India v West Indies, World T20 2016, Semi-final, Mumbai March 29, 2016

Raina and Yuvraj testing the faith

India have somehow reached the semi-finals of a major event with four of their top five misfiring at the same time. Change could be dangerous, but it could be needed
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Play 01:54
Manish Pandey on stand-by for Yuvraj Singh

Bangalore, March 23. Suresh Raina is batting on 3 off 6 balls when Mashrafe Mortaza bowls him a short ball. Raina is slow to react, and the ball is almost at his front shoulder when his bat comes around to meet it. The shot is less a short-arm pull than a short-arm flap. He doesn't middle it, and the Chinnaswamy Stadium holds its breath when the ball hangs in the air, but it falls well short of deep square leg.

It is a Raina thing, this short-arm flap. It is a sight that induces nervousness in his fans and smugness in his critics.

Raina is batting on 6 off 10 balls when the short-arm flap makes another appearance. This time the ball strikes his bat a little closer to its sweet spot, and carries as far as the fielder on the deep square leg boundary, but Shuvagata Hom has to run to his right, and is only a foot or so from the boundary when his hands parry the ball over the rope.

There are short balls that rise steeply and there are short balls that sit up. Al-Amin Hossain's next ball is of the latter kind, and Raina clears his front leg and muscles the ball over the wide long-on boundary. He is batting on 18 off 12 balls now, his strike rate is 150.

This is Raina's T20 game. On his good days he times the ball beautifully and scores quickly. On his bad days, if he's in for any length of time, he looks ugly, hits a couple of big shots, and scores quickly. Or he gets out early. Rarely does Raina score 15 off 20 balls or 20 off 25. He is a frustrating cricketer, but he is made for T20. In this match, against Bangladesh, he top-scores with 30 off 23.

Raina's scores at the World T20 are 1 off 2, 0 off 1, 30 off 23, and 10 off 7. In the last innings, against Australia, he is out gloving a pull to the keeper.

***

In the same match, in Mohali, Yuvraj Singh scores 21 off 18 balls. His strike rate is 116.66, which is nothing like his career strike rate of 136.95, but better than his strike rate since the start of 2014, which is 101.91. Facing the third ball of his innings, Yuvraj jumps onto the back foot to tuck Nathan Coulter-Nile off his hips. He jumps back, lands awkwardly, and twists his left foot. He hobbles through the rest of the innings, an innings rich in human drama.

A lot of Yuvraj's recent innings have been like that, battles pitting his experience and know-how against reflexes that are clearly half a step slower than they used to be. He gets beaten for pace frequently, but bowl him something in his slot and he'll still send it soaring over the ropes. It has been fascinating to watch. But from a purely cricketing perspective, it's hard to say if he's still an effective enough middle-order batsman for a top international T20 side.

India have kept their faith in Yuvraj. They have kept their faith in Raina. Neither has rewarded that faith, just yet. Meanwhile, at the top of the order, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan have a top score of 23 between them at this World T20.

Between them, Rohit, Dhawan, Raina and Yuvraj have scored 181 runs at an average of 11.31 and a strike rate of 103.87. Those four names occupy numbers one, two, four and five in India's batting order. India are in the semi-finals largely because their No. 3 has scored more runs than those four put together. Virat Kohli has made 184 runs at an average of 92.00 and a strike rate of 132.37.

After their No. 3 has dragged India into the semi-finals with one of the greatest T20 innings of them all, MS Dhoni calls on the other batsmen to step up. He says he feels India are "batting at 65% barring Virat."

That 65% includes the contribution of Dhoni, who has scored 74 runs off 61 balls while only being dismissed once in four innings. Without that, he might have said 30%.

Ajinkya Rahane has not had any middle time, but has been putting plenty of work in on this shot © BCCI

***

Mumbai, March 29. Manish Pandey shadowing his front-foot pulls. Ajinkya Rahane is on the ground next to him, stretching one leg in front of him and bending low at the waist to touch his toes. It is a sapping afternoon at the Brabourne Stadium, and Rahane has experienced plenty of them. He was 14 when he first played a serious match here, in October 2002, scoring 5 and 13 not out for Mumbai Under-15s against Baroda Under-15s.

The ground has practice pitches near both square boundaries. On one side is the West Indies squad. On the other are Rahane, Pandey, India's batting coach Sanjay Bangar, their throwdown specialist DGVI Raghavindraa, and a group of net bowlers. India's training session is optional.

Right through the World T20, Rahane has been the one constant presence in these optional sessions. In Kolkata, two days before the match against Pakistan, only Rahane, Raina and Pawan Negi showed up. In Bangalore, two days the Bangladesh game, it was Rahane and no one else.

Now, two days ahead of a semi-final against West Indies, Rahane has company.

***

January 23 was the last time Pandey batted in any form of serious cricket. He scored an unbeaten 104 off 81 balls and steered India home in an ODI chase of 331. India have played 15 T20Is since then, and Pandey hasn't played any of them. He isn't part of their World T20 squad - yet. He's here now on standby, waiting for news of Yuvraj's injured foot. He's at the Brabourne Stadium, which is down the road from the Wankhede Stadium, which is the venue of the semi-final.

Pandey and Rahane are batting at adjacent nets. Pandey steps down the pitch and lofts a net bowler over long-off. Rahane leans back to a short, rising ball and ramps it over the netting behind him. He does it two more times in the next five minutes; he seems to have instructed Bangar and Raghavindraa to feed him throwdowns for that specific shot.

It is a shot for pitches with a bit of pace and bounce in them, where the ball comes onto the bat. Like the pitch at the Wankhede Stadium.

In the 2011 World Cup final at the Wankhede, Mahela Jayawardene scored an unbeaten 103 off 88 balls. Forty of those runs, and eight of his 13 fours, came behind square on the off side, a testament to how well the ball came on to his bat and how well he used the pace. The ramp towards third man featured extensively.

Rahane is practising that shot. In case he is needed.

Timing it right? Shikhar Dhawan has not looked out of form, but the runs have dried up a little © AFP

***

Dhoni has stressed, on numerous occasions, that Rahane can only come into India's side as an opener, or as one of the top three. If Yuvraj isn't fit to play the semi-final, it is probably Pandey who will take his place. Or Negi, who offers a vaguely like-for-like option as a left-hand bat who bowls left-arm spin. Not Rahane.

If Rahane is a solution, he is a solution to a different problem. He can only come into the side if India leave out Dhawan.

Dhawan has had a poor World T20, but made 60 in his last T20I before the tournament, a Man-of-the-Match performance in the Asia Cup final, and followed it up with an unbeaten 73 in India's warm-up match against South Africa.

Since then, he has made 1, 6, 23 and 13. He hasn't looked out of touch, and has timed the ball brilliantly at times.

He has often gone through spells like this, and come out of them with a big innings at an important time. India will hope that can happen at the Wankhede. Or, if they get there, at Eden Gardens.

***

India have somehow reached the semi-finals of a major event with four of their top five misfiring at the same time. They have got there by playing the same eleven, by backing a group of players that they believe in, though clearly not because of it.

Come semi-final time, do you continue backing them?

It's a hard call to make. One change could be forced on them, if Yuvraj is ruled out, but it is possibly too late for purely tactical tinkering. It will take a tectonic shift in the thinking of India's team management to leave out Dhawan or Raina in a knockout game and bring in someone with barely any recent match practice. A counter-argument would be: having recognised that the batsmen apart from Kohli have only performed at 65%, is it not dangerous to play the same combination in a knockout game? Why have a squad of 15 in that case?

Neither point of view is right or wrong, and on Thursday, India will make a decision and live or die by it. One way or another, it is utterly improbable that they will win this tournament under their current circumstances, with only one of their top five scoring runs.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Husnaj on March 31, 2016, 12:18 GMT

    I think it is better to replace Dhawan with Rahane to open with Rohit. I hope Ro will be in good form in his home ground. As far as Yuvi's replacement is concerned I think it is better to go with Pandey who is known for his batting skill. We need more runs if we are batting first and we need the same if we are chasing.

  • CricketChat on March 31, 2016, 12:02 GMT

    About Dhawan, "Since then, he has made 1, 6, 23 and 13. He hasn't looked out of touch, and has timed the ball brilliantly at times". How many brilliant shots could he have hit in those 43 runs in 4 innings, two of which are only 1 and 6. I have said before, Dhawan scores one innings of some substance once every 10-12 innings. So, his next big one will come after another 5-6 innings from now. Ind should bring Rahane or any other batsman for that matter in place of Dhawan. It can't be worse than having Dhawan.

  • cric_tamasha on March 31, 2016, 8:47 GMT

    I think we should rest both Kohli and Dhoni today. Let's see how others are doing . Let Negi and Pandey replace them and Pandey will Keep today.

  • ABHI-DCricketFan on March 31, 2016, 7:49 GMT

    It is so sad to see a batsman of Rahane's caliber being wasted by the team management . Look at people like Amla , Root , Williamson . Rahane could very well do the same job for us like they are doing for their team . If only our captain could think a little logically . Dhawan is a lottery at best and his consistency as an opener is worst among all teams . Nohit is a makeshift opener with the technique and hitting skills of a middle order batsman . I wonder how come the so called think tank cannot make place for Rahane when 4 out of their top 5 is struggling like this . Wouldn't be surprised if we are beaten by West Indies easily .

  • puncheenu on March 31, 2016, 7:37 GMT

    The worry is that law of averages should not catch up King Kholi. The openers have to fir and play like Roy or Guptil or Munroe, without caring for their wicket. Then score can become 160+ which will make a world of difference. Pandya cannot always deliver on the 20th over. His 10 runs of last two balls would have cost us the match against Aussies. Try Harbajan. Replace Dhawan with Rahane & Bhajji for Yuvi.

  •   Manish Pole on March 31, 2016, 6:43 GMT

    The obvious change seems to elude the Team Mgmt. ROHIT is not an opener, and was in fact one of the best upcoming T20 middle-order/ finishers in the IPL a couple of years ago. Get him at #4....he'd be great smashing it around in the last 5 overs! RAHANE has been the most consistent Opener through IPLs. He's got the technique and is a fast scorer as an opener. RAINA is a great team man and deserves a place with his experience...but #5 or #6 (swapped with Dhoni).

  •   Rajeev Balakrishnan on March 31, 2016, 5:15 GMT

    Everyone seems to be focussing on Raina, Yuvraj and Dhawan ignoring a completely underwhelming Rohit Sharma who has flattered to deceive right through this T20 World Championship. For someone who has been rated 'talented' time and over again, he has time and again been guilty of throwing his wicket away putting immense pressure on Virat and the middle order. Raina for one has contributed both with the ball and in the fielding department, something that Rohit cannot cannot claim to have done. If anything dropping him out of the team till he understands the meaning of the word consistency is the need of the hour. To come and play two breath taking shots and then surrender his wicket on a platter makes him the most vulnerable player in this squad.

  •   Sam Mukhopadhyay on March 31, 2016, 4:05 GMT

    Great choice of words, and twist of phrases, Karthik. Particularly, the ones on Raina.. he does define "chancy". I would love to see Rahane in the team, in Raina's place... to provide some stability in the middle order, should the Law of Averages catch up with Kohli. [I tend to gush every time I write his name..so, will avoid the emotions this one time]. Of course, assuming that.. the Titanic philosophical shift.. from chancy ball belting.. to real cricket shots [T20 is cricket, too, after all.. beyond the circus] happens tonight. Kohli does it with Cricket shots.. doesn't he?!! And on Yuvraj... the last inning speaks of his mettle.. not just as a cricketer.. but much more. I wish him well.. but not sure.. as you say.. how long he can carry on.. esp given the fact that not all deliveries will come into his comfort slots.. Good Luck India..

  • vipul_khemka on March 30, 2016, 22:31 GMT

    Team management wanted to retain the winning 11 (weird logic to carry non-performers)... now Yuvi is out, so the winning combo has to be changed.... at least now can we have horses for the courses selection... the matches are in India, the tracks are turning... can we play 3 spinners... specially knowing that WI and Eng both does not play spin well.... or should I say play faster bowlers more easily....

    I guess Raina will remain in the team (for reasons still unknown)... at least can Dhoni come up the batting order and Raina come after him, with a license to kill... which probably suits his batting style... we all know he has never been an inning builder...

  • criccritic3 on March 30, 2016, 20:50 GMT

    What are Indian cricket coaches and decision makers are still thinking...?

    Here is my solution to win the games. Hope Dhoni and team read it.

    1. First 5-6 overs, speed up.... letting you know in simple english. see how other successful team score- 15 Run per over is not difficult dudes, nobody is out there to catch you;-) this is 2016, not 1985 guys.learn learn learn.

    2. if opener's are afraid for #1 above, send someone who doesn't really care to lose his wicket.. send Pandya or Jadeja or Ashwin or someone else. Dhoni, Dhawan and Rohit-- you need to change your mentality. see how England played!!

    3. REMOVE Yuvraj-even for final. This is really critical. get chance to someone like Rahane or Negi.

    4. Dhoni and boys need to watch tapes/videos to analyse how those other teams who scores 200+ runs and learn & come up with game plan...

    5. game plan should not be to keep wickets till the end. Game plan should be to score 200+.Can it be more simpler than that? GO INDIA

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