Exactly four months from now will be the 25th anniversary of a forgettable chapter in Indian cricket.
That day, on 30 October 1994 at Kanpur, Manoj Prabhakar and newcomer Nayan Mongia played out last few overs of an ODI in the first-ever triangular series in India without any intent. They just patted the ball back as a befuddled crowd watched in horror.
Both Prabhakar and Mongia were banned for their go-slow approach post that game for two matches as the team management led by captain Mohammed Azharuddin and cricket manager Ajit Wadekar took a dim view of their batting.
History almost repeated itself when both Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Kedar Jadhav joined forces at Edgbaston on Sunday, in a mega clash against England. A World Cup match billed as the contest of the two possible finalists ended in a whimper because of India’s muddled thinking.
India was set to chase 338 by England and it required a creative approach, especially in the slog overs to get there. But instead, we got the spectacle of Dhoni and Jadhav picking up singles when the order of the day was for them to go for the bigger shots.
Eventually, India lost just five wickets and in the books it will be recorded that they lost by just 31 runs. But just how is saving the wickets going to be beneficial for India when they have already lost the match?
No one will ever know.
What is spoken behind closed doors when the think-tank bares its minds we will not know anytime soon, but something must be done about this lack of intent. India could instead have have lost by 60 runs and may well have been bowled out but at least they should have tried to make a solid run for the target.
There was just no justification for this approach from Dhoni and Jadhav in the end. The lack of intent that we have seen from the pair, especially in the last two games against Afghanistan and West Indies (maybe not from Dhoni) came to the fore even on Sunday.
Faulty Team Strategy?
India’s performance against England just reinforces the view expressed by the batting coach Sanjay Bangar before the start of the World Cup on the approach of the Indian batting unit.
"“What makes the Indian team unique is that it’s consistently playing risk-free cricket. And that’s because we emphasise on the ones and the twos. As a batting group, we are not obsessed over the number of boundaries we’ve hit. But we discuss strike-rotation a great deal. Which is why we’re able to eschew risks.”" - Sanjay Bangar to Mumbai Mirror
But this theory of Bangar is not working for India. In three successive games the batting has fallen short. This is a negative approach by the batting group and it is obvious that it is being championed by the backroom staff.
When you need to chase 338 with a short side boundary that is not more than 59 metres, you have to take some risks. You cannot afford to hang back hoping to get lucky later in the innings. By the time you decide to get lucky the game is probably over.
This was the difference between the two sides.
Battle of Batting Philosophies
England hit 13 sixes in their innings and India hit just one, that too in the 50th over. Just how are you proposing to chase a massive total in a crunch do-or-die match later in the tournament, say the semi-final, with such a mindset?
England has probably been ingrained to think about being aggressive from the first ball itself, since 2015. They have had more 300 plus scores than anyone else in the last four years. It was therefore a battle of two batting philosophies, with India playing an outdated form of ODI cricket, while England was being more modern.
England went back to the drawing board post the 2015 World Cup, decided on how they wanted to play ODI cricket. India on the other hand wasted two years in changing ODI captaincy and four years looking for middle-order batsmen. The result is England has a deep batting line-up allowing it to be aggressive, whereas India is left with a huge hole in the middle.
This also showed in the way Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma batted at the top, scoring just 28 in the first 10 overs.
Moreover, Kohli had 37 dot balls in his 76-ball 66, while Sharma had 55 dots in his knock of 102 off 109 balls. They decided to take it slow because they realised that there is just no one after them to close out the match!
What’s an even more telling stat as pointed out by eminent statistician Rajneesh Gupta is that while India had a total of 133 dot balls in their innings, England had more with 142 dots. Yet England made up for that with their sixes! In fact as Gupta pointed out- while England hit 186 runs in fours and sixes, India made only 146 runs in boundaries.
That difference of 40 was Game, Set and Match!
This loss to England will probably not hurt India in the short-term, because this was their first defeat in the tournament. But it puts a huge question mark on the way it has approached ODI cricket in the last four years.
Bilateral ODI cricket without any context has lulled India into believing in their outdated approach of taking it slow early on and then maximising in the end.
A tougher opponent like England punched massive holes in that theory on Sunday.
It is not a case of over-reacting to one loss, but more about pointing out the fact that the approach from India needs recalibration. We may still get through this World Cup on a high, but the way India plays the 50-over format needs to be relooked completely. Probably post this World Cup we may have an influx of young batsmen with intent and that is the window of opportunity.
Till then we have nothing much to do except praying for more daddy hundreds from Sharma and Kohli!
(Chandresh Narayanan is a former cricket writer with The Times of India, The Indian Express, ex-Media Officer for ICC and the Delhi Daredevils. He is also the author of World Cup Heroes, Cricket Editorial consultant, professor and cricket TV commentator.)
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