It was not quite unexpected but India needed to be on the field for just a little more than 27 overs (both innings combined) as Japan were found wanting on the biggest stage. That the match lasted such a short time was a fair indication of the gulf in class between the firm favourites for the tournament and a team playing a cricket world cup match for the first time.
It has been an impressive journey for Japan to get to the final stages of the flagship age-group tournament in cricket but on Tuesday, they were left overwhelmed by the occasion as India bowled them out for just 41 in 22.5 overs before chasing down the target in less than five overs in Bloemfontein on Tuesday.
Now, at the risk of sounding like Kumar Sangakkara’s dad, the performance put out by Priyam Garg and Co was not quite flawless. While Ravi Bishnoi was the undoubted star of the match for his sensational figures of 4/5 in eight overs, there were aspects of the performance that the defending champions will want to improve going ahead in the tournament.
One of the five Indian players at the World Cup to earn an Indian Premier League contract, Bishnoi had a rather unlucky outing against Sri Lanka in the opener. He beat the bat regularly, proving especially tricky for the left-handers with his googlies. It would not be quite right to call that the wrong ‘un for him because he prefers that delivery over the traditional leg-spinner most times; even to right-handers. But having troubled the batsman, the wickets eluded him for 9.4 overs.
However, he finished the spell with two wickets in two balls and it was no less than what he deserved.
Against Japan, the soon-to-be Kings XI Punjab player, quite literally picked up from where he left off in the first match. He started with two wickets in his first two deliveries in the second match. At one point his sequence of deliveries starting from the first wicket he took against Sri Lanka read: W W W W 0 0 0 0 0 0 W 0 W 0.
The googly proved to be the most dangerous delivery early on as the Japan batsmen did not know what hit them. But what impressed the most was the fact that he showed the patience to set up Ishaan Fartyal (his third wicket) with two conventional leg-spinners and then landing the googly with devastating effect. Later in the spell, he went searching a five-for and tried a few funky things with his action that did not sit well with the commentators, but the skillset to be a menacing wrist-spinner is evident with Bishnoi. An opportunity to work with Anil Kumble at KXIP can only help in improve.
But, as Garg was quick to point out himself in the post-match chat, the bowling lineup has shown a tendency to be erratic with their lines. It is one thing to concede 19 extras when the opponent’s score is 207 (as was the case against Sri Lanka, still not entirely excusable). But it borders on the criminal to concede the same amount of extra runs when the opponents scored just 42. While the blame was more equally shared in the first match, the otherwise impressive Kartik Tyagi was the main culprit on Tuesday.
Tyagi’s clean action and impressive pace has already generated enough attention but the pacer has an issue with his landing zones that needs to address. Often going wide of the crease, seemingly in an attempt to bowl the killer delivery that straightens after angling in, Tyagi sprayed the ball wide repeatedly. Figures of 3/10 in 6 overs is not to be scoffed at but the fine-print will tell you that 9 out of 10 those runs were wides.
The other aspect that the Indian bowling lineup as a whole can improve on is sticking to Plan A longer before going for the bouncers and yorkers. The first and foremost requirement for a consistent bowling lineup is, well, consistency in lines and lengths, targetting the stumps as often as possible early on. In both matches so far, the Indian bowlers have tended to show their variations (with the bouncers, especially) a bit too soon. Patience will be key against batting lineups that show the maturity to wait for the bad ball.
For a side that has ambitions to go all the way and emulate their predecessors, India will want to rectify this area of concern at the earliest. Better teams won’t let such transgressions go unpunished.