The game ended quickly, through Mohammed Shami’s late burst followed by KL Rahul’s 18-ball half-century blast. India chased down a victory target of 86 in 6.3 overs to go past New Zealand and Afghanistan in net run-rate. At +1.619, they now have the best net run-rate in Group 2. But it will come into play only if Afghanistan beat New Zealand on Sunday. If the Kiwis win, India’s T20 World Cup is over.
For India, the Scotland game in Dubai on Friday was about upping their net run-rate. It was a contest between the millionaires and the paupers, with Scotland captain Kyle Coetzer telling this paper last week that despite being one of the 12 contracted cricketers in the country, he has to do two other jobs. In terms of cricket, there is an ocean in class.
Little wonder then that India won by eight wickets without virtually breaking any sweat. The small matter of doing the job was taken care of by the bowlers followed by Rahul’s blitz.
Ravindra Jadeja was excellent for his 3/15 from four overs. Both Varun Chakravarthy and Ravichandran Ashwin complemented him well. Jasprit Bumrah was right on the money from the start. Shami cleaned up the tail to return with three wickets. Collectively, the Indian bowlers were precise in terms of line and length.
The optional training session on the match eve dropped a hint about an impending change in the playing eleven. Varun was the only player to turn up under the watchful eyes of four support staff. He duly came in for Shardul Thakur. For a change, Virat Kohli won the toss and bowled first.
A turnout of close 15,000 for such a mismatch spoke volumes for the Indian team’s fan following in this part of the world. Friday being a public holiday here contributed to the footfalls. George Munsey’s swagger silenced a noisy crowd momentarily – a six off Bumrah over the deep square leg boundary.
Through his 16 fours and seven sixes in this tournament, Munsey has given a glimpse to his hitting prowess, decent enough for some IPL franchises to make enquiries. And the opener was brilliantly innovative to reverse-sweep an off-break from Varun through the vacant backward point region. The bowler altered his field immediately. Then, there were three consecutive fours off Ashwin.
India couldn’t afford this to continue and a slower ball from Shami accounted for Munsey – the first of his three wickets. Then, Jadeja took over.
Richie Berrington played down the wrong line to be out bowled, set up by the first two deliveries of Jadeja’s first over. Those two balls to Matthew Cross went with the angle. The one that Berrington got, held its line. Three deliveries later, Jadeja made another one straighten off the pitch to trap Cross plumb in front.
Ashwin and Varun were concentrating on variety. Jadeja, on the other hand, was keeping it simple, bowling at the right speed and allowing the pitch to do the rest. Containment is the left-arm spinner’s primary role in T20 cricket. But when there’s a little bit of turn on offer, very few can exploit it like Jadeja.
He trapped Michael Leask leg-before as well, the batsman who had counter-attacked Shami in the previous over. Ashwin dismissed Chris Greaves with a carrom ball and was unlucky not to get Mark Watt, for Rishabh Pant missed a stumping.
But Shami hastened Scotland’s downfall through two wickets in three deliveries, with a run-out sandwiched in between. Save Munsey and Leask, the Scotland batsmen barely showed any attacking intent.
And when they bowled to Rohit Sharma and Rahul, their bowlers looked starstruck. Brad Wheal’s medium pace to Rahul was always asking for trouble. The opener put on a stroke-play exhibition. Wheal strayed down the leg, Rahul merrily hit him for fours.
Alasdair Evans, seemingly overawed by the occasion, started off by offering width. Rahul accepted the favour with a four. A flick sent the next ball over the deep square leg fence. Average bowling from Scotland notwithstanding, Rahul’s timing was superb.
Rohit, a box seat spectator until then, got into action by taking Safyaan Sharif to the cleaners. Wheal returned to be punished by Rahul again. But he will savour Rohit’s scalp, a yorker length delivery doing the trick.
Rahul departed in the next over, but India had achieved their goal to significantly better their net run-rate. After a very slow start to the tournament, they have now hit top gear, probably a little too late.
After the match, Kohli yet again rued the two lost games. “Two overs of cricket like that and the momentum of the tournament could have been completely different. We basically broke it down to the fact that we couldn’t get away at all in those two games, two overs could have made the difference,” the India captain said at the post-match presentation.
His Scotland counterpart, Coetzer, was eager to pick Kohli’s brain.