The last time Australia and India met in the ICC World Twenty20 was in Barbados in May 2010. The result was a brutal hammering in which Shane Watson and David Warner put on a century opening partnership, and India’s batsmen struggled against the short ball.
The script was much the same when the two teams came up against each other in their first match of the Super Eights in 2012, at Colombo’s Premadasa Stadium. The batsmen were undone by pace, and the bowlers clobbered by Watson and Warner. How far have India come as a Twenty20 side since Barbados? The answer is fairly clear, and now India are in danger of making it a hat-trick of Super Eights exits on the World Twenty20 stage.
India will be widely castigated in the aftermath of this nine-wicket defeat. Dropping a batsman and playing five bowlers was a call that was always going to polarize opinions. In retrospect it looked a huge blunder, accentuated when you take into consideration how well Pakistan and South Africa’s spinners bowled at the same venue earlier in the day.
It is not MS Dhoni’s habit to play less than seven batsmen or make difficult selection calls, but at the toss in Colombo on Friday he announced that a struggling Virender Sehwag had been dropped and that India were playing five bowlers.
This decision was taken after Harbhajan Singh and Piyush Chawla spun a web over England in the previous match, taking 6 for 25 in eight overs as England subsided from 39 for 2 to 60 for 9.
Frankly, India got carried away with the five-bowler theory. It worked against England, who were terrible in playing spin. Their line-up consisted of players with limited international experience and that on that evening they played spin with the tenacity of a paper straw. It was at an abject performance, with the basics of playing spin being thrown out the window.
This was Australia, with Watson and Warner and Michael Hussey and Cameron White – all hitters of a long ball. To expect a Twenty20 giant like Warner and a red-hot Watson to make the same mistakes as England’s batsmen was a mistake.
Against Warner and Watson it was a different story. Once Australia’s chase began, Watson and Warner went after spin in the first over and never looked back. R Ashwin went for 8.34 an over; Harbhajan bled 20 runs in two overs; Chawla was used for a solitary over that cost 14; Yuvraj Singh went for 16 in two; Rohit Sharma’s one over cost 12. Virat Kohli, bowling what can only be termed as brisk spin, went for ten in six balls.
Was it poor bowling? Yes. Ashwin did not bowl a single offbreak, instead slipping in a steady supply of carom balls, darts and long-hops that the Australian openers gladly cut and pulled. Harbhajan was unable to decide on a length and veered between short and full. When he tossed it up he was hit for six, and when he pulled back the length it was the same result. Chawla began with a long hop that disappeared for six and finished with a wide half-volley that also sailed into the stands. He went for more in one over than he did in four against England. A rude awakening indeed.
More than any poor efforts in the field, India got carried away with the idea of five bowlers. Chawla is a legspinner who doesn’t turn the ball much. Warner, a left-hander, is very strong over midwicket and square leg. Australia’s No. 3, Hussey, is also a left-hander. A fourth southpaw in Matthew Wade was down the order. Playing a bowler with Chawla’s track record of inconsistency was always going to be a risk. It did not make sense, considering Dhoni had a proven wicket-taker in Yuvraj and Raina and Rohit to fall back on. Yuvraj was, after all, the man who pulled things back for India with three wickets against Afghanistan. India overanalyzed and paid the price.
With Pakistan lined up in on Sunday there will have to be a rethink. India cannot afford any more blunders.