ICC CRICKET WORLD CUP 2019
Filling the small gaps… ©Getty
Chaos isn’t the word you’d associate with the Indian dressing room at the moment. They’ve reached the semifinal of yet another ICC tournament and the captain Virat Kohli presents a cheery exterior a day ahead of the game. And this despite, potential chaos bubbling underneath. That is centered around their bowling combinations, the No. 4 position and more. It is something that India have lived with for the last two years. And yet without finding straightforward solutions, they’ve managed very well through workarounds. And these workarounds have come because of planning, and some others with just the universe seemingly conspiring in their favour.
In their bowling, the chaos exists not for the lack of skills but in finding the best way to deploy. Should the two wrist-spinners, given their stellar record, play against New Zealand? Should one of them make way for Ravindra Jadeja who would solve the problem of a weak lower-order batting? Is Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s batting capabilities more important for this team than Mohammed Shami’s bowling? They are all questions that have no straight answers.
One of the answers came when India got around to playing with just five frontline bowlers, including Hardik Pandya. His bowling, which has come a long way ahead remains the underrated aspect of his all-round capabilities. He’s improved his skillset and relies heavily on cutters, change of pace and the short balls to give India ten overs on a consistent basis. The smarts in their usage is because of his batting mind, believes Kohli. But crucial to the best bowling of Pandya is that it coincides with pitches wearing out after a swift turnaround in the England weather. It also kicked off a tournament-wide change in bowling plans as more and more teams employed change of pace as a method of restriction and attack. It’s an uncontrollable that fell right into place for India.
They hadn’t been so lucky with the batting though. Before Pandya enabled a five-bowler prospect, a strong bowling attack (the two wrist-spinners + Mohammed Shami) was weakening India’s batting that had already taken a big blow by Shikhar Dhawan’s exit. As the premier batsman in a shaky middle order, Virat Kohli had to change his game around. He could no longer play in a gear that was best-suited to him, he needed to bat the way that was best suited for the team, which in his case meant that he had to up the ante earlier than he normally would. He’d have to control the middle overs now increasingly as an aggressor as well as the compiler. It could have led to a few missed centuries but Kohli isn’t concerned.
“It’s my responsibility to play a role according to the team’s needs and I have been very happy if I walk in in a situation where I understand that I need to play in a certain manner, I’m open to do that because I have walked in a few times as a No. 4, so I have had to control the innings in the middle overs and I have learnt so much in this World Cup, along with spending time in the middle that okay, this is also a role that you are supposed to play and when situation arises you have to do that for the other guys to express themselves knowing that one I’m controlling an end and holding it to the end.
“So I have understood that roles can vary a lot in one-day cricket, depending on the time you step into bat, and I have been very happy with holding one end and letting guys express themselves striking at 150, 160 or 200 if the team needs and I can accelerate in the end.”
Similarly, when KL Rahul had to move up to the opening position, Rohit Sharma had to take up the role of early aggressor. Post Dhawan’s exit, his strike-rate is 20 runs higher. It has allowed KL Rahul to bat himself into a frame of mind, which Kohli feels will make him play his “most expressive game”.
Even as they get into the knockouts, some of the concerns remain, but India will be confident of the ways they’ve managed the chaos. They still control it as much as they can and Rohit Sharma isn’t the only one battling with switching on and off.
Kohli credits the method in managing rest as a key factor. “The GPS trackers that we wear and play, if it wasn’t there then it becomes very difficult to convince what the workload of a player is. But when you have the data, you can tell exactly that ‘this guy needs 48 hours of rest’,” he explains.
No wonder, he wishes for it to continue. “So we’ve done well so far, but a few days left still so we have to do it precisely for a little longer to reach the final, and win it too.”