DUBAI: The business end of the Twenty20 World Cup risks becoming a party without a host with timid India staring at an early exit from the tournament they were expected to dominate.
England captain Eoin Morgan was merely voicing the popular perception last week when he described his team and Australia as the “joint second-favourites” in the tournament behind Virat Kohli’s India.
After all, Kohli’s star-studded team had a clear head-start having experienced gulf conditions in the UAE leg of the Indian Premier League (IPL) before heading into the World Cup.
If the 10-wicket thrashing at the hands of arch-rivals Pakistan was already a nightmare, an India fan’s world came crashing down entirely after Sunday’s eight-wicket capitulation against New Zealand.
After that double whammy, India are only just mathematically alive in the tournament of which they remain the official hosts despite having to shift it out of the coronavirus-battered country.
It would also be a massive blow to the advertisers and the broadcasters if cricket’s most-followed team prematurely crash out of the showpiece event.
Kohli has blamed his team’s timidity for their “bizarre” defeat by New Zealand but pundits believe the 2007 world champions need to overhaul their approach to 20-overs cricket.
“India are playing 2010 Cricket...The game has moved on,” former England captain Michael Vaughan tweeted. “For all the talent and depth in India ... they underachieved massively for years in white-ball cricket.”
The six sixes India hit and the meagre two wickets they claimed from their first two matches underline the struggle of the team, who languish in fifth place in Group II sandwiched between Namibia and Scotland.
Pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah conceded bubble fatigue had crept in after being on the road for six months but they also lacked clarity over batting roles heading into the tournament.
Kohli dumped his original plan to open the inning and sent KL Rahul, who has been in great form in IPL, to partner Rohit Sharma at the top against Pakistan.
Rohit dropped to number three against New Zealand with Ishan Kishan partnering Rahul in a desperate rejig that did not work.
In both the matches, India’s brittle top order could not milk the powerplay overs and, once forced into a damage control exercise, the late surge never came.
Champions at the inaugural T20 World Cup in 2007, India have not claimed the title since and their batting collapse came in for scathing criticism.
“Very disappointing from India. NZ were amazing. India’s body language wasn’t great, poor shot selection,” former opening batsman Virender Sehwag wrote on Twitter.
“Like (a) few times in the past, New Zealand have virtually ensured we won’t make it to the next stage. This one will hurt India and time for some serious introspection.”
Gautam Gambhir, who won the 50-over World Cup with Sehwag in 2011, said India had the skill but lacked “mental toughness”.
“Talent is one thing ... You can do really well in bilateral [series] but when it comes to these kinds of tournaments, this is when you have to stand up and perform,” he told ESPN Cricinfo.
“It’s been a trend, it’s been happening at most ICC tournaments.”
Former middle order batsman V.V.S. Laxman said India’s chances of making the semi-finals were a “distant dream” as their net run rate had also taken a beating.
“This defeat should hurt team India. Tentative with the bat, their shot selection was questionable,” Laxman said. “New Zealand bowled superbly, but India made their task easier.”
India must win their remaining three group matches against Afghanistan, Scotland and Namibia handsomely and hope other results go their way to make the last four.
Published in Dawn, November 2nd, 2021