ADELAIDE: It was travel time for India’s cricketers on Monday as the team left Melbourne around noon to board the flight to Adelaide, where the focus now shifts to Thursday’s all-import ant semifinal against England.
At Melbourne airport, Virat Kohli headed immediately to the sushi counter while a few others, including captain Rohit Sharma, Deepak Hooda, Arshdeep Singh and Mohammed Siraj instead checked out sunglasses and shades. Yuzvendra Chahal signed a few autographs. Bhuvneshwar Kumar sipped some coffee.
Even with the constant travel, the near-daily adjustment to different time zones and the challenges of rest and recovery in a fast-paced World Cup, the team looks relaxed, confident and in a good zone heading into the semifinals.
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Rishabh Pant and Dinesh Karthik, meanwhile, could be forgiven for having other things on their mind: this deep into the World Cup. With a knockout game looming, with all the talk being of the challenging conditions in Australia, are India now undergoing a last-minute course correction and punting on Pant instead of their designated finisher Karthik?
Coming into the Cup, India were very clear on Karthik’ s role: he would keep wickets and explode with the bat in the last four or five overs. There was no space for the left-handed Pant, arguably the better keeper and more flexible batting option.
There was only one problem with that approach: Karthik is no Suryakumar Yadav. He hasn’t been able to attain the same levels of consistency with the bat while attempting to score at such high strike rates.
T20 is a game of fine margins and cruel twists of fate. Sometimes inches separate a dismissal and a boundary. Sometimes, as Pant found out against Zimbabwe, doing what the team management asks of you can be perilous. Sometimes, as Karthik knows all too well, your precious few opportunities can be held against you.
Whatever the circumstances surrounding his dismissals, Karthik hasn’t exactly set the World Cup on fire, with scores of 1 against Pakistan at the MCG, 6 against South Africa in Perth and 7 against Bangladesh in Adelaide.
Apart from a 21-ball 46 against South Africa in Indore coming into the World Cup, Karthik has either not got opportunities, remained unbeaten on the kind of low scores people tend not to remember, or got out trying to force the pace. Apart from the Indore knock, his last score above 40 came in July against the West Indies in Tarouba.
That’s the nature of the T20 beast, especially if you are a finisher playing a high-risk game. You will either hit out or get out.
Pant too hasn’t enjoyed the kind of consistency which could force the issue in his favour, but this is the World Cup semifinal and there are the short square boundaries at the Adelaide Oval to consider. Pant is the more flexible left-handed option in the line-up who can be used as a floater to target the likes of Adil Rashid, who takes the ball away from the right-handers, or generally force the issue against spin.
Against Zimbabwe, too, as coach Rahul Dravid suggested, the idea was to use Pant to target the left-arm spin of Sean Williams, who had just got rid of Kohli. Pant’s slog sweep would not have resulted in him losing his wicket either, had it not been for Ryan Burl’s stunner of a diving catch running to his left from long on.
“I’m not bothered about that (Rishabh getting out cheaply). He took the right option. His role was to take on the left-arm spinner who was bowling. Sometimes it comes off and sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t think we judge people on one game, and sometimes whether we play them or not is not based on one game,” Dravid said.
“Sometimes it’s just matchups, what we think would be something that we might need here, or going ahead. It’s not that we ever lost confidence in Rishabh. We’ve got confidence in all of our 15 and they can be called on to play in the XI anytime. Rishabh has been batting a lot in the nets, hitting a lot of balls. . . and keeping himself ready.”
Heading into the semifinal, neither Pant nor Karthik has play ed enough impactful knocks to enable nuanced conclusions about their batting form. In Adelaide, though, Pant could, on paper, be the surprise card against England’s spinners. “A lot of things go into these decisions,” said Dravid, unwilling to divulge more.