If you’re an Indian cricket fan, you would be forgiven for celebrating Rohit Sharma and Co’s victory against Pakistan in their ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2022 opener as if the team had won the title already. Such was the satisfying nature of the win that it felt the tournament had touched its peak in the Super 12 stage itself. How do you follow that act?

Satisfying, sure, because the win came from a position that seemed entirely hopeless, at a stadium with more than 90,000 fans, against an arch rival that had registered a thumping win the last time these two teams clashed at the marquee event.

Virat Kohli, along with Hardik Pandya, stole the show. The former India captain, who has been in form since the Asia Cup having struggled in the past couple of years, played arguably the finest T20I knock of his glittering career.

Make no mistake, Pakistan had the upper hand for the majority of the contest despite Arshdeep Singh removing their biggest batting assets – skipper Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan – early. The way they set up their team, 160 was a defendable score in helpful conditions for quicks and they’d have been surely pleased to get close to that from 120/7 in the 17th over.

India, chasing 160, found themselves tottering at 31/4 before needing 48 runs to win from three overs. But even though the odds were stacked heavily against them, the 2007 champions managed to crossed the finish line.

We had wondered if Kohli would ever find his best again, he ended up redefining it with his unbeaten 82 off 53. The 33-year-old, who was batting on 12 off 21 at the halfway stage of the Indian innings, smashed 36 runs off the last 11 balls he faced to close out the most improbable of victories. The 90,000-plus fans at the Melbourne Cricket Ground had witnessed a classic, and the Indian team had reasons aplenty to rejoice.

Concern areas

However, as the dust settles on that unforgettable night at the MCG, the Rahul Dravid-coached team will know it has issues to address with a long way to go in the tournament.

For India, Kohli’s freak innings papered over some expected cracks. With the start they got after opting to bowl first, India were in a position to force a comprehensive victory. But they just about managed to get the job done and the struggles they faced through the course of the match were hardly surprising.

First things first, India didn’t help their cause with some sloppy fielding against Pakistan. Kohli, in fact, was the one who started it as he missed a fairly simple run-out chance in the second over with Shan Masood, who would go on to be Pakistan’s top scorer on the night, miles outside his crease. R Ashwin was then slow to react in the deep and dropped a catch he should’ve taken, as Masood was handed another life.

Iftikhar Ahmed, the other Pakistan batter who got a half-century, was put down by Rohit in the ring and KL Rahul at the boundary. Both tough chances but ones that perhaps need to be taken in a competition as competitive as this. Rahul’s effort is something we see a lot in T20 cricket these days, and not saving the six, let alone the catch could prove costly on another day. Even off the final delivery, India’s sloppiness from a simple situation with Dinesh Karthik and Bhuvneshwar Kumar missing run out chances, ended up adding two runs to the scoreboard. India don’t have to be a world-beating fielding side and that won’t happen overnight but they are missing the simple stuff in the most controllable aspect of the game.

We have already seen the likes of New Zealand’s Glenn Phillips and England’s Jos Buttler pull off blinders in the early stage of this tournament while the general quality of outfielding has been high and India, too, will need to up their game to remain in contention.

Rahul’s tentativeness

The other big concern for India is Rahul’s form at the top of the order. The 30-year-old right-hander spent a lengthy period on the sidelines earlier this year and is yet to hit top gear. Against Pakistan, he looked tentative before playing-on yet again. India have Rishabh Pant in the squad, who also adds versatility to the lineup being a left-hander, and the temptation to let him loose in the powerplay must surely be there.

Rahul, as many have said, can look a class apart when he’s at his best. But it’s no secret that strike-rate has been a constant issue with his batting in the shortest format and India, in the middle of the biggest event, will hope he switches his approach soon.

Then there is the death bowling, which was the biggest concern heading into the tournament as premier fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah was ruled out. Despite the impressive recovery by Masood and Ahmed, Pakistan were reeling at 125/7 after 17 overs. But their lower order batters ended up adding 34 runs in the last three overs to leave India with a challenging target in front of them.

India’s three main pacers – Arshdeep, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami – were all taken for runs in what was a period that could’ve proved to be the difference. At the end of the day, restricting the opposition to a total of 159 is by no means a poor effort. But getting wickets in the powerplay has hardly been India’s strongest suit in the last couple of years and they must be smarter with their death bowling in the coming games.

India bowling coach Paras Mhambrey pointed out that bowling in end overs is not just India’s concern, but happening across the game.

“Obviously, I think the end overs has been a challenge – not only for us but for other teams, as well, and if you look at other teams – well, the last game itself, people have gone for runs,” the former India cricketer said in pre-Netherlands press conference.

“We acknowledge that it’s going to be a challenging phase. Yes, we have bowlers for it. We’ve prepared for it. And for us, we’ve identified those bowlers who are going to be our death specialists, as well.

“Having said that, I think in this format you’ve got to be adaptable. You’ve got to be able to kind of have other options available in case required, so if not maybe seam bowlers, it might be spinners. I think you want to put in those challenges; you want to think differently at times.

“But we have those bowlers. We have our plans sorted in that.”

A win is a win and India will undoubtedly ride a wave of confidence, as they should, when they take the field next. But at the back of their mind, they will know they got away with a few mistakes in the Pakistan match that they need to address. The aim remains to take home the title from this ultra-competitive event and for that to happen, India must improve.

Also read:

India vs Pakistan as it happened: Virat Kohli leads India to victory in an epic match

T20 World Cup: Kohli brings the roof and Rauf down at MCG with two majestic swings of his bat

Witnessing a Melbourne masterclass: Oh, Virat Kohli. You have left us all stunned again

T20 World Cup: Kohli says MCG masterclass against Pakistan ranks higher than 2016 Mohali knock

Reactions to Virat Kohli’s 82* against Pakistan at MCG – ‘Undoubtedly the best innings of your life’

Rohit Sharma, Babar Azam on Virat Kohli’s MCG knock – ‘One of India’s best’, ‘Showed his class’

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