The Indian cricket team had lost two matches on the trot coming to the third game versus Afghanistan in the 2021 ICC T20 World Cup. Both defeats had some things in common. Let us look at those points which were the reasons for the bizarre performances and how they were different from how things went down on Wednesday evening.
NOT SO POWERFUL IN THE POWERPLAY
In three T20 World Cup games in the UAE, India’s Powerplay scores have been 36/3, 35/2 and 53/0.
When you lose two or three wickets in the first six overs of a T20 match, you just cannot go bang-bang from then on and play the way the format demands. You are forced to rebuild the innings and knock around singles or doubles. First, it was the brilliance of Shaheen Shah Afridi which had the Indian openers undone and then, against New Zealand, an even worse batting show followed. Fair to say, that had Virat Kohli and Rishabh Pant not put up that partnership against Pakistan, that loss could have been even more embarrassing.
On the contrary, in the game against the Afghans, the Indian team saw its usual opening pair take charge and get off to a rocket start and prepare a launchpad for the betters to come. The Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul pair will surely go down as one of the greatest duos in the shortest form of the game. In 23 T20I innings together, Rohit and Rahul have scored 1212 runs and average 55.09 as a pair, with five fifty-run stands and four century efforts.
INTENT IN THE MIDDLE
After their record opening stand of 140, Pant and Hardik Pandya batted at numbers three and four respectively and slammed 63 in 21 balls to get India’s score to 210/2 in 20 overs. So far in the T20 World Cup, India’s scores from overs seven to 15 have been 64/1, 38/3 and 89/1.
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This is more or less dependent on the first point of getting a good start. It allows the batters to bat with freedom and show the bravery about which Kohli has spoken in the past. The decision of sending Pant at three was also a masterstroke by the skipper, followed by Hardik at four. Hardik getting back to perform like the Hardik we know is a great sign for India. There is no way that India can exploit the little hope of getting through to the semi-finals without such contributions.
The pair of Hardik and Pant gave India not only a strong finish but a lot of momentum which India needed. They smacked the Afghanistan bowlers for 65 in the last five overs of the innings.
WICKETS UPFRONT, SLOW DOWN THE CHASE
The Indian bowlers went wickets-less against Pakistan as India lost the match by 10 wickets. You cannot really blame them for the New Zealand game. But his time, the Indian quicks gave their skipper breakthroughs upfront and then continuously, one after another, the bowlers kept knocking the batsmen off and did not allow any partnership to flourish. One of the best moments of the second innings was the spell by R Ashwin, who made his comeback to blues in T20 cricket after five years. His spell of 4-0-14-2 choked Afghanistan in the middle overs and had them under the pump.
It is fascinating to see that how the Indian team has taken a full circle in these four years. From moving on from the Ashwin-Jadeja pair to Kul-Cha to now coming back to the former. Kohli at the post-match presentation when asked about the biggest positive, said: “The return of Ash. We saw him doing well in the IPL and when he does this, we get to control in the middle overs. That’s what I’m most pleased about.”
This win will give a lot of confidence to the whole unit as well it will give India’s net run-rate the boost which can be crucial if things narrow down. Can India, with some help from Afghanistan on Sunday, pull off a miracle and make the T20 World Cup semi-finals?