Bolt from the blue for Indians

Bowling chinks and fielding lapses hurt Kohli and company

Bolt from the blue for Indians
After being hailed the favourites to retain their Champions Trophy crown, India are in a do-or-die situation in the aftermath of 48.4 maddening overs. 

Until the halfway stage of their Group B encounter against Sri Lanka at the Oval on Thursday, Virat Kohli’s men seemed to have done everything right in their bid to wrap up a second consecutive victory that would have all but confirmed their ticket for the semifinals.

Openers Rohit Sharma (78) and Shikhar Dhawan (125) once again oozed class, posting their 10th century partnership to set up a perfect launchpad for the famed middle-order to explode. While skipper Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh departed cheaply, former skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni (63) played another priceless innings and with Kedar Jadhav too coming up with a cameo towards the end, India coasted to 321/6.

Sri Lanka had chased such a score only once in their history and no team in the Champions Trophy history had scaled such a peak. With India possessing one of the best bowling attacks in the tournament and Sri Lanka lacking experience, it seemed India were on course to extending their domination over the islanders. So what went wrong for the Indians, who seemed completely clueless amidst a vicious onslaught from Danushka Gunathilaka and Kusal Mendis that pretty much sucked the life out of their fight?

The first weakness that Gunathilaka and Mendis exploited was by laying siege to all-rounder Hardik Pandya. Trying to get some swing in the overcast conditions, Pandya bowled full initially and with him not getting much movement, both the batsmen took him apart with ease. Pandya then tried to keep it short but the ball just sat up nicely for Gunathilaka and Mendis, who cut and pulled with élan. Pandya eventually conceded 51 runs in his 7 overs.

As much as Kohli raves about Pandya, the Baroda all-rounder is neither a genuine batsman nor a proper pace bowler.

While he has indeed improved leaps and bounds over the last few years and added a couple of yards to his pace, impressing even the likes of Rahul Dravid with his work ethics, he’s still raw to international cricket. With even genuine bowlers struggling to keep their economy rates under six in this age, the question is whether Pandya can send down his full quota without going for much, especially if the strike bowlers haven't made enough inroads at the start.

The problem worsens if Kohli chooses to play only four genuine bowlers and if one of them has a bad day, like it happened to Ravindra Jadeja, who gave away 52 runs in 6 overs. Normally accurate and parsimonious, Jadeja struggled to get his line and length right as Gunathilaka and Mendis went after him from the start itself. Jadeja tried his best to turn the tide but the Lankan duo wouldn't allow him to settle down at all.

Two bowlers under the pump at the same time leaves the skipper with few choices and Kohli was indeed running out of ideas, seeking suggestions from his predecessor Dhoni.

Until a few years ago, India had the option of turning to Suresh Raina and Yuvraj, who were quite decent with their 4-5 over spells. While Yuvraj is there now, he doesn’t bowl often that leaves Kohli with no choice but to bring upon himself or Jadhav.

If Kohli opts to persist with Pandya, who no doubt can win matches with his lusty hitting lower down the order, he should think about insuring him by bringing in premier off-spinner R Ashwin.

India can also show some urgency during the middle phase. While their strategy to stay cautious at the start and then slowly change gears as the innings progresses has worked well, stepping on the accelerator a little earlier could result in more runs. Fielding too has been a bit of a concern with Yuvraj and Jadhav guilty of some callous efforts in the deep.

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