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Tuesday Jul 02 2019

Opinion: India’s inexplicable performance demands an explanation

If India had beaten England, Pakistan would have known exactly where they stood/ file photo

Pakistan’s World Cup hopes are hanging by a thread which can snap even before they play their final match of the competition against Bangladesh on Friday. Unless New Zealand beat England, Pakistan’s World Cup dream is over and given the way New Zealand played against Australia, the chances of their knocking out England on Wednesday might be remote at best.

However, if India had beaten England, Pakistan would have known exactly where they stood; beat Bangladesh and they were through to the semi-final. That did not happen in a game that has severely dented the image of cricket. The Indians, perhaps the best team in this competition, played the game in a way that was completely inexplicable.

Kohli made much of the fact that there was a short boundary of only 59 metres on one side which is why his spinners were thrashed so badly. But he, of course, knew about this short boundary before the match so why did India pick two spinners? And having done so, why then did Kohli proceed to bowl them their full quota of ten overs each giving the opposition 160 runs for just one wicket?

But what was really inexplicable was the way India batted. Their score of 28 in the first power play of ten overs is the lowest in the competition and it was while Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma were batting, ranked number1 and 2 respectively in the world in the ICC’s ranking of batsmen in ODIs. That basically killed the game stone dead.

Former England captain Bob Willis said the Indian batting display was unfathomable and Brendon McCullum, the former New Zealand captain, called it bizarre.

Former Indian captain Saurav Ganguly and former England captain Nasser Hussain went even further and stated that there was a clear lack of intent which must be a very serious thing to say by people of such authority and the question must arise why there was this lack of intent.

Ganguly, in fact, went to the extent of saying that in an ODI you simply cannot chase a target, however large, and fall short by some 30 odd runs while having five wickets in hand. It simply does not make cricketing sense and one fails to see what end it could have achieved. And if maintenance of the run rate is pleaded as an excuse that is also a load of rubbish because India’s run rate, along with that of Australia stands as the highest in the tournament.

The fact of the matter is that India’s very questionable display did achieve one end – it has made Pakistan’s survival in this competition extremely difficult and perhaps even impossible. Yes, New Zealand could beat England and give Pakistan a life line, for then if Pakistan beat Bangladesh they would be through to the semi.

The odds must be on an England win which would make the Pakistan-Bangladesh match pointless with nothing riding on it. Pakistan’s run rate as it stands, just ahead of Afghanistan’s and behind every other country in this World Cup, cannot even hope to beat that of New Zealand so that even if we beat Bangladesh, by no means a foregone conclusion, our 11 points would come second best after New Zealand’s 11 on run rate. So while we are not yet quite out of it, we are at the departure gate, thanks to India.

So did India play the way they did just to see us out? Given India’s monetary power in the ICC, that is not an issue that can even be discussed and to be fair, most western cricket commentators would find that difficult to believe given that they have little idea how deep and often petty is the Indian hatred for Pakistan.

For them it is just a cricketing rivalry, like the rivalry between England and Australia albeit with the minor difference that while England and Australia fight their wars on the same side, we fight them on opposite sides. Any number of former Indian cricketers had suggested that India should refuse to play Pakistan in the World Cup and although that was never going to happen, it does reveal the Indian state of mind.

One is quite willing to accept the argument that making life almost impossibly difficult for Pakistan was not the reason for India’s baffling display. But when in a major World Cup match one side reveals what has been called by some of the top cricket commentators of the world, including a very respected former Indian captain, a manifest lack of intent to win, somebody has to come up with answer to this inexplicable display and tell us what the reason was. And that should be the ICC, even if it gets a major share of its revenues from India.

A team should be playing a World Cup game without clearly wanting to win it is simply unacceptable and the ICC loses credibility if it does not take action to get to the bottom of this.

Whether Pakistan now makes it to the semis is not relevant here. Quite honestly, based exclusively on cricketing display, Pakistan hardly deserves to be in the semi-finals; they should have lost to Afghanistan and were reprieved only by two incorrect umpiring decisions, both of which went in their favour, and a decision by the Afghan captain to bring himself on to bowl which offered Pakistan the match on a platter.

Pakistan should never have lost their opening game to the West Indies which, if we had won it, would not make us subject to the shenanigans of India and a last ditch almost hopeless effort by New Zealand. But all that is irrelevant.

The key question here is why did India’s performance so clearly lack intent and if the reason was not to virtually oust Pakistan from the 2019 World Cup, what was it? The Indians and the ICC owe an answer to the cricketing public.

— The writer is a former editor of The News London. He can be reached on [email protected]

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