What did the game between Sri Lanka and South Africa tell us about knockouts? The same got validated in the second quarterfinal between India and Bangladesh. It told us that the team that can play with freedom in the must-win game is the team that is more likely to win. It’s one thing playing with freedom in the league phase where losing has limited consequences and quite another to do the same in a game where you go home if you lose.
Sri Lanka just couldn’t get off the blocks at the SCG and Sangakkara’s approach showcased what pressure can do even to the best in the business. Sangakkara came into this game at the back of four consecutive centuries but chose those more conservative approach against Proteas. On the other hand South Africa came out all guns blazing. They were under tremendous pressure to not lose another knockout game but somehow managed to stay calm. Knockout is all about who blinks first and at SCG it was Sri Lanka that blinked earlier.
The second quarterfinal was dominated by the better team and, once again, showed that ‘been there done that’ is critical to a team’s response to these crunch situations. India didn’t start that well but that’s rarely a concern in this World Cup, for you can always make a comeback if you have wickets in hand. India kept moving slowly but ensured that they didn’t lose too many wickets in the process. Once you have more than 6 wickets for the last 15 overs, an above par score is almost guaranteed, and that’s what India managed.
A champion team is a team that finds new heroes in every game. In the league phase India’s batting revolved around Dhawan, Kohli and Raina but the quarterfinal was about Rohit Sharma. He has scored two ODI double centuries but I have no doubt in my mind that the innings of 137 versus Bangladesh was his best ODI knock. He took time in the beginning but as soon as he started opening up, he lost a couple of his partners and changed his tack. Once again, he started the rebuilding process to take India to safety. The best part of his batting came after he reached the three-figure mark, for that’s when he started picking gaps for fun. Batting in the slog overs is mostly about strength and bludgeoning the ball but Rohit focused more on maintaining the shape while hitting the ball. Some of his inside out shots were a delight to watch. In addition to Rohit, it was Suresh Raina who played another impact innings when India need it desperately. Raina was the reason for India’s above par score against Pakistan in the first league game and once again his knock was crucial.
Once there were more than 300 runs on board, India’s win was a foregone conclusion, for chasing under lights in a knockout game was never in Bangladesh’s reach. Indian bowling has been the highlight of this team’s performance and it came to the fore against Bangladesh too. The ideal way of operating for a bowling unit is to take wickets with the new ball and put pressure on the batting unit.The first change bowler should maintain that pressure with some tight bowling and pass on the baton to the spinners for the middle overs, and that’s how this Indian bowling unit has worked. They’ve taken 70 wickets in the seven games and that tells you everything that you would want to know about India’s bowling and Dhoni’s captaincy. Indian bowling has been the unlikely hero in this World Cup and Dhoni’s captaincy has been exceptionally aggressive.
India are only two wins away from becoming the third team to defend the World Cup crown and if the bowling continues to deliver the way it has thus far, the dream can become a reality.