Funny are the vagaries of cricket. It’s the second round of a World Cup and a team that lost today — Australia — is going to the semifinals. And the team that won later in the evening — India — is going home. It’s hard to think of another sport where such an oddity would occur at a World Cup.
But that’s the Super Eights format for you – an ICC invention that allows one team to get away with a bad day, and another team to pay for it through its nose; one that makes calculators more important than bats and balls. India won four games out of five in the tournament, the same as Australia, but one bad spell of 10-odd overs against Australia did them in.
Compare that to the West Indies: they are in the semifinals despite one win less than India, and only one outright win if you discount winning by a Super Over. This run-rate gobbledygook could have been avoided with the simple yet effective knockouts format which would have seen four meaningful quarterfinals instead of these run-rate-reliant Super Eights games which create convoluted contests like this one.
There was nothing to take from this game for South Africa. Thanks to Pakistan exposing Australia’s inadequacies earlier today, South Africa were out of the semifinals race. But India had half a chance of qualification. The men with the calculators informed us that MS Dhoni’s needed to win this game by scoring at least 150 and then winning by 32 runs or more.
Thanks to a top-order that has been all show, no go, India barely got over the 150-run mark with a fine counter-punching stand by Suresh Raina and MS Dhoni. But the magic number for Pakistan was a mere 122. When South Africa got over that mark with 20 balls to spare, they had ensured Pakistan a superior net run rate than India's. The large Pakistani contingent at the Premadasa Stadium today cheered South Africa’s march towards 122. One could call it Pakistan’s first cricketing win over India at a World Cup. So what if it was by proxy.
While the result itself had failed to matter afterwards, this game was a thriller in its own right. South Africa lost Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis early, but Faf du Plessis’ 65 (38b) settled the qualification race. Now the attention turned towards South Africa trying to chase down the 153-run target for their first win of the Super Eights.
Wickets fell and the contest got tighter. It boiled down to 14 off the last over from Lakshmipathy Balaji. The Morkel brothers each clubbed a six over midwicket in that over and got out immediately after, letting Balaji be the hero of the one-run win.
INDIA SLOPPY WITH THE BAT
India’s opening combination has been persisted with like a compromise marriage. No surprises then that Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag failed to get it on. Gambhir crossed 20 just once at the World Twenty20. Sehwag, despite the fuss over his exclusion in the Australia game and him sulking about it in practice, never crossed 30.
Gambhir played on to Morkel attempting a strange walking dab. Soon, Sehwag lifted Peterson down the ground for a big six, and then tried to repeat the shot. Peterson showed great courage, bowled the next ball slower and Sehwag missed it completely to be bowled. Watching Sehwag bat is at once one of life’s greatest pleasures and frustrations. He’ll thrill you by playing shots mere mortals can only dream of. Then he’ll disappoint by getting out like that making you wonder if he has the IQ of a potato.
Gambhir and Sehwag’s collective failures have burdened the middle order gripped by form issues of its own. While Kohli has been sublime at No. 3, Yuvraj has been far from his best at No. 4. He’s made a swift comeback after a life-threatening disease, but he didn’t thrill with the bat the way he had at the previous editions of the World Twenty20. One of the positives was his bowling: he had eight wickets in the tournament. Rohit Sharma had one big knock against England, but was a let-down in the other games.
Each time they went to bat Dhoni and Raina had to try and compensate for the collective failures of their colleagues. In retrospect, it’s a wonder India won four games out of five in the tournament. India went into the WT20 banking on their batting. While the batting underwhelmed, the bowlers (India's perennial weakness) bowled out four of their five opponents. It wasn't enough. Perhaps, in another year at some other tournament, the men with the calculators will have favourable news for Dhoni.