What a chase we had today! India, needing a bonus point win, chased down Sri Lanka's score of 320 in just 36.4 overs, to win by 7 wickets with 80 balls to spare. This win has kept India alive in this tri-series for at least 3 more days, and increased the interest in the last round robin match between Australia and Sri Lanka.
India knew right from the beginning that the target, whatever it may be, had to be chased down in 40 overs or less. So when the first half ended and the target of 321 became clear, the hopes of an average Indian fan were not too high. But the Indian batting unit, which has not enjoyed a fruitful tour of Australia, clicked well and - riding on a magnificent ton by Virat Kohli - chased down the target in a more than convincing style!
The chase was a brilliantly constructed one. Since the required rate for a 40-over win was above 8 runs per over, it was clear that a fast start would be of utmost importance. Sehwag and Tendulkar provided that with some audacious batting. When the mandatory powerplay ended, India had scored 97 runs for the loss of the two openers.
When Tendulkar got out lbw to Malinga in the 10th over, there were a lot of tweets on my timeline suggesting that Dhoni should come out to bat. Their logic must have been that he takes his time to settle in, and if there is time to be used up, it better be between 10 - 15 overs rather than later in the innings. That is fine, but I was happier to see Kohli come in to bat at No. 4, and happier still that he stayed till the end to guide the chase in a manner contrasting of how Dhoni would have done it.
My last post on this blog (about 2.5 weeks ago) was about Dhoni's planning of chases. This one is about how Virat Kohli planned this one, and comparing it with what Dhoni would have done (the latter part would obviously be presumption based on the pattern of his innings in the successful run chase against Australia and the tied match against Sri Lanka).
On of my biggest problem with Dhoni when he comes out to bat with overs in hand in a run chase is that he plays far too many dot balls at the start of his innings. Settling in is fine, but the same can be done more effectively by rotating the strike rather than dead batting the ball. Kohli too played 8 dot balls between 10 and 15 overs, but at the end of 15 overs, he was still batting on 16* (18b). Compare this with Dhoni's knock in the successful run chase against Australia, and you will find that Dhoni stood at 8* (24b) at one stage in that chase. Even if you grant Dhoni the benefit of a much easier chase on hand against Australia, I don't think you'd still justify 8 runs in 24 balls!
At the end of 15 overs, India stood at 118 for 2, and though only 21 had been scored in the last 5 overs, there was enough momentum to make Mahela Jayawardene delay taking the Bowling Powerplay, as he has himself admitted. Had Kohli made the kind of start that Dhoni made at Adelaide, India might have had about 10 runs fewer at that stage, and Sri Lanka might have taken the Bowling Powerplay, causing the batsmen to take a risk or two more than ideal. This is presumption, but by no means far-fetched!
In my last post, I had written: "if the best finisher of the team (MS Dhoni) is coming in to bat with 92 needed of 95 balls and batsmen like Suresh Raina (batting), Jadeja and Ashwin (to follow), and the team ends up needing 13 in the final over with two of these above batsmen still batting, then the chase has been miscalculated somewhere."
At Hobart, two of India's best chasers (Gambhir and Kohli) planned it in such a way that going up to the 40th over would not be necessary. One may argue that the early finish was more a result of the leaking Malinga - an assault that even Kohli would admit that he had not planned for - but I think it is still quite clear that Kohli had planned to finish the game off at least one over before the 40th. Their partnership saw calculated risks (mostly taken by Kohli) for boundaries every now and again, which allowed them to be unflustered if Sri Lanka managed to sneek in a good tight over. This is the reason why Rangana Herath's spell of 4 overs for just 20 runs did not have as big an effect on the result as it should have had.
When the second lot of powerplay overs commenced, Kohli executed the second half of his plan, which was to attack straightaway and keep the required run rate below 9 runs per over at all times, rather than chasing 13 off the final over! He was obviously helped by some poor bowling from Sri Lanka, especially some of the leg-stump lines... but one must consider that when a batsman is pulling off some calculated risks, the bowlers are under increased pressure and have greater tendency to falter.
India may still not reach the finals of the series, but it was a great match for the team... and something they dearly needed towards the end of a very difficult tour of Australia!
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