Out of the two wishes that I had posted in the preview of this match, one got fulfilled and one did not. It was a very good match, but India lost. Let us look at a few aspects of this game.
Indian team selection
I cannot understand the reluctance of Dhoni to bring Ashwin into the playing eleven. Today was a good chance to brng him in. The only acceptable reason for his exclusion would have been Dhoni going into this game with 3 pacers, and he did just that, so I reluctantly agreed with that tactic.
For SA, it must have been difficult to leave out their form bowler, Imran Tahir. I also thought they would give a chance to Tsotsobe, given that he did very well against India just before this World Cup. But they chose to go with 2 full spinners in Botha and Peterson, to complement the pace of Steyn and Morkel, and I was ok with that.
Dhoni got it right with his call to bat first after winning the toss. As I had mentioned, India's best chance lay in batting first in friendly conditions and posting a big total. They started very well, Veeru and Sachin got out of the blocks in a hurry, no doubt boosted by the fact that Steyn and Morkel did not get any help from the conditions.
Veeru got out a little earlier than he should have, a hundred was there for the taking, but he fell when India had SA on the mat. But it was nice to see Gambhir get a decent outing in the middle and converting his 20s and 30s to a good score. Sachin batted excellently as usual, not taking too many risks and just riding the great batting conditions to notch up another hundred.
Even after what happened in the batting powerplay, I dont have any complaints regarding the timing of it. I still believe the batsmen were right to take it around the 38th-39th over when the changed ball was still a little hard and giving themselves 7-8 overs after the powerplay to really push the pedal to the floor. But what followed was pathetic, and very similar to what happened against England. Batsman after batsman came, tried to be a hero, and perished early. As Dhoni mentioned in his post-match interview, batting powerplay and slog overs are not about pleasing the crowd, but doing what is best for the team. Not one batsman seemed to think in that direction, and fell trying to hit every ball to the boundary. Dhoni himself did not try to be a hero, but in my opinion, went to the other side too much and actually looked and played defensive, which is also a crime given the situation.
I feel that this trend of taking the foot off the pedal when the opposition is down and out, especially when India is batting, is going to cost us very dearly in this World Cup. This needs to be rectified ASAP. How that is going to happen, is anyone's guess. But today, I felt Dhoni made another bad decision by sending in Yusuf at the fall of the second wicket. I understand that the powerplay was on, and he probably saw this as his chance to shut the opposition out of the game. But Yusuf is like a lottery, he cannot and will not click every time. More often than not, this will give another quick wicket to the opposition and against a team like SA, they will seize this chance to get back into the game, like they did today. Also, this causes confusion in the minds of batsmen like Virat Kohli and Yuvraj, who will try to be a Yusuf when they get a chance at bat.
Also, I keep harping on predictability being a thing for teams to avoid in this World Cup. By always bringing in Yusuf when India has a huge total and the potential for an even bigger score, Dhoni is being predictable and teams will exploit that. In such situations, having Yusuf in the hut still to come, is a huge psychological matter for India and the opposition and that alone could result in some pressure bowling from the opposition, which will help India. Also, it is worrying to see no contribution in this WC yet from the bowlers and also the form of Dhoni is a worry.
At all times, but especially in World Cups where teams bring their A game at all times, it is absolutely criminal to not bat out 50 overs and India have done this twice already in this WC, against both the top teams they have played so far. That is another thing that needs to be addressed immediately.
This Nagpur track this time actually suited India more. It was not the absolute belter that it was expected to be. There was some turn and bounce and the ball was stopping a bit. So 296 was very defendable on this track. I thought India bowled quite well early on and did not allow SA to get off to the flier that they wanted to. That pressure even resulted in Smith giving away his wicket. Kallis and Amla batted well, but I thought they could have asserted themselves a bit more. They seemed content to get 4 runs an over. Anyway, things were even almost right through the chase and fortunes fluctuated both ways often, making for a good game of cricket overall.
As I had mentioned in my preview, Harbhajan proved to be the difference for India as he looked like taking a wicket every over. That is one big plus for India from this match. If he can carry this form to the rest of the tournament, India will be in much better shape with the ball and this, along with the return of Ashwin and the form of Yuvraj and of course Zaheer, will help India to look like a decent bowling side, which is much more than was expected at the start of the tournament.
Things looked in India's favor even going into the last over. Zak had bowled a fantastic penultimate over, giving only 5 runs and left SA to get 13 from the final over. At this stage, I was shocked and absolutely outraged to see Nehra get the last over. In my opinion, giving it to Bhajji was a no-brainer. In cricket, especially in ODIs and 20-20, the form of the bowler on the day is the most important thing. To any viewer, it was obvious that Nehra had had a bad day till that point and Bhajji had had a very good day. Any sensible captain would have gone with the bowler that looked better on the day. I cannot for one moment buy Dhoni's argument that a pacer would have been the better choice at that time. A left-hander was on strike at the start of the 50th over, so an offspinner was the logical choice as well. Any way you look at it, Dhoni got it wrong big time when he gave the final over to Nehra. I was almost sure at that time that India would lose, and that is exactly what happened.
India's future in this World Cup
India is still at the top of Group B, but that will change quickly over the next few days. The task for India is pretty simple. They need to beat WI and if possible, by a comfortable margin to give them some confidence ahead of the quarter finals. I think India will go through to the next round even if they lost to WI, but they could end up being fourth in that situation, which means they may play Australia in the QF.
I will be watching the England-WI game with interest, not just because it is a match between 2 of the top sides, but because that could be a factor towards India's position in this group. England need to win that one to help them qualify for the next stage, but that would also help India in my opinion.
My next post will be after the England-WI game on Thursday, where I will post a preview of the India-WI game. Stay tuned.
Let me leave you guys with a final thought. My wife, who watched most of the game with me, had one comment about the Indian batting after the collapse that I think I should mention here. She said, after all these years, Indian batting still revolves around Sachin and after he departs, Indian batting still looks brittle and she was reminded of the 90s. It is definitely food for thought.