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India no longer candidate for T20 World Cup final, fans are upset, crying

India has struck six sixes in 40 overs, taken two wickets, and are second behind Namibia in Group 2 of the Super 12s, one week and three hours after their T20 World Cup began. With 34 balls left in New Zealand’s run chase, the Dubai International Stadium is two-thirds empty, and the scores are equal, but India has left three fielders out on the boundary, allowing Kane Williamson to hit an easy single into a space.

It’s a little point, but it embodies India’s dreadful week, revealing a tired, confused performance in which a team rich with talent and passion has played within itself to leave them on the verge of elimination.

Virat Kohli claimed after the game, “There’s only one way to play T20 cricket: you have to be optimistic, you have to be positive,” yet his team has been cautious, hesitant, and, most importantly, fatigued.
India is still technically alive in this tournament, but even three smashing victories over Afghanistan, Scotland, and Namibia would not secure semi-final qualification. A month in the UAE during the IPL should have offered excellent preparation for local conditions; unfortunately, India’s hitters have struggled to adapt to slowish pitches, and their bowlers have been rendered ineffective once the dew has settled.

Many would refer to the fact that India has lost both tosses in a tournament dominated by pursuing teams, but that alone is insufficient. They’ve built a batting order with numerous ‘anchors,’ with the goal of keeping wickets in hand, yet they’ve made 36 for 3 and 35 for 2 in their two powerplays, then eked out par and below-par scores despite the fact that dew will make it more difficult to defend.

Regrettably, this isn’t new. Since the last World Cup five and a half years ago, India has been an excellent chasing team, winning 23 of 32 games when batting second.

However, they have had a continuous problem defending totals, only succeeding 22 times out of 41 (24 times counting Super Over wins), demonstrating their conservative approach when batting first.

Muddled thinking and inconsistency in batting roles have characterized the build-up to this tournament, shown by their reshuffle after Suryakumar Yadav’s injury forced him out of this game. Kohli stated in March that he would open for RCB in the IPL as a warm-up for the World Cup and that he would “certainly like to partner Rohit [Sharma] at the top.” He felt it was a “no-brainer” two weeks ago that KL Rahul would open, sending him down to No. 3.

He insulted a journalist who stated that Ishan Kishan, who was told by Kohli before the IPL that he was considered as an opener, could have played ahead of Rohit. In the match against New Zealand, Kishan started Rahul, Rohit at No. 3, and Kohli at No. 4.

As a result, the batsmen have been paralyzed by indecision, unable to strike the right mix between attacking purpose and steadiness. Despite losing two wickets in the powerplay, India’s poor scoring meant they needed to keep attacking through the middle overs if they were to put up a score that could be defended.

“When you lose the toss, the wicket changes in the second innings,” Jasprit Bumrah explained. “We had a conversation about giving the cushion to the bowlers. We tried a lot of offensive shots, but they didn’t work out today.”
So how can you defend Kohli’s knock, in which he pushed his way to 9 off 16 before slog-sweeping Ish Sodhi straight to long-on? For only the third time in T20Is, India went through the middle of the innings without scoring a single boundary between the powerplay and the end of the 16th over.

Rishabh Pant’s drab 12 off 19 innings reflected their difficulty. In the four-and-a-half years since his international debut, Indian cricket has consistently demanded “responsibility” from its most exuberant young talent, and the consequence has been a natural six-hitter dragged down by a load of a catchphrase. While attempting to rotate the strike, he fought with timing throughout, and when he eventually freed his arms, he was bowled by Adam Milne with a 90mph/144kph nip-backer. He’d never scored so slowly in an innings of more than ten balls before.

“Every time we felt like taking a risk, we lost a wicket,” Kohli explained. “That happens in T20 cricket, but it’s a result of uncertainty over whether or not to take a shot.” The hardships of more than a year spent traveling between biosecure bubbles undoubtedly contributed to India’s self-doubt, but they are far from the only squad to experience this fate. Their multi-format players have been on the road since the World Test Championship final in June and must be sick of seeing New Zealand: they are scheduled to play them in a T20I series nine days after their final Super 12s match.

Bumrah and Varun Chakravarthy got off to a good start with the ball, but the remainder of their attack struggled with their distances and were punished accordingly. Two of their five main bowlers, Ravindra Jadeja and Shardul Thakur, were chosen in part for the extra batting depth they provided, but India’s sluggish middle-order scoring and subsequent employment of the half-fit Hardik Pandya’s medium pace demonstrated a lack of faith in them, both with bat and ball. In a format that favors risk, their selection has revealed a team that is taking the cautious route.

India may still make the World Cup semi-finals, but it would be better for them in the long run if they did not. Their defeat to West Indies in the 2016 World Cup, in which their obsession with running twos and keeping wickets in hand was exposed by a team of power-hitters, did not result in any noticeable changes in their T20 strategy; perhaps a humiliating exit in Kohli’s final act as captain will signal a culture shift.

New Zealand deserved credit for a controlled, clinical performance in which they scarcely offered India a sniff, despite two lost catches. Their bowlers kept perfect lines throughout the game, providing very little breadth, and their hitters exploited India’s weak links to great advantage.

Their two match-winners against a who’s who of IPL stars couldn’t have been more removed from the league: Daryl Mitchell’s sole overseas T20 experience was a half-season with Middlesex, while Ish Sodhi was appointed as a liaison officer by Rajasthan Royals early this year.

New Zealand is a team that is bigger than the sum of its parts, and the contrast with its opponents could not be starker.

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