Go ahead and ask an Indian cricket fan their worst-case scenario ahead of a big game; the stuff that nightmares are made of and 9 times out of 10, they’ll talk about a top-order collapse primarily because of how loaded Kohli’s team is at the top of the order. The top-heavy nature of the Indian side is something that followers of the team have discussed for a while now but there clearly seems to be no solution in sight.
In their opening match of Super 12s, Pakistan once again exploited the flaw in India’s set-up and India, once again, failed to recover.
Babar Azam’s team cruised to a famous 10-wicket victory as they toppled their old rivals for the first time ever at an ICC World Cup event. It was also a first-ever T20 ten-wicket defeat on India. And to be fair, the result was never in doubt.
Shaheen Shah Afridi (3/31), the tall left-arm pacer, was at his hostile best as he struck twice in his first two overs. First, he removed Rohit Sharma with a wonderful inswinging delivery. The experienced India opener had faced just one delivery before the ball swung in sharply and rapped him on the pads.
Then, the in-form KL Rahul tried to play across the line and heard the dreaded sound of the ball hitting timber instead. India were reduced to 2/6 after just 2.1 overs and that almost immediately pushed them into recovery mode.
In a T20 match, a good start can set up the innings. Conversely, a poor start forces the team on the defensive and it all feels like an uphill battle after that. Things happen quickly and there is no time to pause, reflect and figure out a solution.
The loss of Suryakumar Yadav’s wicket just a few overs later meant that India had lost three wickets before the Powerplay overs had ended.
It meant that even if Kohli wanted to counterattack — he needed to be careful… and careful and T20 don’t exactly go well together.
It could happen to anyone. It could. But the top-order collapse has now happened to India thrice in three ICC white-ball tournaments and the fact that Kohli and Co haven’t managed to get their act together after that is telling.
India’s top-order collapses
Champions Trophy final vs Pakistan (2017): 3/33
World Cup semi-final (2019): 3/5
T20 World Cup opener (2021): 3/31
The problem was exacerbated by how India had lined up for the game. After the loss of three wickets, India were left with Kohli, Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya — all in indifferent form, Ravindra Jadeja and then a really long tail in Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah and Varun Chakaravarthy.
While other teams have loaded their sides with batting talent, India have had their balance severely disrupted by the injury to Pandya. It meant that Kohli had to pick Mohammed Shami too and that served to further restrict the team’s options.
“We know how exactly the game went and where it went wrong and we have absolute clarity of that,” said Kohli. “That’s a good thing to know where you went wrong so that you can work on it and try and correct it and move forward. We still have a lot of matches in this tournament and if we stick to the processes we follow we definitely feel like we can overcome these mistakes.”
It didn’t help India that Pakistan turned up in all their pomp and glory. With a combined experience of 625 matches, this was the most experienced team ever to take the field in a T20I. They weren’t overawed. Rather, this was a team that went about doing almost everything right in the match with veteran composure.
They started well with the ball, fielded very well for the most part and the opening stand between Mohammad Rizwan (79 not out) and Azam (68 not out) just didn’t give India any chance of fighting their way back into the match.
Kohli admitted that Pakistan simply “outplayed” India.
“They definitely outplayed us. There’s no doubt about that,” said Kohli. “You don’t win by ten wickets if you don’t outplay the opposition. We didn’t even get any chances - they were very professional and you definitely have to give them credit. We tried our best and we tried to create enough pressure on them, but they had the answers. There is no shame in accepting that a team played better than you.
Kohli added: “When you step onto the field as 11 players from either side, you have an equal opportunity to win the game and there’s no guarantee that you will go out there and win every match. But, having said that you also don’t go out there being casual, right? So, we tried our best, we made a decent total out of our situation and we thought we could put them under pressure, but they didn’t let us come into the game at any stage. They definitely deserve the credit for finishing off the game very strongly and not allowing us to put any pressure on them through the innings.”
India now have a long break before they face New Zealand in their second match of the group stage. The match is a virtual quarter-final as a loss could virtually push Kohli and Co out of the reckoning for the semi-finals.
“I think it works really well for us from all points of view,” said Kohli about the break. “Knowing that we have played a full-fledged season already, we played the IPL, which is very high octane by itself in testing conditions here in the UAE, and then we come into the World Cup. So for us, these big breaks are definitely something that’s going to help us as a team to be in the prime physical condition that we need to be to play this high-intensity tournament.”
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