Champions Trophy Final 2017, World Cup Semi-Final 2019, Lord’s ODI 2022. Indian cricket fans would remember these dates without much effort as these were the days when India’s stick belly was sorely exposed by the swinging ball.
As India search for answers to a familiar problem, skipper Rohit Sharma, in step with the times, has advocated a lateral solution – ‘taking the game’.
“It’s happened to us a few times and it’s something we want to keep in mind and move forward. We’ve talked about it. It didn’t just happen to us in the 2019 World Cup, but in the 2017 champions trophy and a few other games as well… when we were under pressure we were 20/3 or 40/4,” Sharma said at the press conference after India were knocked out for 146 in the second ODI against England.
In the 2017 Champions Trophy final, India had the daunting task of chasing 339, when Mohammed Amir’s famous 3-wicket new ball spell sucked the life out of India’s innings to leave them under shock at 33/3. In the 2019 World Cup semi-final, it was New Zealanders Matt Henry and Trent Boult who crushed the Indian party, reducing them to 24/4 chasing 222. On Thursday, England’s Reece Topley and David Willey sent the best Indian command at 31/4 in pursuit of 247.
A common thread in those three matches was that they were all played in England where the new ball wobbles and sews. On each of these occasions, a wicket was Sharma’s own, front leg. Twice for a ball to roll up and once when it straightens after throwing. All opposing bowling units had quality left arm pacers that exploited the conditions and working on technical weaknesses with modern programming can only be addressed during net sessions.
But when the higher order is malfunctioning, India no longer wants its middle order to fall into a shell; it is more about fighting fire with fire.
“I want the guys to change the mindset a bit,” Rohit said. “I know the target is small 230/240. But is there any other way to hunt a target like that? I think there’s something different you can do as a batting unit. Unless you try, you’ll never know. I want guys to take the game into their own hands and find something different in their own game rather than (only) thinking about the goal of the game. If they get the team out of this situation, imagine the confidence they will get out of it.
The philosophy advocated by Sharma is fraught with risk in the ODI format. But it also has its roots in repeated failures against the moving ball. On batting feather mattresses, they rarely encounter such situations.
“We talked about it, but it depends on each individual at that time. That’s where the role of management comes in, to show them that what they’re trying to do is absolutely right,” Rohit added.
At the Champions Trophy, India’s counter attack was kicked off by Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja for the 7th wicket, by then it was too late. India want their middle order to try and tackle bowlers earlier, even when the scoreboard isn’t looking good against the new ball.
“The game is changing. The batsmanship evolves and as a team you have to evolve as well,” he said. “We want to take the team in a certain direction and in doing so you will also have failures. You will learn as individuals and as a team where you are stuck. We want to encourage that kind of thinking where people try different things and it’s completely accepted (if you fail) The team is trying to do this and it’s essential that individuals buy into it.
Interestingly, this is not a tactic that MS Dhoni has adapted and won many matches in India. However, he too failed in the semi-finals of the 2019 World Cup. His rare 7th guard partnership at the wicket with Jadeja brought India closer but couldn’t help them reach the finish line.