Mumbai: “It’s a lack of clarity that creates chaos and frustration. Those emotions are poison to any living goal,” says Steve Maraboli, the well-known Behavioural Scientist. The insipid approach by India against New Zealand reflected the truth of Maraboli’s thought as one of the cricket world’s top teams betrayed signs of a huge dent in confidence and psychological scarring from the Pakistan loss. The shadow of that crushing defeat hung heavy over India’s entire performance against the Kiwis as they looked shaky from the very start. The way India went about their game showed little planning or imagination and even Virat was compelled to term the day’s performance as “bizarre” and admit that his batsmen were in two minds while looking to accelerate and post a decent total.
The unlucky streak with tosses continued for Kohli but while that is beyond anyone’s control, the team selection seemed strange, to say the least. Inexplicably, Ashwin was left out once again as Shardul Thakur came in place of Bhuvaneshwar Kumar. The other change was a forced one, that of Ishan Kishan in place of Suryakumar who was out with a back spasm. India was put in to bat by New Zealand captain Kane Williamson. But it wasn’t the usual duo of Rohit and Rahul but Rahul-Kishan who came in to open the batting. This was the first sign that India was playing with a defensive mindset and looking to protect their premier batsman from the left-arm swing of Trent Boult.
India needed a strong performance from their top order but this is where it all looked so unplanned as each of the batters went out trying to hit big shots on a slow wicket where the ball was hardly coming on for free stroke-play. What was needed was a careful approach, a willingness to graft for singles and twos – not big shots. In the latter part of the match, Kane Williamson demonstrated just that and calmly took his side to a win. In stark contrast, all Indian batsmen – from Ishan Kishan to KL Rahul and from Rohit Sharma to Virat Kohli – fell in going for big, blazing shots as each one was caught on the boundary.
With a paltry 111 as a target, India needed to be bold and brave. If New Zealand were to bat 20 overs, it was game over. Getting a few quick wickets at the start was the only way of pulling off a miracle win. For that setting aggressive fields in search of early wickets were needed but Kohli & Co. seemed unimaginative. There were no slips and even at the end when India should have at least tried to slow the Kiwis down to keep their net run rate in check, the field was wide open for them to pick easy runs.
While the terrible flop in the batting department has been heavily criticised, the bowling has largely attracted less blame. For sure, the Indian bowlers haven’t had big targets to defend but the way they have bowled, even a bigger target wouldn’t have helped their cause. Both against Pakistan and New Zealand, barring Jasprit Bumrah, all bowlers were out of sorts and none were penetrative in their spells.
This is precisely why questions need to be raised over poor team selection. Keeping Ashwin out, India’s best spinner is a big mystery. Especially when all quality spinners, from Rashid Khan of Afghanistan to Adil Rashid for England, have shown that these pitches aid spin bowling in multiple ways. Having Ashwin benched shows an indecisiveness in the think tank – first picking him in the squad and now not playing him! This muddled thinking has reared itself at many stages in the last two matches. The batting roles are not clearly defined and have now left fans wondering about India’s fate in this tournament. Just like the batsmen haven’t been clear whether to attack or consolidate, the bowlers have not been flexible with their lengths nor clever in crafting their overs to deceive opposition batters at any stage.
The pathetic show in the first two matches also reflects possible fatigue with bio bubbles for Indian players. There is little doubt about the talent and potential this team possesses but the hunger has been glaringly missing. BCCI needs to look at schedules more carefully and selectors need to be aware of workload issues. It is not physical fitness alone but mental fitness too that is getting tested the most in these vulnerable times.
Another important factor that has pushed the Indian team close to the bottom of their group table has been their overconfidence. India had an easier group to contend with and since the team has been performing well over the last few months, it was a given that they would be able to qualify easily for the semis. Hardik Pandya before the Pakistan game had even said that he will save his bowling till the deep end of the tournament. The statement reflected the mood in the Indian camp that qualifying in the top two from the group was a given for them. Now, that overconfidence has come to bite them as they were swatted by Pakistan and shoved away by New Zealand. The team has been shaken by their performance and as such looks cluttered in its mindset.
Unfortunately, they now have to hope for other teams to come to their rescue and give them any hope of going further in this edition of World T20. This was a crucial clash as both sides were playing after losing to Pakistan in their earlier matches. While New Zealand has rapidly recovered from the defeat in their encounter with Pakistan, the Indians seem to have been shell-shocked by their first-ever loss to their traditional rivals in a World Cup. Given the psychological blow that India received at the hands of Pakistan, the Kiwis have now delivered a virtual knock-out punch that may send India packing out of a tournament which many tipped them to win.