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T20 World Cup: India showcase their bowling might against Ireland but New York pitch a worry

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Team India were the favourites heading into their Group A clash against Ireland on Wednesday. And they did live up to their favourites’ billing with a comprehensive, all-round display at New York’s Nassau County International Stadium,
registering an eight-wicket victory
after bowling their opponents out for a sub-100 total, beginning their T20 World Cup campaign on an authoritative note as a result.

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The Men in Blue had registered a
similar performance against Bangladesh
last Saturday. But given it was a warm-up game, not many had taken their 60-run victory seriously.

Their performance on Wednesday, however, goes on to show that the victory over Bangladesh was by no means a one-off, and that India actually are in prime form heading into tournament, much like they were in last year’s ODI World Cup.

The focus, however, was as much on India’s performance with ball and bat as it was on the New York pitch and outfield and how it hardly appears to be of international standard. More on that in a minute.

India exhibit the might of their pace unit

Captain Rohit Sharma had stressed on utilising their all-rounders ahead of the match, and ended up picking all four — seamers Hardik Pandya and Shivam Dube in addition to left-arm spinners Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel. It was a rare sight for Indian cricket fans with the team opting for five seamers in their XI — something that had largely been limited to the tours of Australia and South Africa.

That the pitch at New York’s Nassau County Stadium was supportive for pacers was evident during
South Africa’s demolition of Sri Lanka
on Monday, in which Anrich Nortje returned to form with figures of 4/7. It was no different in the next fixture at this venue a couple of days later, as the Jasprit Bumrah-led pace unit hunted in a pack.

After opting to field under overcast conditions, it was Arshdeep Singh who inflicted early damage with wickets of Paul Stirling and Andy Balbirnie in the third over. Stirling had grown frustrated at his inability to accelerate in the trying New York conditions and ended up throwing his wicket away while Balbirnie was done in by late away movement to see his stumps get rattled.

Hardik Pandya and Jasprit Bumrah shared five wickets between them as India bowled Ireland out for 96 after opting to field. AP

Ireland needed their experienced campaigners to set the tone early in the innings and ensure at least one of them was able to bat past the halfway mark and lay the foundation for a competitive total. Instead, their early exits inside the first four overs proved to be a jolt for the Men in Green from which they failed to recover.

Hardik Pandya struck right after being introduced at the end of the powerplay, getting the ball to jag back in sharply to breach Lorcan Tucker’s defence while the keeper-batter attempted a drive in front of square off a full delivery. While Bumrah, who had started off with a maiden in the final over of the powerplay after bowling a couple of unplayable deliveries, would bounce Harry Tector out in the following over. Ireland had lost four wickets for just 36 runs at that point, and would crumble even further thereafter as the Indian attack refused to loosen its grip on the Irish batting unit’s throat.

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‘Toss played a crucial part’, Paul Stirling after Ireland succumb to eight-wicket loss

Pandya would collect a couple of more wickets later in the innings, signing off with figures of 3/27 to highlight his return to form as a seamer after his unbeaten 40 against Bangladesh on Saturday, a welcome change for Indian fans who had seen him struggle in both departments during the IPL. While Bumrah was at his unplayable best as ever, earning the Player of the Match award for his spell of 3-1-6-2, castling Joshua Little with searing yorker later in the innings.

Ireland would’ve been bowled out in the 70s had it not been for Gareth Delany’s (26 off 14) fightback in the death overs, smashing two fours and as many sixes before getting run-out as Ireland finished within touching distance of 100.

Even then, India would’ve expected to chase down 97 without much effort. Or so they thought.

New York’s spicier-than-usual pitch raises questions

Kohli had walked out to open alongside Rohit for only the second time in international cricket, and it was expected of the most capped members of the India squad to utilise their experience to help the team navigate through the challenges that the pitch had to offer.

That, however, was far from the case. Rohit was nearly caught in the very first over of the chase, getting a thick outside edge off a full, wide delivery from Mark Adair that flew over Balbirnie at second slip. A couple of overs later, Kohli would attempt to take the attack to Adair by charging down the track, only to steer a short, wide delivery straight to third man and depart for 1.

Rohit had briefly accelerated in the second over by collecting a four and a six in successive deliveries from Joshua Little, the first one coming off an inside edge. Both Rohit and Pant, however, would deal in singles for the remainder of the powerplay as India crawled to 39/1 after six overs, only 13 more than what their opponents had managed at the same stage.

It wasn’t just late movement of the ball that was asking questions of batters from both camps. Bowlers were getting plenty of bounce, sometimes forcing the keeper to stretch their full body in a leap in order to prevent the ball from running away for four byes or five wides.

It was the uneven bounce, however, that proved to be a real danger for the batters. Much like it was at the minefield of a wicket that had been prepared in the Johannesburg Test during India’s tour of South Africa in early 2018.

Rohit and Pant had been eased the nerves in the Indian dressing room with a steady second-wicket partnership, but had done so after copping blows to their body thanks to deliveries that kicked up higher or stayed lower than usual. Rohit was struck on his arm in one of the deliveries which began to trouble him later in the innings, forcing him to retire hurt shortly after completing a 36-ball fifty.

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Rohit Sharma achieves multiple milestones as India defeat Ireland in New York

As if the pitch wasn’t bad enough, the sluggish outfield made it difficult for batters to score runs, forcing them to run faster between the wickets for twos and threes after playing shots that would’ve fetched them easy fours at most venues across the world.

“Yeah, just a little sore (on his injury). I said it at the toss as well. Quite unsure of what to expect from the pitch. Not aware on what it is to play like on a pitch that’s five months old. I don’t think the wicket settled down even when we batted second. There was enough for the bowlers. That’s pretty much what you gotta do,” Rohit said after the match.

Also Read |
‘Shocking’, ‘very poor’, cricket experts react to Nassau County Stadium pitch

While India will no doubt be upbeat to begin their campaign with a solid ‘W’ and move to the top of the table with a victory that gives them a massive boost as far as their Net Run Rate (NRR) is concerned, the pitch will continue to haunt them for the remainder of the week.

Especially since they will be up against a more accomplished bowling unit comprising Shaheen Shah Afridi, Naseem Shah and Shadab Khan when they take on Pakistan at this very venue on Sunday.

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