‘Forty five minutes of bad cricket’ is what cost India a place in the final of the 2019 ICC World Cup according to skipper Virat Kohli, after they were stunned by New Zealand in the semi-final at Old Trafford.
Kohli was referring to the dramatic top-order capitulation by India in their chase of 240 which saw them reduced to 5-3 and eventually 24-4. India’s formidable top three of Rohit Sharma, Kohli and KL Rahul could muster only three runs between them as Matt Henry and Trent Boult wreaked havoc in Manchester.
While those 45 minutes might indeed have been the unraveling of what was an otherwise near perfect World Cup campaign for India, the warning signs had been present for some time.
A familiar script was followed in their 2017 ICC Champions Trophy final defeat at the hands of arch-rivals Pakistan at The Oval. Then too, the Men in Blue had advanced to the final after a nearly spotless campaign only to falter when it mattered most.
A top-order collapse had been the trigger to India’s massive defeat in that final with Mohammad Amir sending back Rohit, Shikhar Dhawan and Kohli inside the first 10 overs of the innings.
A blinder of an innings from Hardik Pandya was not enough to save India’s blushes and a similar defiant effort from Ravindra Jadeja on Wednesday yielded the same result.
Having an insanely prolific top-order comprising of Dhawan, Rohit and Kohli might be the envy of many international sides but it brings with it a recipe for disaster as seen in the Champions Trophy and now the World Cup semi-final.
Such has been their incredible consistency over the last few years that India can expect one of the top-three to hold anchor for the majority of their innings nine out of ten times. However, that rare instance when the top-order fails collectively as a unit leads to India’s middle-order being exposed and that is where a soft underbelly lies.
Unfortunately for the Men in Blue and Kohli, that ‘one out of 10’ probability has occurred on the worst possible occasions of the 2017 Champions Trophy final and the last two World Cup semi-finals in a row.
The question India need to ask is why they haven’t been able to solve their middle-order muddle in the last two years or so. India simply did not know what their best middle-order combination was for the World Cup and it came back to bite them hard in a knockout clash.
They had been unsure about the No4 slot before the tournament even began and the problems were only compounded in the World Cup when they couldn’t make up their minds over Kedar Jadhav or Dinesh Karthik for the other middle-order slot.
The No4 batting slot has been a revolving door with various batsmen being tried out in the position over the last couple of years but none of them were able to convince completely.
It was Ambati Rayudu who had been persisted with the most in that position but he was dropped for Vijay Shankar just months before the World Cup. Shankar himself had not been entirely convincing and an untimely toe injury meant that it was young Rishabh Pant batting at No4 in the semi-final after not being picked in the original squad.
The situation on Wednesday was tailor-made for MS Dhoni to compose a rescue act but the veteran wicketkeeper bafflingly walked in to bat at No7 instead of being promoted. Dhoni’s declining hitting power in international cricket had been evident for quite some time but India failed to utilise his main asset in the semi-final after things went wrong for the top-order.
Former India stalwart VVS Laxman was on point when he blamed India’s selectors for ignoring the elephant in the room that was the middle-order.
“The one criticism (for selectors) is that they fiddled around the middle order. You can’t always depend on Rohit and Virat,” Laxman had told Star Sports on Wednesday
The dust of India’s World Cup exit will take some time to settle but there is no doubt that they need to have a long and hard look about solving their middle-order woes before it comes back to cost them again in an important knockout clash.
Know more about Sport360 Application