DECEMBER 12, 2019
Three years ago, India were asked to bat first in a World T20 semi-final by the same team at the same ground in similar conditions. They lost just two wickets in their 20 overs, but were possibly not aware that their 192 was “only” 192 in those conditions in T20 cricket. Three years later, in the series decider at Wankhede Stadium, India came with doubts still persisting if they had shed their conservatism.
The answer was an emphatic yes with their three main batsmen taking two, two and five balls to hit their first boundary. And the big hits just kept coming as Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Virat Kohli hit 35 boundaries between them in just 119 balls. India’s attitude was clear: if it is tough to defend totals in this format, they were going to give their bowlers a well above-par total, or get dismissed trying. Under the mountain of runs, West Indies, hit by an injury to Evin Lewis, crumbled spectacularly.
What will especially please India is that this is the second successive series decider they have won batting first.
Start as you mean to go on
It is arguable India lost that 2016 semi-final in the first powerplay when Ajinkya Rahane went at a strike rate of around 100. Here both Sharma and Rahul went for it. Sharma even made a technical change, opening his front leg to face Sheldon Cottrell. He threw his bat at the second ball he faced, crashing it over cover. Rahul did the same the second ball he faced, getting a thick outside edge past slip. It was remarkable because Sharma is known to take his time before he starts hitting, but here he had taken the lead over Rahul, who caught up soon enough. Both struck at 200 in the powerplay, giving India their second-best powerplay batting first, a good 17 more than what they had scored in 2016.
Post powerplay, Sharma took over the mantle of chief aggressor, launching Khary Pierre for six, six and four in the eighth over. India 102 for 0 in eight overs.
Walsh, Williams slow India down
Amid the carnage, Hayden Walsh bowled the ninth over without a boundary. India made up for it with a six and two fours in the 11th over, but in the 12th Kesrick Williams managed to get the better of Sharma with a slower legcutter. That brought about a promotion for Rishabh Pant, who tried to hit boundaries off the two balls he faced. He missed one, and drilled the second straight to long-off. The idea was right, but his dismissal had buoyed West Indies with a spell of play that read 17 balls, 13 runs, two wickets. India 145 for 3 in 13.5 overs.
The last ball of the 14th over, with his score reading two off four, Kohli went for his second slog and sent it over midwicket for a six. This was the start of an onslaught that was the need of the moment with Rahul having slowed down out of a combination of fatigue and the need for stability at one end. Once again, as in the first T20I of this series, it was a Jason Holder over in which Kohli cut loose. That 22-run 15th over seemed like it had put India back on track at 173 for 2.
Williams comes back
Williams then came back to bowl a superb 16th over where Kohli and Rahul struggled to pick his pace, managing only three runs. Cottrell followed it up with a decent one for 11. India 187 for 2 after 17.
Pollard now had an over each from his gun bowlers, Williams and Cottrell, but three overs to bowl. He had to decide when to bowl the best bowler of the night, Williams, and whom to use for the third over. Both calls went awfully wrong for West Indies. Williams was asked to bowl two in a row, and it turned out both Rahul and Kohli had the measure of him. They both waited for the slower ball, hitting a six each, giving Kohli the final word in what has been an entertaining contest between the two.
Well, it turned out Kohli was not done with Williams yet. Pollard took it upon himself to bowl the 19th, and Kohli got stuck into it, hitting three sixes, India taking 27 runs off the over. The second off those sixes brought up India’s fifth-fastest T20I fifty, and Kohli pointed the bat to Williams at short fine leg. This, ladies and gentlemen, was the final word.
India seal it off quickly
Apart from Walsh and Williams, Lewis was the only man having a good day in the field. In the first few exchanges, he pulled off a ridiculous save overhead at the boundary, threw the ball back in play, jumped over the boundary hoardings, came back, and nearly ran Sharma out when taking the second run. In the 12th over, as he made a regulation save at the fence, he jammed his knee into the ground, causing himself soft tissue damage that ruled him out of the rest of the match.
In Lewis’ absence, and facing a tall task, West Indies felt the pressure pretty early and started to play lower-percentage shots. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Deepak Chahar got a wicket each, but the biggest positive was Mohammed Shami’s return. A specialist bowler playing ahead of an allrounder, Shami looked the most difficult bowler to hit, and also took out the dangerous Lendl Simmons. West Indies 19 for 3 after four overs.
Full toss extinguishes flickering light
Pollard and Shimron Hetmyer gave India a brief scare with effortless hitting for 60 runs in the next five overs. In the sixth, Hetmyer had it in for Kuldeep Yadav, who had replaced Yuzvendra Chahal, who had been taken apart by left-hand batsmen. The first two balls were effortless sixes again, and the third from around the wicket was a full toss. Six sixes seemed squarely on, but Hetmyer shanked this one to be caught at long-on.
This wicket-induced slowdown put the matter beyond West Indies, but Pollard’s flame kept flickering at his IPL home ground. It was in the 15th over that Kumar got rid of Pollard for a career-high 68, but 100 off 31 required at that point was anyway improbable.