World Cup 2019: Why the Afghanistan match going down to the wire is a blessing in disguise for India
While the week has sprung a few surprises with a couple of low-scoring games going down to the wire, the match against Afghanistan was a test of nerves for India and they managed to hold on and go past the line. Mohammed Shami returned to the side replacing the injured Bhuvneshwar Kumar and cleaned up the Afghan tail, becoming only the second Indian to get a hat-trick in a World Cup game after Chetan Sharma.
The Indians would have been relieved to collect two points and continue their march to the semi-finals. But the match can actually be seen as a blessing in disguise as they were never really tested in the World Cup up to that point.
India batted Australia and Pakistan out of the games and the South African bowling did not appear probing or penetrative enough considering they were defending a score below 230.
MS Dhoni would be the target of most critics now - the reason being his sluggish innings of 28 off 52 balls. The fact that he and Kedar Jadhav were happy to play out the spinners and target the medium pacers appeared to be a good strategy, but scoring 9 runs from 5 overs of spin after the 40th over seemed a bit absurd.
Also for the sake of argument, questions could be raised over where Hardik Pandya batted. Another 30 runs could have certainly pushed Afghanistan out of the game - but the pitch did not appear to be one where you could go for an all-out attack from the word go.
While Rohit Sharma caught up with the law of averages, KL Rahul did all the hard work before losing his head. After getting to know the pace of the pitch, it was part of his responsibility to go on and get a big score. Here is where King Kohli stands out; knowing that the middle order is brittle, he does not take risks and his supreme batting skills generally help him accumulate runs at a healthy rate.
Vijay Shankar too fell to a false shot and it was up to Dhoni and Jadhav to hold the innings together post Kohli’s dismissal. While Dhoni has caught up with his strike rate towards the end of his innings more often than not, his striking abilities definitely appear to be on the wane.
India would have struggled to defend such a score a couple of years back but this team is different - the bowling unit has four genuine wicket-takers who can also dry up runs. This belief, and more importantly their skills, made them realize that a score of 230 could be defended against an inexperienced Afghan line up which could not come to terms with the bounce, length or line of Jasprit Bumrah or Shami.
While a win overshadows every defect within the team, the fact that the middle order needs to spend time in the middle and the bowling unit really needs to be under pressure when defending means that this match against Afghanistan could actually be a blessing in disguise. Having emerged victorious against relatively better sides in the first few games of a big tournament, it is quite natural that a break of 5-6 days let Indians off the boil. But this side is not one which becomes complacent, and there is no greater example of that than the skipper Kohli - who maintains the same energy level, enthusiasm and hunger in all the games.
On a better pitch, the middle order could accelerate the scoring rate and the reserves in the team would seem capable enough, which should help cure a lot of selection headaches. India seem to be a balanced side, and certainly look like the team to beat now.
Also read – Lowest total defended in world cup