By R Kaushik in Mirpur
Australia may no longer be in serious reckoning after losing to Pakistan and West Indies, but it won’t go out without a fight
India is already through to the semi-final, the first team to get there on the back of three wins based on a straightforward formula – win toss, stick the opposition in, restrict them to under 140, knock off the runs without fuss. The formula is simple enough in its conception; India’s execution has been exemplary, its spinners the driving force behind keeping opponents down, and Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli consistency personified with the bat.
India has won by seven wickets, seven wickets and eight wickets respectively against Pakistan, West Indies and Bangladesh after Mahendra Singh Dhoni won each of those tosses. Apart from Rohit and Kohli, who have scored half-centuries in the last two matches, the others that have batted are Shikhar Dhawan (31 in 37 balls), Yuvraj Singh (11 in 21), Suresh Raina (26 in 29) and Dhoni (22 in 12). Rohit has made 142 runs in 122 deliveries, Kohli 147 for once dismissed in 123.
What that translates to, is that between them, Rohit and Kohli have scored 289 of 389 runs – that’s 74.2% – amassed by the batsmen. They have also faced 245 of the 345 deliveries sent down at India – a little over 71%. That makes for excellent reading – after all, the opener and the No. 3 have left nothing to chance, taking upon themselves the responsibility of steering the ship home. That also means the rest of the batting line-up is fairly undercooked.
The big question ahead of Dhoni and Duncan Fletcher, the coach who has continued to hog the background, is what India does about this in its final league encounter, against Australia, at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium on Sunday (March 30). Does India stick with the tried and tested because there is no discernible reason to deliberately force a shift in tack, or does it rework the batting order to ensure that it provides the likes of Yuvraj, Raina and Dhoni, and even R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, more game time from a batting perspective?
International cricket is no avenue for experimentation, admittedly, but India finds itself in the fortunate position of being able to try out things in a game situation without it impacting its progress in the competition. The benefits of shuffling the pack with the later stages of the tournament in mind must be weighed up against the possible break from a pattern that has stood the team in good stead thus far. And while it is imperative that a majority of the batting group carries runs and confidence into the next phase, India will be better off sticking with what has worked for it, because who is to say Dhoni’s luck with the coin will not continue to hold, or that opponents might not try to use scoreboard pressure to intimidate India in do-or-die knockout clashes.
Australia may no longer be in serious reckoning, but it would not go down without a fight either. Smarting from twin defeats to Pakistan and West Indies – the latter particularly shattering not just because it ended its interest in the competition in everything else beyond mathematical terms but also because of the vigour with which a charged-up West Indies celebrated that victory – it would try their desperate best to take something away from a campaign that has gone horribly wrong.
George Bailey’s men haven’t played poorly, but they haven’t played the big moments smartly. There have been far too many mistakes, errors you don’t always associate with an Australian team, in crunch situations – both from cricketing and psychological standpoints.
Their batting line-up, inarguably the most destructive in the competition alongside the West Indians’, has fired only in fits and starts, as reflected in totals of 175 and 178 despite enjoying the best batting conditions in both games. On Sunday, it will have its first taste of batting under the Sher-e-Bangla lights in the day’s second match, by which time the pitch would have lost plenty of pace and carry. That will call for rapid, intelligent adapting to the conditions on offer.
Having gone into the two day games with all-out aggression, it is difficult to imagine Australia opting for a more conservative approach at night. The production line of power-hitters necessitates Australia to keep going hard at the bowling right throughout the 20 overs. That it has a Mitchell Starc, who too can give the ball a mighty thwack, batting at No. 9 is a huge bonus, though whether the left-arm paceman will continue to hang on to his place, or makes way for Nathan Coulter-Nile to offer some variety to the pace attack, remains to be seen.
Neither Dan Christian nor Cameron White has got a game thus far, and Australia will contemplate long and hard over whether it is about time to get them off the bench and on to the park. Neither addition will significantly undermine a playing XI that will expect more than just brief flourishes from Aaron Finch – who did make a half-century in the opening loss to Pakistan – and David Warner, competing with Dwayne Smith and Chris Gayle for the tag of the most lethal opening combine in the competition.
Shane Watson, the beefy No. 3, has twice been dismissed by a spinner early in his innings, making just six runs in all. Only Glenn Maxwell in the middle order has stood tall, carting the bowling around with utter disdain, but his is a high-risk approach that will not always bear fruit. Australia needs to balance perceived madness with discernible method against Ashwin and Amit Mishra if it is to not flatter to deceive again.
Australia: Aaron Finch, David Warner, Shane Watson, Glenn Maxwell, George Bailey (capt), Brad Hodge, Brad Haddin (wk), James Faulkner, Mitchell Starc, Doug Bollinger, Brad Hogg, James Muirhead, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Dan Christian, Cameron White.
India: Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt, wk), R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Amit Mishra, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Stuart Binny, Ajinkya Rahane, Varun Aaron, Mohit Sharma.