India’s World cup campaign finally ended in the Semi Finals. India was one of the favourites along with the hosts England to lift the Cup. India also was ranked 2nd in the world in the lead up to the tournament and became the No. 1 team during the course of it. In that sense it is an underachievement.
However, when one carefully analyses the team’s performances, many issues or trends can be seen.
One of the major issues for the team for the last 2 years prior to the World cup, was the pivotal No. 4 batting position. It needed a player to be technically strong in defence with an ability to attack and take the opposition head on when the situation warranted. Many players were given an opportunity – Ajinkya Rahane, Manish Pandey, Dinesh Karthik, Ambati Rayudu, Vijay Shankar and even Dhoni to name a few. However, none were able to cement the position. This issue played up during the semi-final when India lost its key top order run scorers in single digits. This put pressure on a muddled middle order. The lack of a good no.4 had an impact on the performance of the entire middle order.
Off the field decisions also had a bearing on the team performance. In at least 3 matches, India seemed to have misread the pitch. As a result, the team bowling composition was skewed with a need for an extra seamer or spinner. In the batting too, the nature of the pitch for the semi-finals, the case for Kedar Jadhav, who had already batted well in a few league games and with his extra slow bowling abilities, was clearly understood. He could have been selected in place of Karthik.
On the field, India were always going to be over reliant on their top 3 who had scored the bulk of the runs since the last World Cup. The pair of Shikhar and Rohit complemented each other wonderfully. Both had contrasting approach to batting. While Rohit took time to settle down, Shikhar attacked from the first over. Rahul’s slow scoring rate was amply compensated by Shikhar’s attacking batting. Once Shikhar Dhawan was injured, there was no one to take his position in the batting line up with the same intent. In the absence of Shikar, Rahul was given a chance. While the scores and his average suggest he did a decent job, there was always a feeling that he never got on top of the opposition bowling. His scoring rate was slower than Rohit. In the semi-finals, with a moderately low target and a very good opposition bowling attack, Shikhar’s intent and attacking instinct was required to quickly reduce the required target. That was not the case. Rahul finished the tournament with a batting strike rate of 77, reminiscent of the 80’s and 90’s style of batting.
Another area where India fell short was in the spin bowling department. This was considered our strong suit. There seemed be too much of talk of wrist spin over finger spin. In the final analysis, both Chahal and Kuldeep had a poor tournament. Chahal finished with 12 wickets with an average of 37 and ER of 6 while Kuldeep took 6 wickets at an average of 56 and ER of 5. Thus, in the crucial middle overs, they were neither penetrative nor effectively stopped the flow of runs. They were crucial to the India’s performance, as the pitches in this World cup were slow with a bit of turn. Not many matches were high scoring. Thus, their non-performance had a bigger impact. Another matter worth considering was Chahal had a poor series when India toured England last year. Even Kuldeep was tackled effectively. In the semi- finals, the 2 finger spinners, Jadeja and Santner went at 3.5 runs an over while Chahal was taken for 6 runs an over.
In the final analysis, questions abound whether Rayudu with his greater experience, in spite of poor recent form, should have been given his chance in the team. The team always looked skewed with 4 wicket keepers. Was it the best available team? Was there too much pressure on the bowlers with only 5 selected in the playing eleven? There was no back up in case one of the bowlers had an off day in the knock out matches, like Chahal in the semi-finals. India, as a team was riding on the performances of a couple of top order batsmen and couple of fast bowlers. They did not look like a complete team. Taking all the factors into consideration, India was not the best team on the park and the semi-finals result was par for the course.
Another question is whether Kohli would continue as Captain. Rohit has shown better Captaincy nous in white ball cricket – both for his IPL franchise and for the country. His results are evident. Kohli has captained India in the Champions Trophy and the World Cup with no silverware to show. BCCI should think of having separate captains for Test and White ball cricket.
On a lighter note, we have been spared comments from the team coach Ravi Shastri, calling it a greater win than 1983, had India won the Cup.