3rd T20I: A bold statement, but timid application
It was very audacious of Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli when he decided to swim against the tide by choosing to bat first after winning the toss in the third and final T20 international against South Africa at M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru. With the stadium offering shorter boundaries, the teams prefer batting second to chase. Despite being the decisive match, after the inaugural match was washed out at Dharamsala, India had the opportunity to win the series if Kohli chose to bowl first as the Indian team had comfortably won the second match! But Kohli, it seems, has set his eyes on the next year’s T20I World Cup to be held in Australia.
Lady luck would not smile every time on a team, which is good at chasing, here in this case, India. Therefore, Kohli took a gamble. Of late, not many players like Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja have been getting opportunity to showcase their skills as the top five batsmen of the team have been successfully wrapping up matches for India with ease. The idea was to put up a solid score in the range of 160 and plus and then putting the new bowlers to test to defend. But alas, it did not happen.
Most of the middle-order batsmen disappointed by not living up to the idea of putting up a healthy total and returned to the pavilion by playing reckless shots. There was a good opportunity for the rest of the players to rise to the occasion and be counted after India lost the wickets of openers Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan and captain Kohli at a score of 68 runs in 8.3 overs. The going run rate was a healthy 8 plus then. There were good 11.3 overs left and the rest of the batsmen could have applied themselves and carried the score to a respectable total. But none of the batsmen made any conscious effort to build the innings from then on.
Once again, it was a good opportunity for wicket keeper-batsman Rishabh Pant, who has been given a coveted No. 4 spot for too long, to live up to the trust of the team management. But he continued to struggle, still managing 19 runs off 20 deliveries. Once again, he fell to poor shot selection and offered a catch to Phehlukwayo off the bowling of Fortuin. At a time, when the team required its frontline batsmen to stay put and score decisively, Pant’s casual batting display may leave many to question the team management’s judgment of persisting with him. Before this match, Pant has had 7 single-digit scores in his last 10 innings in this shortest version of the game.
134 was never going to be a defendable score and the visitors won the match by 9 wickets to level the series.
Of late, the bulk of the batting is being done by the first three frontline players and if they fail to score big, the rest of the players have been found wanting. This is a major worry. With hardly one year left for the World Cup, the selectors would have to revisit their strategy and plug the loopholes. The number 4 continues to be a dilemma as the selectors have tried several players in that slot but none has been able to justify his place.