CHENNAI: This is setting up for a slow death. India now face a must-win match against Afghanistan on Wednesday. The match against New Zealand on Sunday was not necessarily a must-win, but given how the Group II has shaped up so far, it carried more weight. And following the eight-wicket defeat to Black Caps – a team India have not defeated in any format of an ICC event since the 2003 World Cup --- Virat Kohli & co are on the brink of the T20 World Cup. They are still mathematically in with a chance, but what should worry more than the two defeats is the numerical 3.097 — Afghanistan's net run rate. Even if one of New Zealand and Afghanistan lose one more match, India have to win their three remaining matches by a huge margin to boost their net run-rate to be in with a chance of making it to the last four.
Going by what unfolded in Dubai, it looks far fetched. Put the uncontrollable aside. The toss is always going to be a significant factor in Dubai. The dew and the disadvantages of bowling second are well documented. The challenges for the team batting first is you are made to go looking for those extra 20-30 runs to account for the dew. It is no big deal in cricket. Teams do that when they don't have depth in their bowling or when they have slow movers on the field.
However, to do so on slow-paced pitches where it is difficult to even identify a par total, is no less easy. These are pitches were 156 was the average first innings total in the IPL. India, more than any other team, will be familiar with these challenges. They have four IPL captains in their top six and an all-time great in MS Dhoni sitting in the dugout as mentor to go with the support staff headed by Ravi Shastri. Both are equally shrewd operators. They have spent the last week preparing for the worst-case scenario of batting first and field a XI that would be good enough for all conditions.
And with Suryakumar Yadav's back spasms giving trouble, he made way for Ishan Kishan and Shardul Thakur replaced Bhuvneshwar Kumar. You couldn't fault India and their think-tank for not trying. In the past, they have been found wanting during big moments. On Sunday, aware of how good New Zealand use their match-ups and what few extra runs could do with them bowling second, they altered their batting line-up. Ishan and Rahul opened, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli were demoted to No 3 and 4. Two aggressive batsmen with left-right combination on top, followed by two experienced batters, with Rishabh Pant, Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja for the second-half of the innings if need be. You could argue whether making so many changes in an important match was worth the risk. But in T20s, flexibility is a non-negotiable aspect where even few balls tend to change the course of the game.
On a slow, two-paced pitch India came out trying to hit a skillful Kiwi attack. With India throwing a surprise in their line-up, Kane Williamson was equally up to it, holding back Mitchell Santer for Rohit and Kohli and opening with Trent Boult and Adam Milne. The large outfield only made it harder. India's top-four all perished going for big shots — in search of that extra few runs — and being caught in the deep, leaving them 4/48 in 10.1 overs.They managed 110/7, which was way below par as they lost the match by eight wickets.
Brief scores: India 110/7 in 20 ovs (Jadeja 26 not out, Boult 3/20, Sodhi 2/17) lost to New Zealand 111/2 in 14.3 ovs (Mitchell 49, Williamson 32 not out, Bumrah 2/19).