<
>

Big-hitting overpowers Kohli's scampering

If the World T20 has taught us anything, it has taught us that Virat Kohli loves running twos. After Thursday's semi-final at the Wankhede Stadium, he had hit 24 twos in the tournament. No other batsman had come remotely close to his total: daylight was second, and Tamim Iqbal next on 15. Tamim, unlike Kohli, had been involved in first-round action. Of batsmen whose tournaments began with the Super 10 phase, Shoaib Malik had hit the most twos apart from Kohli: 10.

Over the course of his unbeaten 47-ball 89 on Thursday, Kohli hit 10 twos. Ajinkya Rahane, who hit seven, and MS Dhoni, who hit a two and a three in a nine-ball innings, were not too far behind. Twitter was abuzz with refrains along the lines of "twos are the new fours and sixes".

Kohli's penchant for knocking the ball into gaps and running like the wind isn't a fetish, of course. He doesn't think that two twos are better than a cover drive smashed to the boundary, or that three twos are better than a slog-sweep launched over it. He simply realises that being aware of the field and running hard is a great way to score quickly off good balls, and score quickly even if he doesn't face too many bad balls.

West Indies' bowlers, for the most part, did not feed Kohli bad balls. Until the start of the 17th over, he had only hit four fours in 31 balls. By and large, they packed the leg-side boundary to him, bowled straight-ish lines, and varied their pace cleverly.

They also made Rahane work for his runs. Right from the start of his innings, he had kept an eye on the big gap between long-on and deep square leg while facing the spinners. Both Samuel Badree and Sulieman Benn bowled to him without anyone back at deep midwicket, and Rahane sat deep in his crease, waiting for anything short to pull past or over the short midwicket fielder.

The wait was largely fruitless. He hit a couple of marginally short balls - one from Badree, one from Benn - to the left of short midwicket, and long-on was able to run around and keep it down to two runs on both occasions. Rahane received one proper long-hop - from Badree in the tenth over - and he duly smashed it for four. Otherwise, Benn and Badree bowled an immaculate length to him, and bowled at a pace that didn't allow him to step out of his crease and hit them over midwicket or extra cover.

Rahane's pull off Badree was the second and last boundary of a 35-ball innings. The first had come off an outside edge that flew over short third man.

The bulk of India's boundaries in the first 16 overs came off the bat of Rohit Sharma. Rohit is the closest India have to the six-hitting ability that runs through the West Indies' line-up, but even his boundaries, for the most part, came off two bad overs in the Powerplay, one from Benn and one from Andre Russell.

The Wankhede Stadium pitch was the flattest India had played on all tournament, but even then they were being made to work hard for most of their runs: it wasn't as if they could simply show up and smash it to all parts.

India's bowlers did not return the favour when West Indies batted. The early going was great, as Chris Gayle and then Marlon Samuels fell cheaply, but slowly cracks began to appear in India's bowling discipline.

At the post-match press conference, Dhoni said the onset of dew had made his bowlers' jobs difficult, and that West Indies had gained a crucial advantage by winning the toss and chasing. He said the only thing that had disappointed him about India's performance was the fact that they had Lendl Simmons' wicket chalked off twice for overstepping, R Ashwin and Hardik Pandya the offending bowlers.

"When [West Indies] 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," he said. "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's one thing for dew to make it easier for batsmen to hit good balls to the boundary. It's quite another when a bowler like Ravindra Jadeja, who has experienced dewy conditions plenty of times in his career, bowls three wide half-volleys in two overs. Jadeja, after all, has made a career out of bowling stump-to-stump; in that sense, he is the closest bowler India have to Badree. And Jadeja didn't just bowl full and wide; he bowled full and wide with no protection for that kind of delivery. Dhoni had given him an unusual field: cover point was inside the circle, extra cover was back on the rope. With no one sweeping on the square boundary, Simmons flayed all three balls for four.

When Jadeja came back for his final over, West Indies had more or less sealed the deal, needing only 20 from the last two overs. This time, Dhoni set a field for bowling wide of off stump, with deep point, deep cover and long-off guarding the off-side boundary, and square leg moving inside the circle. The wide line, however, meant the batsmen would have plenty of room to free their arms if he lost his length, and Russell swung him down the ground for a big six to silence the Wankhede, following it up with an unstoppable drive that easily bisected deep point and deep cover.

Jadeja went for 48 in his four overs. Pandya was the next-most expensive bowler, going for 43. Even on India's best days, Pandya is perhaps the weak link of their bowling attack. He had bowled the last over in India's last-gasp win over Bangladesh, but it was a poor over to tell the truth. It had taken brain-fades from two of Bangladesh's most experienced batsmen for India to win that game. Against West Indies, on a much flatter surface, Pandya's wayward lines and lengths were cruelly exposed.

Johnson Charles is perhaps the most limited batsman in West Indies' line-up: his game revolves almost entirely around clearing his front leg and swatting the ball into the on side. Of the 52 runs he made on Thursday, 42 came through the leg side. Pandya kept bowling short to Charles, and was pulled - off front foot and back - for three fours in his first three overs. When Russell replaced Charles at the wicket, Pandya kept bowling short, and the ball kept sitting up. Russell flat-batted one of these short balls between mid-off and extra cover, and clubbed another up into the second tier behind cow corner.

Given how much he was spraying the ball around, Dhoni's continued use of Pandya was puzzling. Ashwin only bowled two overs, and Dhoni later put this down to the extent of dew on the surface, but surely someone with Ashwin's experience could have been counted on to bowl tighter, particularly in the middle overs, than a newbie medium-pacer with an iffy radar?

In the end, the scorecard told the story. West Indies hit 20 fours and 11 sixes. India hit 17 fours and four sixes. Some of this was down to the edge West Indies have over India in power hitting, but a lot of it was down to how loosely India bowled. It was an off day for India's bowling attack after three months of exceeding expectations, an off day that happened to coincide with a semi-final.