Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 August 2019

Champions Trophy blunder: Virat Kohli’s call to make Pakistan bat first puzzling

In 18 previous finals at the World Cup and Champions Trophy/ICC Knockout, no team had ever chased more than 300 to win, writes Dileep Premachandran.
India captain Virat Kohli, right, made the same mistake on Sunday Sourav Ganguly made in the 2003 World Cup final. Kirsty Wigglesworth / AP Photo
India captain Virat Kohli, right, made the same mistake on Sunday Sourav Ganguly made in the 2003 World Cup final. Kirsty Wigglesworth / AP Photo

Facts first. After a nervy start, with Fakhar Zaman enjoying a reprieve that would cost India very dearly, Pakistan played pretty much the perfect game. Fakhar stroked a magnificent hundred, worlds apart from the tuk-tuk style batting with which they had begun the tournament.

Azhar Ali and Babar Azam batted exceptionally in support, before Mohammed Hafeez produced the sort of cameo that transforms a game. Then, in defence of that mammoth 338, Mohammed Amir summoned up the sort of spell that could one day be the focal point of a movie on redemption.

But you could also write a small booklet on all that India did wrong. Whether you play sport, or do a desk job, you learn from your mistakes. The smart sport psychologists also remind you to focus on something else – your strengths. You do not forget what made you successful in the first place.

When India drubbed Pakistan in the group game, they followed a template that had worked for them in five of six World Cup wins against the same opponent – bat first, put up a competitive total, and then use the scoreboard pressure to induce mistakes from a team who have not chased with any great confidence in years.

They had also gone into that game with three specialist pace bowlers, and just the one spinner, recognising that Pakistan’s batsmen were more adept at handling the turning ball. With Indian piling up 319 in just 48 overs, that bowling group was far too much for Pakistan to handle.

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For the final, India went away from that formula. In 18 previous finals at the World Cup and Champions Trophy/ICC Knockout, no team had ever chased more than 300 to win.

India had been scoring that sort of total for fun right through the tournament, even in the loss to Sri Lanka at The Oval. On winning the toss on a beautiful batting pitch, the obvious choice was to hustle Pakistan out of the game, with the top three in prime form.

But instead of putting the onus on Pakistan to overcome their chasing demons, India gambled just as they had against Australia at The Wanderers in 2003.

That afternoon, a pitch that looked like it could assist the quick bowlers influenced Sourav Ganguly’s decision. Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden got Australia off to a flying start, before Ricky Ponting and Damien Martyn took India’s bowling apart. The final tally was 359, with the game effectively over at halfway.

The Jasprit Bumrah no-ball that saved Fakhar will be at the heart of any Indian post-tournament debriefs. It would be ridiculous to call it bad luck though. It is not the first time it has happened to India in a big game.

Ravichandran Ashwin and Hardik Pandya were guilty of the same in the World Twenty20 semi-final in 2016, and Bumrah has a habit of playing footsie with the line.

Most of all though, India lost because their spinners fell way short of the standards they had set while winning this trophy in 2013. Then, Ravindra Jadeja topped the wicket-taking charts with 12 wickets, and conceded less than four an over. Ashwin took eight, and went at only 4.41.

This time, on less helpful surfaces, they were non-factors. Ashwin took one wicket in three games, and went for 70 in the final. Jadeja took four in five matches, and conceded nearly six an over. At 134-1 in 25 overs, India had wrested back a semblance of control.

Then, Fakhar took Jadeja for six, four and four in an over that cost 16. In the very next over, Ashwin went for six, three and four in a 17-run over. This time, the momentum shift was irreversible.

Amir, with the wickets of the big three in his first five overs, slammed the door shut, a door India had left ajar with some puzzling decisions.

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Updated: June 18, 2017 04:00 AM

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