In the build-up to the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019, there is plenty of debate on the nature of the pitches in England. The England vs Pakistan series saw the hosts put up totals in excess of 350 with remarkable ease. In the last five years, ever since the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup debacle, England has notched up scores of over 300+ 30 times. The broad consensus heading into the World Cup for teams was that pitches in England were absolutely flat and batsmen would have a field day. In the warm-up game between India and New Zealand at The Oval, it was expected that a high-scoring encounter was on the cards considering the flat nature of the Oval deck.
However, contrary to the script, Virat Kohli’s Indian cricket team were on the receiving end of a masterclass from Trent Boult. He snapped Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul in a sensational burst of new ball bowling and India were reduced to 39/4. New Zealand seized the momentum and India were tottering at 115/8. Had it not been for Ravindra Jadeja’s attacking 54, India would not even have reached 150. Kohli’s side was bundled out for 179 and New Zealand won by six wickets with Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor smashing fifties.
This loss came in a warm-up match. The stats and numbers are not counted in the player’s tally. It is not even an official match. Jasprit Bumrah bowled just four overs and picked up one wicket for two runs. Yes, too much should not be read into a warm-up game. However, the loss does raise some questions.
Rewind to Hamilton 2019. On a pitch that offered a hint of swing. Repeat, just a hint of swing. India was razed out for 92 with Boult taking 5/21. Just a hint of movement in the right areas is enough to trouble India’s batsmen. Rohit Sharma’s dismissal is a classic case in point. Boult pitched it up on a length and it swung back in, Rohit played down the wrong line and was trapped in front. In England, Kohli has always been troubled by deliveries that have swung just outside the off stump. Kohli played with a slightly angled bat and dragged a delivery from Colin de Grandhomme which nipped back in onto the stumps.
The inability of the Indian batsmen to counter slight movement could be a worry when they head into the main tournament. The fact that swing undid them at The Oval should give them a wake-up call. In the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy final against Pakistan, Rohit, Dhawan and Kohli were all undone by the pace and bounce of Mohammad Amir as Pakistan won the game by 180 runs.
From the Oval to Hamilton and back again at the same venue in the space of two years, India’s top order when confronted with a little swing tend to develop cold feet. In these two years, whenever the top order has failed, the middle order has struggled to get going. The Delhi ODI loss to Australia was a classic case when the top order failed and the middle order could not get the momentum.
To reiterate, this is a warm-up that has no bearing in the overall cricket statistics. But, it is the right time to iron out certain flaws in the batting with India’s game less than 10 days away at the same venue against South Africa.