India vs Sri Lanka, ICC Champions Trophy 2017: A minor storm in the teacup

The Sri Lanka defeat has suddenly gashed open a few twitchy issues for India. A debilitating loss like that can lead to certain doubts about strategy and approach creeping into the dressing-room, doubts that India must avoid ahead of must-win SA clash.

Written by Bharat Sundaresan | London | Updated: June 10, 2017 10:03:12 am
There have been a lot of question-marks over leaving R Ashwin on the bench against Sri Lanka. (Source: AP)

“It’s like a batting collapse. When you collapse as a batting unit, you don’t sit down and think your life’s over. You just move on and say it’s a bad day. Forget about it.” Virat Kohli probably wasn’t too far off the mark with his summation of India’s dramatic defeat to Sri Lanka and even how they should cope with it. India had after all posted a sizable total on the board. Sri Lanka had only once chased a total higher than 321 in their history.

And here they were up against India’s best bowling attack in many years. There was little India did different to what they have been over the past year as a successful ODI team. It’s just that Sri Lanka was better. Most of their batsmen came to the party and though a couple of their key bowlers had off-days, the others rallied pretty well. Like Kohli said there should be little reason for them to make drastic changes or push the panic button. But a debilitating loss like that can lead to certain doubts about strategy and approach creeping into the dressing-room, doubts that India should avoid.

Brisker start

India’s run rate in the first 10 overs since the 2015 World Cup and leading into the match against Sri Lanka was 4.84. It was the slowest among all nations. At the Oval their score at the end of the first powerplay was 48/0. In that period their average total has been 290 in 14 matches while batting first, which is pretty much on par in terms of scoring rates around the world. It could have had to do with the lack of firepower in the lower-order that India have been riddled with till recently when Hardik Pandya and Kedar Jadhav have emerged. So the onus was on the top-order to preserve wickets and ensure that the likes of MS Dhoni and Suresh Raina – who was an integral part of the setup previously – didn’t have to perform a dual role of steadying and attacking. But now with the new-balls hardly swinging in England and the luxury of some explosive arsenal below them, perhaps Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan could look at stepping on the pedal from the word go. Though Kohli didn’t seem to think so in his post-match presentation interview.

“We are not a side that always plays explosive cricket throughout the 50 overs, but if a side comes out here and plays cricket with that kind of mind-set and executes their shots so well, then you have to take your hat off sometimes and say very well played,” he said lauding Sri Lanka’s run-chase instead.

Accelerate through the middle

At the start of the 31st over, India’s score read 169/2 with Dhawan unbeaten on 80 and Yuvraj Singh having just arrived at the crease. The left-handed veteran had walked in at a similar stage against Pakistan and gone berserk. Here though he seemed content on easing into his knock, despite Sri Lanka operating with the part-time spin of Danushka Gunathilaka and the innocuous Asela Gunaratne, who got rid of Yuvraj in his first over.

At the end of the 40th over, they had grafted their way to 218/3, scoring 49/1 in that 10-over period. In fact they’d managed only 80 runs in the 15-over period from overs 25-40.

The late assault from Dhoni and Jadhav did ensure 103 runs off the last 10 overs, which is again a par-score in the death these days, but did India miss a trick by not accelerating earlier, especially with wickets in hand? It’s something England would have done for sure, considering that’s how they play their ODI cricket this days-in turbo-mode from the first over.

Comparatively, England’s scores in that 30-40 period in their last three ODIs is 62/3, 65/1 and 55/2. So basically they stop consolidating at the end of the 30th over from where ideally a team should be able to double their score – and make it their launching pad. And Kohli probably agreed with this suggestion too. “In hindsight, when you look back, maybe you think of phases that we could have accelerated, but I don’t see that as a major issue. Maybe we will have to push harder now in the next few games to give us a 20-run cushion. Maybe after seeing a result like this, because we’re playing on the same ground as well,” he said.

Pandya’s lengths

Hardik Pandya grew up dreaming of fast cars, but he doesn’t like batsman driving when he has the ball in his hand. He went 51 overs without bowling a single full delivery during the limited-over series against New Zealand and England. He doesn’t swing the ball-doesn’t even give it a chance nor get much seam off the wicket. He doesn’t even possess too many slower balls. All he does is run in fast and slam the ball short of a length with an odd bouncer mixed in.

The extra yards of pace he’s gained in recent months has made him rather uncomfortable for batsmen like Pakistan found out last Sunday. But here, the Sri Lankans were waiting for him, deep in their crease, and they kept swinging their bat horizontally at him. His spell against them was quintessentially Pandya with 19 of his 42 deliveries pitching either short of length or shorter, with 13 short of driving length. He conceded 31 runs off those 19 short deliveries, and it meant that he was Kohli’s liability.

So was his length found out or were Sri Lanka just that good on the day? There have been a lot of question-marks over leaving R Ashwin on the bench against Sri Lanka. Ashwin might come in any way against South Africa, who must still carry a number of Ashwin-shaped scars on them following their travails against him in 2015. But Pandya’s performance might lead to Kohli questioning his conviction over playing four fast bowlers, which includes Pandya. His big-hitting prowess won’t bring his place into question regardless, and it could well be one of the other fast bowlers, Umesh Yadav, who could miss out.

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