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India's Champions Trophy strategy

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India_Strategy_CricketIndia walked out onto the Kennington Oval with shoulders rising and confidence sky high, and why not? The mighty Indians had thumped neighbours and arch rivals Pakistan. India were looking to inflict similar damage to their other neighbours and everyone had clocked Sri Lanka as the absolute underdogs in the game.

Although the forecast didn’t show significant chances of showers, but Sri Lanka won the all important toss and chose to field. Things changed quite quickly in favour of India as Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan got going.

The two smashed the Sri Lankan bowlers all around the park and kept the scoreboard ticking. What read 3 after the first 4 overs, the run rate gradually rose to 4 and thereabouts, and was at 5 and above in no time up with the two getting into the game with their strokeplay.

The openers put together yet another century stand and it all seemed to be heading in the same direction as it had gone on the 4th of June against Pakistan. But just as India was heading to the halfway mark, hitman Rohit Sharma threw away his wicket and was out caught when the scoreboard read 138.

What had looked like a comfortable, and a match-winning start, suddenly had a bump as Kohli fell in quick succession without troubling the scorers. Yuvraj and Dhawan though tried to steady the ship with a 40 run stand, but finally saw Yuvraj walking back to the pavilion, having added just 7 to the 40 runs of the partnership.

Out came the former Indian captain. He didn’t get to bat the last time around. A few early jitters and fidgets later, Dhoni got his act together and contributed strongly to India’s innings.

Dhawan’s 125, Dhoni’s half century and Jadhav’s late cameo ensured India managed 321 off their 50 overs. The total looked like one that would ensure India’s win.

Sri Lanka came out to bat with little confidence and lost their first wicket in a jiffy. But what followed was something that worried India. Kusal Mendis and Danushka Gunathilaka stitched together a great partnership and kept the scoreboard ticking.

Just as Sri Lanka were in the middle of their innings, a difference of opinion occurred in the commentary box where Sehwag felt Sri Lanka need to go hard now, while Ganguly thought they were fine and could accelerate in due course. What transpired was the middle route. Besides the duo getting their singles and doubles, they showcased smart strategy, targeting India’s weak links, Jadeja and Pandya, to accelerate and be in terms with the asking rate. The duo struck some crucial boundaries and started to accumulate more runs than the required rate and in no time, Sri Lanka looked like sailing towards the total.

India did get a breakthrough in the form of Danushka, but it came from a run out. Kusal Perera was sent in to bat, but instead of trying to pick another wicket, Kohli tried to get the overs off from his weaker bowlers and even got Jadhav and himself into the attack. What did it result in? Kusal Perera settling and Kusal Mendis accelerating; and though Mendis too went soon, falling to yet another run out, Sri Lanka looked confident of going across the line.

Mathews and Gunaratne provided finishing touch to what was a convincing 7 wicket triumph, making the last couple of games in the group more interesting than someone ever anticipated.

But in this loss for India, there’s a huge point to ponder upon, while that also acts as a timely reminder. India failed to pick wickets in the middle of the innings and when that usually happens, you tend to end up on the losing side, just as India did.

On a placid track where even the likes of Bangladesh got 300, playing Pandya was not the smartest thing. Pandya, who has only completed 10 overs in a game once, was never going to get his way through here and any one of the other 4 could have had a bad day on a batting-friendly wicket. Ravichandran Ashwin, or Mohammed Shami, if the management felt the wicket was better for seam bowlers, should have been drafted in, in place of Pandya.

Kedar Jadhav yet again showcased he is no less when it comes to providing the impetus later in the innings and could take up that role really well.

But this also has a good side to it. India, with this loss against Sri Lanka, would surely ponder and look to add further bowling strength to the side and it couldn’t have come at a better time, ahead of a must win game.

India was up against relatively inferior sides as compared to ones they would have faced in the semi-finals or the final, had they made it that far, and could have faced serious implications of playing a bowler short.

While proactiveness seemed missing from Kohli’s roster yesterday, him not bowling Yuvraj, who’s known as a partnership breaker was surprising too and something the master batsman needs to look into to also become a master captain.

All in all, India has some serious thinking to do ahead of the South Africa game and fix things which have or can possibly go wrong.

Will the defending champions rectify and come back hard against South Africa or the arrogance will precede and will look to beat South Africa with the same line-up and strategy remains to be seen.

An exciting Sunday awaits!

 

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