After the strange defeat against England, India needed to press the reset button against Bangladesh. And they did that thanks largely to a brilliant century by Rohit Sharma and the usual death-overs brilliance of Jasprit Bumrah. The win meant that the Men in Blue are into their seventh World Cup semi-finals — only Australia with 8 semi-final appearance have made it to that stage more times.
But this was also a game in which India made some interesting changes to their line-up. For starters, Bhuvneshwar Kumar came back into the line-up as India dropped their twin spin strategy and rested Kuldeep Yadav. Kedar Jadhav, who scored 12 off 13 balls against England, was also dropped in favour of Dinesh Karthik.
At the same time, India continued to keep faith in Rishabh Pant at the No 4 slot. Given how big a sore spot that position has been for the team, Pant’s ability to effortlessly accelerate is a huge plus but it remains to be seen if he will continue batting at the same position if India lose early wickets.
His innings on Tuesday was a reminder of all his good points. He runs well between wickets, keeps the momentum going and can unleash the big shots at will. One moment in his innings stood out — Mustafizur had removed Virat Kohli and Hardik Pandya in the 39th over, but the left-hander was not fazed and slammed Mohammad Saifuddin for three consecutive fours in the 40th over.
Usually, the fall of two big wickets in one over would have given the bowling side some breathing space but with Pant that does not happen. He will not change his game. And while Dhoni continues to play ‘calculative’ cricket, India need a pinch of madness at the other.
Pant fell after scoring 48 off 41 balls — his strike-rate of 117.07 was the highest in the Indian batting effort — and as his confidence grows, he can force the opposition into tough spots.
Open and not quite shut
The Indian team management had specifically asked for a top-order batsman as a replacement for Vijay Shankar. And when Mayank Agarwal was flown in, there were some ex-cricketers who suggested that he might be asked to open and KL Rahul might be moved back to his original No 4 slot.
Rahul wasn’t exactly very convincing during his 77 off 92 balls and at times, it felt like Rohit Sharma was carrying him. But he hung in there and sometimes that is all that is needed. So for now, he may have staved off competition for the opener’s slot.
Going into the last three matches, India are unlikely to make any changes to the top-order. They would like some stability, at least, at the top.
But one might see a lot of changes down the order based on conditions. Kuldeep might come back in on a bigger ground and if the track is slow and low, Jadhav might force his way back into the XI as well.
Karthik made 8 off 9 balls, not very dissimilar from the knock that Jadhav played in the last game. But Karthik plays the angles well and Jadhav tends to hit better in the ‘V’. Subtle differences but it really comes down to who Kohli wants.
On the bowling front, India saw exactly what they were missing without Bhuvneshwar in the line-up. While it still might make sense to give Mohammed Shami the new ball, Bhuvneshwar’s smarts with the old ball at the death are something that this team needs.
Shami, with the new ball, is superb, but his length with the older ball, when the batsmen are looking to have a go, sees him getting carted for a few [He ended up with match figures of 9-0-68-1]. And that could worry Kohli.
His wicket-taking form means that India would not want to leave him on the bench but playing all three seamers seemed to work out pretty well. While Kuldeep gives India wicket-taking options in the middle overs, Shami and Bhuvneshwar along with Hardik Pandya, as he has shown all tournament, can do the same too.
Bumrah, as usual, was fantastic and his yorkers are the stuff that batting nightmares are made of. But he will need support at the other end. Then is this best line-up from that perspective?
Kohli later explained the changes: “We wanted to try out a perfect combination when we play with such a small boundary, as we can’t be playing with the same combination for every pitch and every dimension we play. So we needed to be a bit flexible and we got the result today.”
And at the end of the day, the result is what matters. India have one more game, against Sri Lanka, before the semi-final and they will look at it as another opportunity to find the perfect fit for the combination puzzle.
For now, the first objective of getting to the semi-final has been achieved and India will know that they have done it without ever really being at their best.