Birmingham: India’s defeat in the semi-final was unexpected, especially after finishing on top of the table in round-robin stage of the ICC World Cup.
Skipper Virat Kohli has attributed the defeat to ‘45 minutes of bad cricket’ from his team, but the question then is whether 45 minutes was all that was needed to oust a potential champion?
The top order of any team can tumble at times, but the fact remains that India failed to build a specialised middle order in the squad in all these months. India should have been strategic in their plans and realised that should Kohli and Sharma have a bad day, they should have had a strong middle order batsman to control the ship and steer it to safety. This was exactly what happened in the 2017 Champions trophy final too against Pakistan when Sharma got out for a duck and Kohli made just five and India lost the match by 180 runs.
The New Zealand bowlers bowled brilliantly, utilising the conditions effectively, to wipe India’s top order in a flash. New Zealand’s two solid batsmen Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor too got runs when it is was most needed, while Sharma and Kohli failed on a day when India needed them the most. When the two greats fell quickly, there was a talk that maybe Mahendra Singh Dhoni could have been promoted up the order.
However, it seems all the criticism of Dhoni’s diminishing skills weighed heavily on the decision-makers and they got him to bat at No.7. Even though he played the role of a supporting batsman, Dhoni should have done that rather than the lesser experienced Rishabh Pant, Dinesh Karthik and Hardik Pandya soon after Kohli and Sharma had failed. It was poor shot selection that brought Pant as well as Pandya’s downfall. One of the reasons that Jadeja could bat smoothly was the presence of Dhoni at the other end.
For Jadeja, Dhoni is not only his idol but also his guide and that was what helped him unleash his shots. Though there have been criticism about Dhoni that he could have played faster, Indian innings could have folded up earlier had both batsmen gone for the hits and got out. If not for the superb throw from Martin Guptill that ended Dhoni’s innings, the result could have been different as well.
It is time pertinent questions are raised that Ajinkya Rahane, who has a decent overseas record and was playing County cricket for Hampshire, was ignored on two occasions when replacements could have been summoned.
New Zealand’s fielding was undoubtedly superior to the Indians and they surely must have saved at least 15 runs. The catch by Jimmy Neesham that dismissed Karthik is being hailed as a classic. India could have fielded even better and it’s time others too try to rise up to Jadeja’s level, whose fielding is the best in the team.
Many Indian fans consider it is unfortunate that, as table toppers, the format does not offer them a second chance once they have slipped in the semi-final. Kohli has remarked that a play-off would have been ideal and felt that in the present format, topping the table was not worth anything. “In this format it doesn’t matter what you have done before. It’s a fresh day, fresh start, and if you are not good enough, you go home.”
Meanwhile, there is a school of thought that wants Kohli to be replaced as captain and that he should focus only on his batting like Sachin Tendulkar. Many feel that India should have different captains, like Australia and England, for Tests and one-dayers. Since Kohli has failed to win any major ICC tournaments, Rohit Sharma, who has been successful as captain in IPL and is the best ODI batsman in the world currently, should be given the charge.
It will be interesting to see whether the cool-headed Sharma is able to alter India’s near-misses in ICC tournaments!