A fantastic scenario

cricket 1The batting meltdown in Nagpur shouldn’t be seen in isolation, for it followed a sequence. Moeen Ali in England in the summer of 2014, Nathan Lyon in Australia a few months later, Rangana Herath in Sri Lanka last year and now Mitchell Santner at Jamtha—the record appears a little tetchy for the present group of Indian batters. Whether India’s mastery over spin on turning pitches has become a thing of the past is debatable, but their 47-run defeat against New Zealand in the World T20 opener has suddenly made things interesting.

Just one loss doesn’t a difference make, but maybe we jumped the gun a bit by labelling India as the overwhelming favourites to win the T20 world cup. The team’s golden run in the lead-up and home advantage seemed to have influenced even the most unbiased opinions. Nothing, absolutely nothing, has happened to change the prediction; but the early round matches have confirmed the trophy-winning potential of other top sides as well, making the tournament wide open. All big teams—even England—are title contenders and it presents a fantastic scenario.

Talking about England, their epic chase to hunt down a victory target of 230 against South Africa in Mumbai bordered on unbelievable. England of all teams! But this is a refreshingly new England unit that revels in expressing itself on the field. Coach Trevor Bayliss, with Paul Farbrace in tow, has brought about the change. Under him, England have successfully incorporated Australian fearlessness and Asian style into their game. The Poms had been double-Dutched in the last World T20. This time, they stunned the Saffers in an improbable chase with Jason Roy giving an electric start and the excellent Joe Root going about the task with clinical precision. England needed this victory after losing to West Indies and now there’s a lot to play for in Group 1.

West Indies’ serenity in chasing down 183 with 11 balls to spare against England was not surprising. When Chris Gayle starts connecting the ball sweetly, bowlers give up and fielders become spectators. And that was exactly what happened at Wankhede. But this West Indies team is certainly not only about Gayle. From Johnson Charles to Andre Russell via Dwayne Bravo—they have had a host of multi-league T20 experts, allowing the side to feel at home in this format.

New Zealand perhaps are the team for every neutral. They haven’t tasted success in the ICC events yet but Kane Williamson’s men are making a big impression, defending relatively small totals and unleashing their spinners to very good effect. And given that one of their remaining two group league matches is against Bangladesh, they have all but sealed a spot in the last four. This is the Blackcaps’ first tournament in Asia since the late 2014 but they are making light of their lack of game time in this part of the world.

Australia’s fall against their Trans-Tasman neighbours has dropped a hint about their middle-order batting vulnerability. Also, records suggest, they are not very comfortable with this format. Maybe they don’t take T20s very seriously. But they are Australia and rule them out at your own peril.

It could be tough for South Africa to regroup after such a demoralising defeat. The challenge for the Faf du Plessis-led side is to drop the ‘chokers’ tag. They have made a false start but have enough quality to bounce back. This is now a test of character.

Pakistan, the most unpredictable side in the world have made a terrific beginning and by the time this article goes to print, you would know the outcome of their contest against India. The biggest match of the tournament is hugely important for both teams. It’s a survival game for India and defeat will all but end their campaign. For Pakistan a victory against their arch-rivals can make them unstoppable, while a loss might derail their charge. Criticisms and negativity could be their biggest obstacles then.

Sri Lanka are the defending champions, but they are a team in transition and need time to regain their consistency. Lasith Malinga’s departure, due to a dodgy knee, is a huge blow from which the Islanders are unlikely to recover.

Not many moons ago, India’s limited-overs captain MS Dhoni had been talking about the “auto-pilot” mode and running on “sixth gear”. He was entitled to his belief. Winning 10 out of 11 matches in the shortest format was a fabulous achievement, notwithstanding the fact that India had played against a second-string Australian side Down Under and faced an experimental Sri Lanka team at home. The Asia Cup win in Dhaka deserves even more credit, given that the matches had been played on seaming pitches. Dhoni was right; his team had warmed up nicely for all conditions. But this is a world event and expectations are huge. Also, a vast section of Indian fans don’t take kindly to defeats in World Cups. Out of the blue, the favourites are under pressure.(Financial Express)

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