India's bowling shortcomings exposed
India's loss to Pakistan, their second in their last three T20 outings, has cast serious doubts over their credentials as one of the favourites for the World Twenty20 crown, says Harish Kotian.
India lost to Pakistan by five wickets in Monday's warm-up match ahead of the WT20 tournament, and though not many will ponder the result, since it was merely a practice game, it certainly exposed the many shortcomings in India's bowling, which could prove crucial as the event heads into the business end.
India are expected to steamroll minnows Afghanistan in their opening match and also beat England, given the latter's poor record in limited-overs' cricket. But it is at the Super Eights where the real threat will come. That is where India's weaknesses in the bowling department will be exposed.
If you go by the seedings, India will most definitely play the West Indies, Sri Lanka and New Zealand, all of whom boast of strong batting line-ups, in the Super Eights.
Photographs: Vivek Prakash/Reuters
'We are a side that is comfortable playing seven batsmen'
As was witnessed in the game against Pakistan, the bowling is a major worry. Despite having the luxury of playing with five frontline bowlers -- because of the luxury of choosing from 12 players in the warm-up match -- they looked inexplicably short of ideas when the batsmen started attacking.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni loves playing with four bowlers, preferring to have a back-up for the batsmen, despite having good lower batting in Irfan Pathan and R Ashwin. After losing to Pakistan, he confirmed that he is comfortable with the seven batsmen-four bowlers theory.
"It's a difficult choice whether to pick an extra bowler and drop a batsman. I have batsmen who can be used as part-timers, and we are a side that is comfortable playing seven batsmen," said Dhoni.
But when a batsman like Chris Gayle or David Warner, or Tillakaratne Dilshan or Brendon McCullum, get going in a in a T20 game, hardly anything can be done to stop them.
Image: Mahendra Singh Dhoni
Ashwin India's best bowler in T20s
Ashwin is India's best bowler in the last year and his experience and good showing in the IPL over the years helps him fight through tough situations. But, other than him, there is no one captain Dhoni can look to in the middle overs when the game drifts away from his hands.
Even in the second T20 match against New Zealand earlier this month, which India lost by one run, the bowling was a major worry. They started well, as they did against Pakistan, but lost the plot in the middle overs.
New Zealand were 28 for two after five overs, 69 for 2 after ten, 115 for three in 15 overs and finally ended up on 167 for five. India conceded 98 runs in the final overs, out of which 52 came in the last five, and that against a Kiwi side not known for their prowess with the bat.
The trend was similar in the Pakistan match. Pakistan were 41 for two after five overs, 84 for four after 10 overs, 130 for five in 15 overs before reaching 186 for five in 19.1 overs and winning the match with five balls to spare.
Pakistan struggled in the first ten overs but recovered to score 102 runs in 9.1 overs, as 56 runs came from the last 25 balls.
Image: Ravichandran Ashwin
Photographs: Daniel Munoz/Reuters
Balaji, Harbhajan disappointed against Pakistan
Zaheer Khan started well with the new ball, but was taken apart at the death. When it really mattered, 31 runs were conceded in three overs. Imran Nazir went after Irfan Pathan in his very first over and the gamble paid off as the left-armer, who took five wickets in his previous match, was smashed for 40 runs in just 3.1 overs.
Lakshmipathy Balaji and Harbhajan Singh were expected to fill in the middle overs, but they came up woefully short as Kamran Akmal and Shoaib Malik ran riot.
Perhaps, Dhoni wanted to test his frontline bowlers and did not try his part-timers in Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma, while Yuvraj Singh bowled just one over for 11 runs. Maybe, he wasn't confident enough to bring them on with the Pakistan batsmen looking to attack right through their innings.
Photographs: Daniel Munoz/Reuters
India must give a serious though to the bowling
Pakistan can be very unpredictable on their day and Monday was a perfect example of that. This performance will catapult them right to the top as one of the favourites for the T20 World Cup, while India's other opponents, especially England, will take a lot from the match and look to exploit their weakness.
If India have to make a serious challenge for their second T20 World Cup, they need to get their bowling attack in shape in the coming few days. Playing an extra bowler may reduce the length of their batting line-up but there is enough talent in the eleven to make up for it.
Dhoni and Duncan Fletcher must go back to the drawing board and give a serious though to the bowling.
Photographs: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters