pakistan were probably better placed at 80/3 after 14 overs, with Mohammad Rizwan looking keyed into the chase with a 43-ball 31. First ball of the next over though, Rizwan tried to go cute against Jasprit Bumrah and Pakistan pretty much lost the game at that moment. Prudence was probably advisable in that over, and perhaps after that too since all wasn’t lost.

Pakistan coach Gary Kirsten made no bones over where his team came second to India. “Decision-making,” he said, after Sunday’s loss.

“You have got the game on, run a ball, eight wickets in hand, decision making at that point. That's international cricket for you. You make mistakes like that, you are going to pay. I thought we made some poor decisions at important phases of the game. We managed the chase very well but then just let it slip in the end."

Shahid Afridi too was vocal on the need to be smarter with such chases. “For several reasons, this game wasn't about playing aggressively,” he wrote in his column for the ICC. “But strategy and smart cricket were required to get the run chase over the line, and those qualities are exactly what Pakistan lacked.”

It’s not as if Pakistan, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka don’t play enough T20. Many players have featured in multiple franchise leagues, and therefore are not unfamiliar to the concept of playing high intensity games at short intervals. But they are also impeded by the typically subcontinent tendency of refusing to evolve with times, something India has defeated to some extent. Which is why it’s amusing to see Babar Azam trying to find his cover drives while Rohit Sharma attempts reverse sweeps and Virat Kohli gives bowlers the charge in the Powerplay.

Kirsten too has indicated the same. “The game is changing pretty much every year. So, if you're not up to it and you're not improving, you're going to get found out somewhere.”

Until Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka understand and embrace this, the gap with India can only widen.

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