Chasing a total as steep as 338, India made just 28 runs in the first Powerplay. Then in the final five overs of the innings MS Dhoni and Kedar Jadhav managed to hit just three fours and a six while picking up 20 singles and playing out six dots. It might be difficult to prove that India lost the match in these two crucial segments of play, but what can be definitively said is India lacked intent upfront and at the death.
Let us first look at the slow beginning in the first Powerplay. Indian openers, especially Rohit Sharma, believe in following the routine of settling down without taking any undue risk. However, 28 for 1 is the slowest start in the World Cup after the first Powerplay.
Partly that pressure was built after KL Rahul rushed into a premeditated shot – a flick – off a straight delivery from Chris Woakes, who took a lovely return catch. This after Woakes had bowled a maiden to Rahul in the first over of the innings.
Even Rohit was lucky to get away with an error after Joe Root dropped a regulation catch at second slip in the second over. Against a fuller ball on the fourth stump that was moving away Rohit attempted a flamboyant cover drive away from his body. The thick outside edge flew to the right of Root who failed to pouch it neatly leaving Jofra Archer in agony.
In fact, it was India that were in agony. Woakes bowled three consecutive maidens. The England fast bowlers were highly disciplined as they kept mixing up the deliveries on a pitch that was flat, but slow. Rohit played and missed on several occasions. To his dismay, Virat Kohli was playing much more fluently. However, England’s bowlers cleverly controlled the pace of play, never giving India’s best two batsmen freedom.
There were 42 dot balls in the first 10 overs with just five fours.
Although Kohli and Rohit played cautiously to cobble an alliance, you could see the strain on their faces as they constantly monitored the scoreboard with the asking rate mounting. As soon as Kohli left ESPNcricinfo’s Forecaster had dropped from 32.62% to 25.93%. By the time Jadhav joined Dhoni, India needed 71 runs from 31 balls. By the time Woakes lined up to bowl the final over of the match, India needed an impossible 44 runs. In the previous 25 deliveries, Dhoni and Kedar had played out five dots, 18 singles and just two fours.
This lack of intent from the lower-order pair was highly intriguing. The hopelessness of the situation had dawned upon the Indian fans who swiftly emptied the stadium with a couple of overs to go. Those remaining even booed to exercise their frustration and annoyance.
Kohli and Rohit analysed the lack of intent differently. Kohli was clear a good beginning might have set the tone. “We should have been more clinical with the bat I suppose because the wicket was flat,” Kohli told the host broadcaster. “Even we could have accelerated and got closer to the score, but their bowlers bowled well and executed their plans. Three-hundred-and-thirty-odd, we were very happy at the halfway stage that the wicket’s flat and if we get off to a good start then we are pretty much in the chase which didn’t happen.”
Rohit disagreed about the start, saying India had to be cautious. “Losing an early wicket always puts you under pressure,” he said. “We lost KL [Rahul] right at the start and they bowled pretty well in the first 10 overs, good channels.”
According to Rohit, for India to stay in the reckoning, the key was a big partnership with Kohli. “We knew the longer we batted the closer we will get to the target. That was the idea, we took our time, yes. But the conditions were such that it didn’t allow us to just come and bat and put pressure on the bowlers. They bowled in the right channel.”
As for the Dhoni-Jadhav combination failing to make a statement, Rohit felt the slowness of the pitch together with the England bowlers denying the batsmen any space to make use of the short 59-metre boundary were the key factors. “When Mahi [Dhoni] and Kedar were batting they were trying to hit, but they were not able to because of the slowness of pitch. Towards the end it got pretty slow. And, yes, you have got to give credit to the English team because they used the conditions really well, they used the longer boundary really well, they mixed up their variations quite nicely all through the game.”
Kohli agreed with Rohit this time, but said there would be conversations over how the batting played out. “It is up to discussions with the two guys that were in there. I think MS was trying really hard, trying to get that boundary. It was just not coming off because they were bowling good areas and it wasn’t easy to get those boundaries away when it got to 15 an over. Yeah, we will have to sit down and assess and improve on things in the next game.”