The 2017 Champions Trophy will not be remembered as a tournament where teams wanted to bat first after winning the toss. This has been mainly because of the lack of swing, or rain and D/L consideration at times, but mostly it was about the flat tracks laid out for batsmen to make merry on. On only four out of 14 occasions until the second semi-final between India and Bangladesh here at Edgbaston, a team winning the toss opted to bat first.
It was no surprise then when Virat Kohli won the toss and opted to field too. His counterpart Mashrafe Mortaza talked about bowling first, had he been lucky enough to make that decision. A team like Bangladesh, though, cannot rely simply on luck, especially on a stage like this. Simply put, this was the biggest day in their ODI cricket history – the semi-final of an ICC tournament – and they needed to be brave against a behemoth of an opposition.
To their credit, Bangladesh were brave, at least for the first 30 overs. Despite losing two early wickets, they attacked the Indian bowling. Tamim Iqbal (70) and Mushfiqur Rahim (61) borrowed a leaf from Sri Lanka’s book as they went after India’s fifth bowler Hardik Pandya (0-34 in four overs). When Kohli countered by bringing on Ravi Ashwin (0-54) and Ravindra Jadeja (1-48), they attacked the spinners too. Both of them were going at six an over before the third wicket fell.
At that point in time – 154-2 after 27.5 overs – the Tigers were cruising and a 300-plus chase was looking very likely for India. It could have been 320-plus even, had the duo continued their 123-run partnership. Here, at this juncture, let us pause and take stock. It cannot be denied that India were desperate for a wicket. The fifth bowler’s spell is the one weakness in their armour. And like Lanka, Bangladesh were exploiting it very well.
The trick, however, is to do it with intelligence. That’s the difference between the Sri Lankans and Bangladesh. The former did it for the entirety of the innings with an audacity that belied their young team’s inexperience. The latter fizzled out midway through their innings in this semi-final. Here, it is important to point out that Bangladesh are no longer an inexperienced side.
This was Iqbal’s 173rd ODI, and 176th for Rahim. One of them has even led their side in this format. When Kedar Jadhav (2-22 in six overs) was introduced at that stage, the need of the hour then was to play the part-timer with guile and just see out his overs, milking him for runs like they had done against Ashwin and Jadeja. Instead, the duo – tempted by his pie-chucking deliveries – went all out against Jadhav, and it turned the game upside down.
“Wickets were honestly a bonus. Hardik went for a few in his first three, so we wanted to give him a bit of a break and cover up overs through Kedar. We knew that he had the ability to get in two or three dot balls every over. But it ended up changing the whole game for us,” said Kohli about the ploy to bring in a part-timer.
There is no denying Bangladesh’s growing stature in world cricket, standing up to the big boys in limited-overs’ cricket even if there is a disparity in Tests still. However, this was a rookie mistake, plain and simple. They were already on top, and had no need to push on the accelerator at that stage of the game. In a parallel universe, Bangladesh would have two centurions in Iqbal and Rahim today, and India would be making heavy weather of a 320-plus chase to reach the final.
Instead, the Men in Blue were presented with an easy foot in the door and they barged in with full force. This is the thing about mature and responsible teams – they grasp every half opportunity presented to them. Bangladesh are yet to bridge this gap, for all their success on the international stage in recent times, and this is where they fell short to India.
It is underlined by the ease with which India’s bowlers put the brakes on their lower order’s scoring, squeezing them into surrender. Then, with a flat track laid out for India’s top order, it was almost a net session. Shikhar Dhawan pulled and cut with aplomb, Rohit Sharma notched up a hundred that was there for the taking, and Kohli strolled his way to becoming the quickest batsman to 8000 ODI runs.
As such, Bangladesh handed an easy ticket to India for a repeat big-clash against Pakistan on Sunday, with the tournament sponsors and broadcasters laughing their way to the bank. At some point in the future, or indeed in the next ICC-tournament semi-final they play, the Tigers will perhaps make it tougher for the opposition, and take the opportunity to be braver, smarter and qualify themselves.