Friday, April 8, 2016

India at the 2016 T20 World Cup

Ladies first

This was a golden opportunity squandered by the Indian team to hog some of the limelight at the biggest stage. A good performance at home would certainly have provided a big boost to women's game in India. But being eliminated in the group stages with just one win from 4 games didn't help the sport's cause. 

The team had a good run-up to the tournament. A maiden series win in Australia was followed up with a series victory at home against Sri Lanka. So a semi-final appearance was the bare minimum expectation. However, at the crunch time they came up just short. 

A big victory against Bangladesh was followed by 3 close losses against Pakistan, England and the West Indies. They might have been done in by the rain against Pakistan but they missed multiple run-out chances which might have kept the D/L score in their favor. A dropped chance at the most crucial moment (2 wickets left with 2 runs required) saw England scraping through while against West Indies, the team fell short by 3 runs. All three losses were narrow but the India team finished up second in all three. 

It was similar to the 2013 ODI World Cup held in India, when they lost out in the first round itself. Probably the pressure of playing in the limelight overcame the likes of Mithali Raj, Jhulan Goswami & Harmanpreet Kaur. Or probably it was just plain bad luck. The Indian ladies team has slipped back. Not long ago they were just outside the Big 3 of Women's cricket (Australia, England & New Zealand). Now, West Indies women (who seem to be going the other direction than the men) have overtaken them in the hierarchy. While the South Africans too are coming close as are the Pakistanis. Their current performance also does not give them a direct entry into the 2017 ODI World Cup (which might be a good thing in the long run, if the team has to go through the qualifiers)

It was a heartening sight though to see the men & women team taking the same ground and cheering on each other. Although they play the same sport, there can't be a bigger gulf in perception across genders in any other sport. 

Now for the men 

Virat Kohli carried them single-handedly into the semi-finals. He had able support from the bowlers (in helpful conditions) and Dhoni but the rest of the line-up never came to play. And at Wankhede, the first batting pitch they encountered the bowling just disintegrated with the honorable exception of Nehraji.

Kohli was a class apart. One can safely say he is the best chaser of all time. During run chases the man provides Dravid's solidity, Sachin's run hunger and  Ganguly's aggression, all in one. And he has VVS’s love for Australian attacks, a love also extended to Pakistani and Sri Lankan ones. 

Then Nehraji - He is picked for the biggest stage on the world cricket after years in wilderness and comes up trumps. A economy rate under 6 across a T20 World Cup, those are unbelievable figures especially for a fast bowler who bowled either in powerplays or at death. Now the question? Will he be mothballed again like after the 2011 World Cup or will he have a longer ride in the near future. 

Dhoni’s sprint to prevent the last ball bye against Bangladesh would be replayed over and over again. And still you would not believe that it happened. However Captain Cool was feeling the pressure of the World Cup. He miscalculated his winning six hit against Pakistan. Add his new form in the press conferences. Something loved by cricket fans but being hated by the journalists. 

In Jasprit Bumrah, we have finally got a bowler who can bowl yorkers at will. Now it remains to be seen if he remains a one-season wonder? (like many an Indian fast bowler over the previous years). 

Yuvraj Singh had a strange world cup. His best contribution came as collapse-breaker, trying to get the innings back on the feet after Dhawan, Rohit & Raina had derailed it. And yet most of the time it seemed he was just playing on past reputation. 

As for the others, they all had a World Cup to forget. As a team, the performance wasn't quite up to the mark. The worst part is the team being repeatedly found wanting on spinning tracks. How can Kiwi spinners outperform Indians? However in tight situations the men did come out trumps. 

Catches win Matches. An old cricketing maxim which didn't quite hold true in this World Cup. Sometimes they don’t. e.g. Watson taking Yuvraj’s catch actually benefited India more than Australia. And in the semi-finals against West Indies, if those two catches had not been taken, the no-balls would not have been reviewed and no subsequent free-hits awarded either. 

So what are the lasting images from the 2016 World Cup for Indian fans - the sight of Virat Kohli on his knees after the Australia chase overcome by his own stupendous effort, Dhoni winning the race to the stumps against Bangladesh or simply the the two teams cheering each other .

Nishant Kumar for DieHard Cricket Fans
Follow Nishant on Twitter @NishantSKumar

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