The ongoing edition of the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup is a gift that keeps on giving. The conditions in Australia, spiced up by the quality of cricket being played by the teams right from the start of the tournament, the multiple upsets, close contests and the tussle in the points table have all made for an incredible viewing experience. (Weather permitting, of course.)
And another thriller went down at the Optus stadium in Perth on Sunday, as South Africa completed a five-wicket win over India to reestablish their title credentials. Although India did well to drag the game to the final over, where the Proteas needing six to win, SA prevailed to keep their mission ‘Get an ICC World Cup trophy’ on track.
While Suryakumar Yadav incredible’s batting and a decent bowling performance provided a few positives with this loss, India allowed South Africa to take control of the Group 2 points table and exposed a few problem areas in the process.
Here’s a look at three other takeaways from the India vs South Africa Super 12 encounter in the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2022:
Place your trust in Arshdeep
The memories of the abuse he was subjected to after a poor performance against Pakistan during the Asia Cup would have been on the back of his mind before this World Cup. But when India stepped foot on the field against the same opponent at Melbourne, Arshdeep produced a superb first spell, betraying no nerves on his major tournament debut.
It was because of him that Pakistan got off to a stuttering start with captain Babar Azam out lbw for a golden duck to him. It was Singh’s swing causing early carnage. Next over, Mohammad Rizwan top-edged a rising ball. The most reliable batters of the line-up had fallen prey to Arshdeep’s new-ball burst.
On Sunday against South Africa, the left-arm quick continued with that pattern as he struck twice in the space of three deliveries in his first over with the in-form Quinton de Kock out for one and previous match’s centurion Rilee Rossouw lbw for nought.
In the post-match press conference, senior pacer and teammate Bhuvneshwar Kumar spoke about the left-armer’s bowling efforts during the powerplay that reduced South Africa to 3/2 in 1.3 overs, saying, “It was a really good spell. Those two wickets got us into the match immediately in the second over of the match. I think the way he has bowled through the tournament is really good from the team’s point of view.”
Bowling coach Paras Mhambrey had earlier singled out his composure as the biggest strength. And Arshdeep continues to deliver important breakthroughs for India.
India’s poor fielding
T20 and fine margins go hand in hand and two out of the three India games have gone down to the wire so far. While it was several different reasons for why India had to drag the game to the last over against Pakistan, fielding evidently played a role against the last-over loss against South Africa.
Aiden Markram and Miller opened up against off-spinner R Ashwin with a boundary each in the 11th over but the bowler was left crestfallen when the normally safe hands of Virat Kohli at deep midwicket dropped a routine chance from Markram, on 35. India were dogged by sloppy fielding yet again as Rohit Sharma missed a run out and another catch going awry on the boundary off Ashwin’s bowling. The off-spinner too missed a return catch.
Rohit, in the post-match presentation, acknowledged that India had been rather poor in the field in Perth saying, “We were a little poor in the field, we gave so many chances and we weren’t clinical. We were just not good enough [it wasn’t about the cold conditions]. The last two games, we were pretty good in the field. We couldn’t hold our chances, we missed a few run-outs.”
Later, Bhuvneshwar Kumar also attributed that as one of the few factors that saw India on the receiving end of the five-wicket loss. He said, “The catches we dropped, the run-out chances we missed, I think that’s where... I wouldn’t say the momentum shifted there but if we could have held on to those chances, things would be different.”
There might be a school of thought that sometimes too much is made out of fielding mishaps and a good side will and must create chances to win a T20 match. But this has been going on far too long with this Indian team, without any rectifications.
KL Rahul’s misery piles on
So far, KL Rahul has scored four, nine and nine in the three games.
There were questions around Rahul’s strike-rate in the build-up to the tournament. Then, two games into the tournament, there were questions around whether it was acceptable for Rahul to be given the rope in a platform like the World Cup, where he clearly seems to be struggling with the intent. Ahead of the encounter against South Africa, there were calls for Rishabh Pant replacing Rahul but India’s batting coach Vikram Rathour clarified that Rahul’s form was not a concern.
One cannot deny that these are all valid questions and not simply reactionary or based on hindsight.
“No, we’re not really thinking that. Two games, I don’t think that’s a good enough sample size anyway. He’s been batting really well and he’s batted really well in the practice games also, so we’re not looking at any such thing at the moment,” Rathour had said before Rahul’s third failure.
It remains to be seen whether the management will finally smell the coffee before India’s matches against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe and take note of India’s conservative approach at the start. It is not just the lack of runs that is the problem, it is the tentativeness creeping into India’s batting in the powerplay, and the tone being set is simply not good enough at the moment. Whether they will bring a change in the opening duo of Rohit and Rahul or continue to back the latter in an all-important event such as the World Cup will make for an interesting debate in the days to come as India aim to seal their semi-final spot.