Dhoni blames no-balls, dew factor for loss
R Ashwin is widely considered the leader of India's bowling attack, particularly in home conditions. He has ended the World T20 - a tournament held in India, on pitches that have by and large helped the spinners - having delivered only 15 overs in five matches, the smallest workload of India's four frontline bowlers.
Ashwin bowled his full quota of overs in only two of the five games, against New Zealand in Nagpur and against Bangladesh in Bangalore. He only bowled three overs against Pakistan on a Kolkata pitch offering plenty of turn, two expensive overs against Australia in Mohali, and two overs in Thursday's semi-final against West Indies in Mumbai.
Ashwin conceded 20 runs in those two overs, the seventh and ninth of West Indies' innings, and did not bowl thereafter. India captain MS Dhoni did not turn to his offspinner in the middle overs, when Hardik Pandya's medium-pace was leaking runs, or for the final over, when he gave the part-timer Virat Kohli the ball with West Indies needing eight to win.
Dhoni said he did not use Ashwin because of the onset of dew. He said the ball "was gripping" the pitch during India's innings, but the dew made it skid through when West Indies batted, making it easy for them to hit the spinners.
"The seam gets wet and the surface becomes a bit greasy so it comes onto the bat nicely," Dhoni said. "Ash only bowled two overs, [Ravindra] Jadeja we were forced to bowl the last quota of his overs otherwise he would have only bowled three overs."
Jadeja had a torrid time with the ball, conceding 48 off his four overs. With two right-handers at the crease - Lendl Simmons and Andre Russell - at the start of the 19th over, Dhoni turned to Jadeja's left-arm spin rather than Ashwin's offspin.
Dhoni said he gave Kohli - who picked up a wicket off his very first ball of the tournament to start the 14th of West Indies' innings - the final over because he feared that the lack of turn off a dew-slicked pitch would make it easy for Andre Russell or Lendl Simmons to hit big shots off a spinner. He said he did not remember why he had not bowled out Ashwin's quota in the match against Pakistan.
"No, it was not in my mind [to give Ashwin the ball], looking at Russell and the big hitters and the amount of purchase there was on offer. That was not the best time for him to bowl. Calcutta, I'm not sure what my thinking was then. When the wicket is turning I like to take that gamble of keeping a few overs of the spinner [in reserve] so that if needed, I can make him bowl."
Immediately after the Kolkata match, Dhoni had said he used Jasprit Bumrah rather than Ashwin at the death, since he felt Pakistan had a greater chance of taking a big over off a spinner - "in excess of 15 runs" - rather than a seamer. "I'm not saying [Ashwin] couldn't have bowled, but that was the thinking at that point of time and I went for the safer option."
At the Wankhede, Ashwin could have had a wicket in his first over, when Bumrah caught Simmons brilliantly at short third man, but replays showed the bowler had overstepped. Simmons was batting on 18 at that point. Later, while on 50, he had another life when Ashwin caught him at cover off Pandya - off another no-ball. Dhoni said the no-balls were the only thing that disappointed him about India's performance, on a pitch that he felt had been transformed between innings by the dew.
"Thirty more [runs] would have been really nice," he said, when asked if he felt 192 was too low a total to defend on a flat pitch against West Indies. "But you have to realise it was half an hour early start, a bad toss to lose. When they started batting the first few overs were fine, but after that there was a considerable amount of dew, which meant the spinner couldn't bowl how they would have liked to.
"It was coming on nicely and the ball was getting wet, so that was the difference between the first innings and second innings. The surface had some assistance for the spinners [in the first innings], it was gripping, but in the second innings there wasn't much in it for them.
"It was quite difficult to score 190. We are saying 10-15 short based on the second innings but you have to analyse that the surface was completely different. If you're looking for 210 in the first innings you may end up with 160 and on this wicket 160 becomes quite below par. The only thing I'm disappointed about are the two no-balls. Other than that we tried our best and even if the conditions were not in favour of the spinners, whatever resources we had we tried our best in the game."
Having played an unchanged eleven right through the Super 10 phase, India made two changes for the semi-final. One was forced on them - Manish Pandey coming in for the injured Yuvraj Singh - but the other was tactical, with Ajinkya Rahane replacing Shikhar Dhawan, who made 43 runs in four innings during the group stage, at the top of the order. Dhoni defended the decision to drop Dhawan for Rahane - who made 40 off 35 balls and was part of half-century stands with Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli for the first two wickets - saying that Dhawan hadn't converted starts into big scores during the tournament.
"If you see, Shikhar has been batting quite well but he's not been able to convert," Dhoni said, explaining the reasoning behind dropping Dhawan. "The thing with Rahane is, he is someone who is quite calm and composed and he knows his responsibility in the team. This is the kind of innings that is expected of him.
"He isn't someone who is going to bat like Rohit Sharma or Virat Kohli. If you see, someone who is orthodox can give us that platform from where we can launch and score those extra 10-15 runs in the last few overs. Both of them are very good but it's just that Shikhar wasn't able to convert starts.
"In games like these often you want to give the new guy a go, because if you see, where Shikhar had the edge was in a few games before the World Cup. Other than that, if you see the stats, Ajinkya in such conditions like in the IPL, he's been among the leading run-scorers as opener. So those were the reasons behind it. I'm glad that after facing a few deliveries he got a start and did what he does best."
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo