Hardik Pandya
India's Hardik Pandya plays a shot during the ICC Men’s Twenty20 World Cup cricket match against New Zealand at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on October 31, 2021. Image Credit: AFP

Favourites don’t always win. So I generally avoid picking fancied teams to win a tournament. Instead, I look at other potential winners. In the recent past, I made two calls that didn’t fit the pattern. I backed the Mumbai Indians to win the Indian Premier League 2021, and expected India to win the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup. Both predictions went horribly wrong.

That got me thinking. Where did I go wrong? Especially with India. I tried sidestepping India in my World Cup prediction, but the more dispassionately I looked at the other teams’ chances, the more convinced I was that India would win.

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The experience of UAE pitches from IPL 2021 was the most significant factor. The behaviour of UAE pitches this year has been drastically different from the previous year. And the IPL games would have helped India craft their strategy. That’s what I believed. It’s one of the prime reasons that swayed my prediction.

The team too was good. The batting strength rivals England’s, and the bowling was varied, although the seam attack was a bit undercooked. Yet my belief was that the batting power would see them through.

Strangely enough, it was the batting that let India down in the first two games, and the losses against Pakistan and New Zealand ensured India’s exit. True, the batting was brilliant in the rest of the games, but India’s fate was sealed by then.

I certainly didn’t see the batting collapse coming. After all, Venkatesh Iyer of the Kolkata Knight Riders and Ruturaj Gaikwad of the Chennai Super Kings had shown how to bat in the powerplay during IPL 2021. These youngsters offered divergent examples of how to bat on the pitches in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah while batting first or chasing a target. Maybe, the Indian think-tank overlooked that.

What Sunil Gavaskar said

The drawback was highlighted by former Indian captain Sunil Gavaskar while analysing India’s poor performance. The powerplay is hugely important in T20 games as the first six overs offer the best chance to rack up runs with only two fielders outside the 30-yard circle. But it’s fraught with danger since teams can lose early wickets in haste to score, which would impact scoring in the middle overs.

Fatigue undoubtedly is another reason that undermined India. I got that one right. In my prediction, I had observed that the packed schedule and the biobubble life could take a toll on the Indians. That turned out to be correct. Indian chief coach Ravi Shastri attested that on Monday.

The loss of toss did have an impact, but a champion side should have made light of that. Toss has always affected the outcome of cricket matches. But that’s true for Test matches too. The loss of toss can be a disadvantage when put to bat on a seaming wicket and can also lead to batting last on a turning track.

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Blaming the toss, as Indian bowling coach Bharat Arun did, is not a good idea. England lost the toss against Sri Lanka and yet found a way to win in Sharjah. So did South Africa, who pegged back England’s spirited chase. That’s what good sides do.

So it was heartening to note that captain Virat Kohli refused to blame the toss. Rightly so. India have the batting to ride out the early slowness of the pitch; it’s just that they had two bad matches. One loss would have been okay, but it’s difficult to come back from two defeats.

In fact, the big loss to Pakistan hurt India badly. So badly that it affected India’s preparations against the Kiwis. When India met New Zealand, the team hadn’t recovered from the rout against Pakistan, which was apparent in the players’ body language and the team selection. There was an indecisiveness not seen earlier. Such hesitation can be devastating in big matches. India paid the price for that, and my prediction went awry.