Cutting down on mistakes.
That was one of the key takeaways from Virat Kohli’s opening press conference in Australia ahead of the first T20I in Brisbane. Time and again, the skipper harped on the need to win crucial moments and get back in the game if there are any slip-ups. So much so, he went on to underline how radical mistakes were the underlining reason why India didn’t win Test series in both South Africa and England.
What’s different on this tour of Australia then, you might want to ask? Well, for starters, the team management is on the watch-out for such mistakes. But it is one thing to be aware and another thing to implement this awareness in real time action. Perhaps the Brisbane T20I will prove to be a rude awakening in this regard, for India started their tour Down Under with a plethora of unforced errors, as they say in tennis lingo.
It started with the captain himself, when he dropped Aaron Finch in the fourth over. It was a straight hit to cover, and the ball popped out of his hands. Later, he misfielded as well, cutting an embarrassed figure for Kohli sets very high standards in the field himself. There also seemed to be an element of showboating about his botched efforts – at least it seemed so in the second instance. There is no place for it on the cricket field, especially in a high-stake international game.
Pre-match Kohli had spoken about the need to win every ball for his team and on two occasions, he had let himself down. In a sense, it set the tone for rest of the evening, as missed chances in the field became a norm. Glenn Maxwell ought to have been run out early in his innings, but another missed opportunity meant that he instead slammed four sixes to give momentum to the Australian innings.
There were another drop – Marcus Stoinis towards the end – and although it didn’t prove as costly, it highlighted India’s massive shortcoming in a team game. The grounds and boundaries are bigger here in Australia, and any visiting side struggles at first to come to terms with the running and fielding angles. For a short T20 series, India needed to rely on their experience of having played here to be on point from ball one. They weren’t.
In comparison, the Australian fielding levels were raised on a day when they smelled a real chance of victory. When the series started, there was talk all around how India are the better side and will win at a canter. Unfortunately, international cricket isn’t played on paper and all the pre-match chatter perhaps only inspired Australia to victory. The clear difference between the two sides wasn’t bat or ball, but general outfielding.
Putting in a massive effort in the field helped Australia in two ways. First, their bowling isn’t as strong as India who boast of white-ball specialists in Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah and Kuldeep Yadav. The extra fielding effort helped put in pressure on the top-order, and the cheap dismissals of Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli came at a cost. India are massively dependent on their top-order to come good – take that element away and it is anybody’s game.
And this is where the second point comes in. Thanks to etching out top-order wickets, India’s middle order came into focus once again. Make no mistake, this is the weak link in the visitors’ armoury – any team can target their middle order and get away with it at the moment, and it makes for a worrisome thought in the build-up to the 2019 ODI World Cup.
The introduction of Rishabh Pant, instead of MS Dhoni, in the middle has brought an element of aggression especially in tall chases like at the Gabba. He accelerated, and helped Dinesh Karthik shift up the gears as well, as they put on 51 runs off 24 balls with some staggering hitting. For that small passage of play, Australia had no answers and they didn’t know where the next wicket was going to come.
This is where Pant’s poor shot comes into focus once again. For a second game running, he played a needless stroke and at an unnecessary juncture. Against West Indies too, he played a similar loose shot to get out and the match was almost tied in Chennai. The difference – well, India had already won that series and so it wouldn’t have mattered in the greater scheme of things.
At the Gabba though, in a seesawing game, Pant’s dismissal was the point of no return for India. Once that partnership was broken, all momentum was lost in the final two overs and couldn’t simply be regained. Krunal Pandya isn’t remotely the same batsman as Hardik, and even Karthik’s innings lost steam as India finally lost.
It isn’t to blame Pant for the loss completely. In a rain-affected T20 game, that would be a bit unfair. However, the time is quickly approaching when someone needs to put an arm on his shoulder and talk about the importance of pacing his innings as well as the benefits of shot selection.
That same person ought to talk to the rest of the dressing room as well. Already, India are 1-0 down and these are back-to-back games. Mistakes, so many of them, in a singular T20I game isn’t the best way to start off a tour wherein you carry the tag of favourites.