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Deepak Hooda for Axar Patel, and no yorkers - why did India do that?

India's defeat to South Africa raised some questions over their tactics. We attempt to answer them

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
India have suffered their first loss of this T20 World Cup. They are still favourites to qualify for the semi-finals from Group 2, with games against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe coming up, but the defeat to South Africa has inevitably led to criticism. We try and make sense of some of the debatable decisions that India made in Perth.
Why did India change a winning combination?
In all their press conferences, India had suggested they were not looking to change their XI. Not because they are superstitious about a "winning combination", but because the XI that won the first two matches covered the most bases that could be covered with this squad.
Then why replace Axar Patel with Deepak Hooda against South Africa? In doing so, India lost the only left-hand batter in the top seven and a much better bowler than Hooda. However, India may have thought that if they needed a sixth bowler, a part-time offspinner might work better against South Africa's left-hand heavy line-up. Against Pakistan at the MCG, a ground with similar short straight boundaries as Perth, Axar bowled just one over after being hit for 21 runs. Knowing that Hardik Pandya would almost certainly bowl four overs in Perth, India went with the part-time offspinner.
However, the bigger reason seemed to be to strengthen the batting in difficult conditions. It can be argued in hindsight that Hooda's batting did not make a difference, and that Axar could have bowled one of R Ashwin's overs, which India didn't trust Hooda with. The counter to that is that India eventually needed the deeper batting, with Hooda coming in as early as the eighth over.
India's next match is against Bangladesh, who have four left-hand batters in their top six. While it might be tempting to go back to the winning combination and more bowling depth, there is also reason to stick with Hooda if he is required for an over or two, and not more.
Why bat first in Perth?
It's a fair question, keeping in mind how India had paced their chase to beat Pakistan, and how South Africa eventually paced their chase successfully against India. However, Australian grounds don't favour chasing sides as much as other venues do. At the Perth Stadium, the team batting first had won 15 and lost 11 matches before Sunday. The decision did not pay off, but you can see why India chose to bat first.
Why keep playing the hook?
Four of India's top six got out playing the pull or hook, but their shot selection can't be faulted on an extremely fast and bouncy pitch against South Africa's four-pronged pace attack. If they didn't take the short ball on, they wouldn't have been able to score much at all. South African batter Aiden Markram was even asked at the post-match press conference about India's happy hookers. He said he saw nothing wrong in how they had batted.
"Look, I think on a wicket like this, you're going to end up playing more as a result of bad shots than on other wickets just because of the nature of the bounce," Markram said. "It's a tough shot to play when there's extra bounce. But ultimately, if a team keeps bashing that length in T20 cricket, you as a batter also need to make a play. That's probably the reasons that both teams took the short balls on tonight because if you don't, you're unfortunately not going to score at a rate that's quick enough."
Why didn't India bowl yorkers?
When Pakistan played at the same venue earlier in the day, Mohammad Wasim had bowled superb yorkers to get on a hat-trick and shatter any hopes of a late revival from Netherlands. India, however, kept bowling length or shorter, even though Arshdeep Singh and Mohammed Shami have a strong yorker. That was probably because of the short straight boundaries, which meant the margin of error was small on the yorker, whereas if they hit the hard lengths, the bounce became their friend. Yorkers don't usually get wickets either, which is what India were after. If David Miller had batted through the innings, South Africa were likely to win, which is what happened in the end.
Why not hold Ashwin back for the last over?
The moment South Africa attacked Ashwin's third over - the 14th of the chase - his final over was always going to be the one that they would target. Most captains delay the over that is likely to be targetted until the very end; the logic being if that bowler proves expensive, then the bowlers who are better suited to the death may not even finish their quotas.
One reason Rohit Sharma gave for bowling Ashwin in the 18th over is that it gets messy when a spinner bowls the final over. There may be another reason he did not take the traditional route. In the India-Pakistan game, for example, Pakistan knew India would target left-arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz's final over and so they bowled the others first. The big difference was that Pakistan had scored a bigger total and hoped Nawaz would have more runs to defend in the final over after the others bowled out. India had needed 48 off the last three overs against Pakistan, while South Africa needed only 25 off 18 balls against India. If India had bowled their fast bowlers earlier, South Africa could have played them out and chased down 11 or 12 in the last over.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo