After Sri Lanka shock, India seek to revamp batting strategy vs South Africa

LONDON: Virat Kohli was left facing the prickly issue of exactly who to blame – the batsmen or the bowlers – after India’s shock seven-wicket capitulation to Sri Lanka, which has ensured their Champions Trophy campaign now hinges on the result of the South Africa game come Sunday.

Before that, though, India have a lot of thinking to do. What sort of totals are safe on English pitches?

Should India save one power-hitter for the middle overs instead of putting all their eggs in the slog-overs basket?

And isn’t it time Ashwin got a game?

Kohli seemed inclined towards a bowler-meltdown theory against the Lankans, but admitted India were not a side which played “explosive cricket” throughout the innings.

The Lankans were set a steep 322run target, but their chase, engineered with precision and poise, was one of the most entertaining in recent times.India hit more runs than the Lankans in the first 10 and the last 10 overs, Shikhar Dhawan being the standout performer with a century, and yet India came out on the losing side.

It is apparent that the bowlers had an off day. Danushka Gunathilaka and Kusal Mendis gave Ravindra Jadeja a big headache. The Lankans fearlessly dealt with Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah, two of the best death bowlers around.

“You trust your bowlers to control runs,” said Kohli, who himself had a bowl in a reflection of India’s desperation. “I thought we bowled pretty well. They just did not lose any wickets. If two guys aren’t executing their lines, it becomes difficult.”

With the bowling, India appeared to miss a trick by not playing offie R Ashwin, especially with three left-handers in the Lankan top four. On the batting front, Kohli seemed disinclined to debate the real issues: Were India 30 runs short? Should the team be trying to up the ante in overs 11-40?

And on English soil, is a 320-plus target as steep as it seems?

India scored 170 and lost three wickets in the second powerplay, while the Lankans managed 203 and lost two. “I thought we had enough on the board midway,” said Kohli. “We obviously have to consolidate and explode in the end, that’s the way we always play. We’re not a side that plays explosive cricket all 50 overs.”

Maybe Kohli was misled, and India did not have enough. Since June 2012, English pitches have provided the third-most instance of 320-plus totals: 15. Australian pitches lead with 21 such totals in this period, and India are second with 18. In contrast, Sri Lankan pitches have provided just 4 such instances.

Tall scores, then, aren’t a luxury in ODIs in England. Every team which has posted a 320-plus score here in this period, with the sole exception of Sri Lanka on Thursday have lost at least one game. A 320-plus target isn’t so rare anymore: England have done it 8 times in this period.

India rank poorly when it comes to teams with the most 320-plus totals since the 2015 World Cup: they are fifth among the top teams with five such totals, the same as the Lankans.England, incidentally, lead with 14.

“From a batting point of view, I thought we paced it well. Maybe you think of phases you could have accelerated,” said Kohli, “Maybe we’ll have to push for that extra 20-run cushion.”

That would be a wise move, especially since, as Kohli himself admitted, India are not “invincible”.
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