THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: As India gear up for the T20 World Cup, one area that captain Virat Kohli has publicly addressed as a concern is their ability to set up challenging totals batting first. India have played 15 T20I matches this year; winning eight and losing seven.
Out of the seven losses, five have come when they batted first, a clear pattern emerging that they are at their most vulnerable when defending a total. The eight-wicket loss against West Indies in the second T20I here on Sunday was the latest of such a setback.
India were put into bat by West Indies on a surface where the ball was not coming on to the bat and all batsmen except Shivam Dube, who was promoted to No. 3 and scored 54, struggled as they huffed and puffed their way to 170. In the eventual reading, it appeared way below par as West Indies won comfortably with nine balls to spare.
Kohli believed India’s failure to end with a few big overs did them in. “I think we were good for the first 16 overs while batting when we were 140 for 4. But then in the last four overs, we should have got 40 to 45 runs and we got only thirty. We need to focus on that,” said the captain after the game.
In fact, this was not the first time that the skipper has addressed concerns regarding India’s potency batting first. At the beginning of India’s home season, Kohli proactively decided to bat first against South Africa in the final match of the three-match series in Bengaluru, a venue that favours teams chasing. India went on to lose the game by nine wickets after posting 134, a score way below par.
“These kinds of games will keep happening as long as we are wanting to come out of our comfort zones as a team and putting ourselves in a situation, which could be the case in a big game in a big tournament,” said Kohli after the Bengaluru defeat.
SLOW PHASE: Rohit Sharma is due for a big knock after an inconsistent run in 2019 where the star opener managed to score just 325 runs in 13 T20Is. (AFP Photo)
Rohit Sharma captained India in the next series against Bangladesh and there also, the hosts’ only loss came while batting first, in the opener in Delhi.
India opted to chase in the first match of the current T20 series against West Indies and pulled off their highest chase in the format but their frailties while batting first came to the fore once more after the visitors put them in the second game at Thiruvananthapuram.
The heavy reliance on a top-order which likes to play itself in seems to be the crux of the problem while batting first. India like to go in with six bowling options in this format and that approach might be weakening the lower-order. Are Ravindra Jadeja and Washington Sundar the ideal options to come in at No. 7 and 8 and hit from the word-go is something India would have to ponder about. It’s not like India have not tried the attack-from-the-beginning approach in T20s. They attempted it in Bengaluru against South Africa but later lamented that they aimed too high.
Struggling to get early wickets
An alarming stat is that India are struggling to pick up early wickets while defending a total. They got one wicket in the first 10 overs against West Indies. The corresponding numbers in the previous four losses while bowling last this year are two vs Bangladesh, none vs South Africa, two vs Australia (In Bengaluru) and two vs Australia (In Vizag). The opposition batsmen can play themselves in and set them up for a charge later to which India seem to have no answer. While India have tried as many as seven spinners in 2019, apart from Yuzvendra Chahal no one has been able to pick up wickets regularly. The presence of Kuldeep Yadav, an attacking wrist-spinner, might have made a difference in some of these games,
Going forward, the possible reunion of a returning Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar could be a boost for India when they are defending totals. But for now, every team knows sending India in is the best way to start on the front foot in a T20 game on any surface.