Whether or not India flexed considerable muscle to ensure their inaugural match would be played nearly a week into the World Cup matters little now.
England, South Africa and Pakistan have already played twice each, and if the International Cricket Council bent over backwards to ensure that India had the Lodha-mandated number of 15 free days between the IPL and the World Cup, then that is something for the ICC to deal with. India are, after all, the ICC’s favourite child, and being indulged is nothing new.
As it happened, the IPL final was held on May 12, but the original date of May 19 would have caused problems. Schedules are worked out months in advance, and so are possible roadblocks. The governing body’s role before a major tournament is to keep the team free of all distractions.
England’s nerves might have let them down against Pakistan on Monday; fielding is usually the first to go, and England’s fielding was appalling. There are lessons from that match for India as they prepare to play their first in the tournament.
Most people who thought a total of 500 would be breached for the first time in an ODI had picked England as the team most likely to get there at this World Cup. Virat Kohli did so too, as he indicated when the captains met before the tournament began. But making 500 (if one assumes England are going to, for the sake of argument) in the first innings is vastly different from chasing 350, a total England couldn’t get to despite two of their batsmen making centuries.
No Pakistan batsmen played with either the simple elegance of Joe Root or the authority of Jos Buttler. It didn’t matter. The scoreboard is a great leveller, telling us how much rather than how, and what happened rather than what might have been.
Lesson No. 1: Quantity is better than quality.
According to England’s analyst, they saved 64 runs against South Africa in the opening match, but conceded 17 extra runs in the field against Pakistan (they lost by 14 runs). Fielding statistics are still evolving, but misfields are being plotted by analysts.
Then of course there was Jason Roy’s dropped catch when Mohammad Hafeez was on 14; he added another 70 runs. Pakistan did drop Root on nine, and had England won, that might have been the focus. Games are played forward, however, while analysts join dots in retrospect. Teams will drop catches, misfield, even concede overthrows – but winning teams usually do fewer of these.
Lesson No. 2: Close matches will hinge on fielding.
Pakistan’s best bowler went for 53 in 10 overs while claiming two wickets. This was Hafik or Maleez, a combination of (Mohammed) Hafeez and (Shoaib) Malik, two off spinners in a format that apparently has little time for the type. More importantly, both are batsmen who bowl, a hint for India perhaps that playing Ravindra Jadeja ahead of Kuldeep Yadav might pay greater dividends because of the former’s batting.
Lesson No. 3: Sometimes two half-bowlers who can bat are better than one full bowler who cannot.
England’s last five batsmen added 54 (Pakistan’s scored 46), which is below par in a 300-plus chase. Teams tend to lose wickets in a bunch in such a situation, and the lack of a big hitter in the lower half of the batting told. Hardik Pandya apart, India do not have a consistent six-hitter lower down, which might have a bearing in a chase.
Lesson No. 4: Teams who have a designated slogger in the bottom half can sometimes make up for weaknesses in the middle order.
Both teams played at least two spinners. It is usually a good idea to follow what a host country does simply because they know the conditions best. It may not be the ideal plan, even in England, to play four medium pacers and a single spinner.
India’s handicap is that no one in the top five bowls. Pakistan had Mohammed Hafeez, England Ben Stokes. India might play Kedar Jadhav at five which seems a bit too high in the order for him. Mahendra Singh Dhoni might be the better fit there.
Lesson 5: Balance is the key in team selection.
There are very few batsmen in the world — Virat Kohli is one, Joe Root another, Kane Williamson a third — whose batting is so well organised that they do not have to be overtly aggressive in the white ball game. They find gaps, they run smartly, they hit the odd six, they keep pace with the run rate without too much effort.
But among 150 players at the World Cup, they are the exceptions. For the rest, the well-practised heave-ho is a necessary part of the armour. The Indian lower order will have to practise their six-hitting skills, something batsmen in the IPL do routinely.
Lesson 6: Six appeal can be cultivated.