Winning the toss of an important match and choosing what looked like a right option. Check.
Getting a batsman out off a no-ball in an important ICC tournament match. Check.
The said batsman getting a hundred. Check.
The opposition getting to a seemingly impossible total. Check.
The usual meltdown and a tame end. Check.
India’s defeat by Pakistan in CT 2017 final seems so parallel with their semi-final loss to the West Indies in the 2016 World T20. The only difference was India lost the toss and were batting first at that time. The rest of the script went so similar.
So Pakistan crushed the men in blue by 180 runs with almost 20 overs to spare. The odds of Pakistan winning the title so convincingly must have been the same as Leicester City winning the Premier League in 2016.
This resounding defeat will now spring a lot of prickly questions about the ODI team – especially outside the subcontinent.
The Oval Conundrum
India played 3 matches at The Oval and lost two and won one. They swept aside South Africa with surprising ease and lost to Sri Lanka and Pakistan with surprising ease too. In contrast, at Edgbaston they convincingly won both the matches and bulldozed their opponents.
It seems that the Indian team failed to adapt well to the pitch and conditions at The Oval. The bowlers took just 17 wickets out of the possible 30 at The Oval compared to 16 out of the possible 19 at Edgbaston.
The Sixth Bowler Dilemma
Indian ODI teams have periodically faced the dilemma over the sixth bowler. Virat Kohli himself mentioned that Hardik Pandya, at his current level, is good enough to bowl 7 overs on average in all matches. That means there would be problems when one or two of India’s four front-line bowlers have an off-day.
The main reason for the defeats in two matches against Sri Lanka and Pakistan was the Indian spinners had an off-day in both the matches and there was no able backup available. In both the losses, there were not enough wicket-taking deliveries bowled by the bowlers.
In the final, one would argue that had it not been a no-ball, Pakistan would have lost a wicket with less than 10 runs on the board and the picture would have been entirely different. However, it was an error by the bowler. It was also too late by the time Bumrah bowled a magnificent yorker to Hafeez and it looked as if the bail obeyed someone’s command and quietly sat back down on its original place.
The fact remains that in between those two instances, the Indian bowlers inexplicably did not bowl a good line and length and hence captain Kohli appeared to go through the motions with lack of proper backup options.
An Abject Batting Surrender
The no.3-ranked ODI team went into the final with the most aggregate runs scored by any team. Dhawan, Rohit and Kohli were three of the top five leading run scorers of the tournament. Yet, Kohli’s men ended up losing the match with the biggest margin of runs in any ICC tournament finals.
In most cases, Rohit Sharma would have tucked that ball nicely for a single to deep square-leg, even though Ramiz Raja insisted on commentary that there was some swing. Invariably, Virat Kohli would have flicked that ball at least for a couple of runs even with additional pace of Mohammad Amir. Under normal circumstances, MS Dhoni would not have given his wicket to that sort of ball. Unfortunately for India, all the three balls produced three big wickets and they were out of the match even before the completion of 15 overs.
It was too late by the time Hardik Pandya came in but his lusty hitting ensured India crossed the 100 run mark. His run out perfectly summarized the Indian team’s thoroughly dismal day.
Ashwin – the ODI Bowler
Ashwin did not feature in India’s first two matches because of team management’s horses for courses policy. There was a big debate for his inclusion, especially after the loss against Sri Lanka.
He was included in the game against South Africa specifically to keep a check on their left-handers and did a good job picking up a wicket. Against Bangladesh, he bowled decently going for 54 runs in his 10 overs. So it was a no-brainer that he will be a part of the final against Pakistan.
It is not clear whether it was Ashwin’s own decision to bowl a “defensive” line of middle and leg or the team management’s decision, but it was not a good one. It was unbearable and concerning to watch the offie in the final. If he was meant to bowl the defensive line with the sole objective of blocking runs, then it did not work as he went for 70 runs in his 10 overs. In the end it seemed like skipper Kohli was finishing Ashwin’s spell just to get him out of the way!
The Test bowler Ashwin specializes in bowling against the left-handers, but it was Fakhar Zaman, the left-hander who plundered 45 runs off his bowling – the most by any batsman off Ashwin in an ODI.
The team management and the veteran off-spinner himself quickly need to revisit on what his primary role is in the One Dayers.
A Blot on Kumble’s Coaching Tenure
If the Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC) surprisingly decides to part ways with Kumble, then the effectiveness of his overall coaching spell might be in danger of getting overshadowed by this crushing defeat. The CAC comprises of stalwarts like Tendulkar, Ganguly and Laxman so they will, in all probability, take into consideration Kumble’s overall performance as a coach while making a final decision.
There are a very few captain-coach combinations in Indian cricket that have brought in positive vibes and a methodical thought process within the Indian team. Indian cricket took giant strides under Sourav Ganguly and John Wright and then it reached the pinnacle under MS Dhoni and Gary Kirsten. When Anil Kumble became the coach, within a year it looked like the Kohli-Kumble partnership is going to be as successful as the aforementioned other two. It is, therefore, imperative that Kumble remains the head coach until the next World Cup in 2019.
If he will indeed remain or not is not certain at the moment, but what is certain though is that this Indian ODI team has to solve some nagging riddles before WC 2019.