Every now and then in T20 cricket, we’re left wondering whether the contest is over at the end of the first powerplay, with one team being outplayed by the other. It isn’t often, though, that we get that feeling twice in one match. That was the fate India suffered against England in their ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2022 semifinal on Thursday.

Make no mistake, the conditions at the Adelaide Oval were good for batting. The pitch was pretty flat, the bounce true, and the square boundaries short. But for the most part, the contrast in the two teams’ batting couldn’t have been more jarring.

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After England won the toss and opted to bowl first, India captain Rohit Sharma said he wanted to bat first anyway. Sure, with the pitch looking firm and dew not really being a threat, it seemed reasonable to want to put runs on the board in a crunch game.

Wanting to bat first in a big game is a statement in itself. It says you’re confident of your batters and intend to take the game by the scruff of its neck. Sadly for India, though, Rohit’s words at the toss, along with Hardik Pandya’s blitz later, ended up being the only purposeful things during the course of a few forgettable hours for the Indian team.

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The Indian innings took so long to get going that even a 33-ball 63 by Pandya only helped the team finish with a par score, which Nasser Hussain mentioned to be 168 during broadcast.

KL Rahul was dismissed for 5 off 5 in the second over, before Rohit and Virat Kohli decided to get their eyes in and avoid a collapse. The skipper was then dismissed for 27 off 28, while Kohli got out for a 40-ball 50. That’s the top three batters facing 73 balls in total and adding 82 runs.

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England, on the other hand, never took their foot off the accelerator and finished with 170 for no loss in 16 overs. Despite not getting to play their four death overs, they scored 112 runs in boundaries as compared to India’s 102.

There were times in the England innings when the Indians tried to build pressure, but that never deterred Jos Buttler and Alex Hales. Six of the 16 overs saw three or more dot balls bowled but in those six overs, England scored a total of 58 runs. That’s 58 runs off 17 balls. Dot balls were followed or preceded by boundaries, showing the calmness and clarity with which the two were batting.

Innings progression in the semifinal

India England
38/1 after first 6 overs 63/0 after first 6 overs
62/2 after 10 overs
98/0 after 10 overs
110/3 after 16 overs
170/0 after 16 overs
168/6 after 20 overs

In the pre-match press conference, captain Buttler was asked what he thought would be a par score at the venue and his response was straightforward: “I’m not really interested in a par score, I’m interested in a winning score tomorrow.”

And in the post-match presentation, Buttler went on to say this: “We always wanted to start as fast as we could with the bat. Be really aggressive.”

Both these comments by Buttler revealed a great deal about how England approach batting in a T20 match. The par score doesn’t really matter, the conditions are assessed, and the intent is clear: look to be aggressive, score as much as possible.

This, however, is a far cry from what India’s approach was at this World Cup, despite what had been said in the weeks and months leading up to it. They ended the tournament with the second-lowest powerplay run-rate among all teams, behind UAE.

On Thursday, the lack of intent in the first 10 overs put them so far behind in the contest that there was no coming back.

On a number of occasions over the past year, Rohit spoke about wanting his batters to be aggressive, and India even won the series in England recently on the back of that. He said frequently in post-match interactions, whether India won or lost, that they wanted to stick to this aggressive approach and that he wanted his batters to buy into it.

But yet again in a knockout match, India succumbed with a timid approach. It was telling that before the semifinal, he acknowledged that the conditions in Australia had actually made them want to adapt. The mantra went from all-out aggression in the build-up to the World Cup to adaptability.

After the game, there was one common statement that both Rohit and Dravid made: “These things happen.”

Well, 10-wicket defeats in a T20 don’t really “happen”. India are now the only team to have lost two Men’s T20 World Cup matches by 10 wickets. When you zoom out and look at this edition Down Under, they beat Netherlands, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh but struggled against the three more established T20 teams. They lost to South Africa and England, and edged out Pakistan thanks to a miraculous knock by Kohli.

In the final question of the post-match press conference – not long after Rohit Sharma lamented India’s bowling display – head coach Rahul Dravid touched upon his team’s struggles in the powerplays.

“Definitely, in a 20-over match, the start has to be better. It becomes tough if you lose the first six overs of both innings,” said Dravid. “If you see this match, there were five phases – three in our batting and two in theirs. And we lost four of those phases. I would say we only played good cricket in our last five overs and put the pressure back on them. But if you lose four phases then you are definitely outplayed in this format.”

Under two different managements, in two different World Cups separated by a year, India were left with similar takeaways from their exits. Quite a bit changed during those 12 months for this team in terms of personnel, but so little actually mattered in the end. It was another World Cup exit brought about by muddled intent and powerplays that didn’t quite live up to the word.