By Veturi Srivatsa
Rain has not helped Virat Kohlis Twenty20 team. They lost the first game of the three-match series on Duckworth-Lewis (D/L) method and the second one was washed out when India had a great chance of winning chasing a modest score.
It was frustrating for the players seeing the covers being taken out and immediately brought back a couple of times, revising and reducing the overs to a ridiculous mandatory minimum of five. The rain gods did not want this farce.
Some six hours earlier, in another part of the world, about 16,500 km from Melbourne, the Indian women’s team not only lost a more critical T20 game, they also missed a great chance of winning World championship after bowing out to England in the semi-final at Antigua.
Even as the Indian team headed for a big defeat, skipper Harmanpreet Kaur did not need a meteorologist to tell her about the impending storm, brewing up over her decision to drop the team’s most experienced player and the highest scorer in the two shortest formats of the game and her predecessor Mithali Raj, playing in her last World T20 World Championship, which has now been renamed the T20 World Cup.
Harmanpreet was quick to realise the gravity of the situation and wanted to put an end to the controversy at her post-match presser.
She rehearsed her lines well: “Whatever we decided, we decided for the team. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. So, no regrets, I am proud of the way we’ve played.”
“This is learning for us because we are a young team, sometimes you have to change the game as per the wicket,” Harmanpreet added.
“The way we play – aggressive cricket – is a positive. Earlier we were a defensive team and now we are an attacking one,” the Indian skipper further expressed.
Unmistakable shades of Kohli aggro, even in the choice of words.
The team management apparently decided to name the playing eleven after seeing the pitch for the first semi-final between Australia and West Indies. So the tour selectors, which included the coach and national selector, decided to go into the match with the line-up that beat Australia in the pool game, calling it a “winning combination.”
What the twitterati did not like is Mithali getting dropped after scoring two 50s in the tournament and in a T20, they are signs of an in-form player.
No point going into the scores and wickets of players who were preferred to Mithali. It cuts both ways and one can be wiser after the event. If only Mithali was around, she could have held the innings together in a crisis time to give the bowlers something more to bowl at.
Also, Harmanpreet would have had her advice in the field, like Kohli gets from Mahendra Singh Dhoni. In any case, Mithali would not have been a bad choice even if she were not the part of a winning team, looking at the batting line-up.
The Indian girls seemed to be doing everything that made sure they lose the match. The way they charged the bowling was truly mad and the bowlers allowed the English girls to cut, swipe and pull as if it was a club bash.
Even those who had starts perished with a death wish. After such a pulsating match in the World Cup final last year, which India lost by nine runs, this was unbelievable surrender.
The last of it has not been heard yet and the blame game, which has already started, would continue on return home.
Even the men had pre-match speculation about the playing eleven, but sensibly Kohli-Ravi Shastri went in with the same eleven.
Left-arm pacer Khaleel Ahmed, who conceded 55 runs in the first game and was not sure of getting a second chance, got one and came back strongly, confirming his tremendous potential. He still has to learn how to bowl in the slog overs.
The Indians showed marked improvement, both in their bowling and fielding, particularly catching. With the ball doing a bit, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Jaspirt Bumrah were at their best and the two encouraged young Khaleel to do his bit, bowling to his captain’s fielding plans.
Trailing in the series, the Indians may not make any change for Sunday’s game at the spin-friendly SCG, retaining left-arm Krunal Pandya after his good showing at the MCG.
From Monday onwards, it’s all Test preparation. A serious four-day practice game before the first Test at Adelaide, starting December 6, will give players like Ravichandran Ashin, Mohammad Shami and Ishant Sharma an opportunity to test the conditions, both will have arrived after playing Ranji Trophy matches back home.
The board has a way of coming up with ridiculous orders, like they told Shami not to bowl more than 15-17 overs in his Ranji match against Kerala in Kolkata. Shami defied the fiat and bowled 26 overs. That is his way of telling the board that it is for his body to decide how much it can handle.
The batsmen, who were not part of the Twenty20 scheme, went to New Zealand with the India A team and played one game, in which the youngsters Prithvi Shah and Hanuma Vihari got good runs while seniors Ajinkya Rahane and Murali Vijay couldn’t.
(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected])