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How to beat India

A data-driven strategic guide on how to beat India.

India are batting heavy; aim over-par

India have had a plethora of batting riches for a while now but only since Rahul Dravid and Rohit Sharma took control of this team have they begun to fully utilise the resources at their disposal and India are now quite clearly a ‘batting-heavy’ team. This imbalance has been accentuated by the injury to the world’s best pace bowler Jasprit Bumrah that further tilts the scales towards India’s batting. Teams playing against India should factor this into their assessments of what they need when batting first and look to post above-par totals. 

Choose to chase

No Full Member team has a bigger chasing preference than India. Since the start of 2018 they have won 80% of matches when chasing – the highest proportion of any team in the world, but just 57% when batting first. The difference between these two of 23% is the largest of any team indicating that winning the toss and putting India in is a clear tactical route. 

Recognise the balance of India’s attack

The loss of Bumrah is clearly a huge blow to India’s chances in the tournament. Not only does it rob them of the world’s best quick but it has significant implications for their phase distribution and role-coverage in their attack because Bumrah—as a 140 kph death bowler—covered high pace and death bowling single-handedly. Now, with Bumrah absent India will find it harder to cover a bowling attack with every skill-set which is likely to leave them exposed in at least one phase of the game. Recognising what that phase is can help teams formulate their batting strategy and how and when to attack hardest. For example if one of Arshdeep Singh or Harshal Patel misses out then India might find themselves light at the death, or if Mohammad Shami misses out then they will be relying on Hardik to play the role of the high-pace quick. 

Pick left-handers to counter Axar

Axar Patel is very likely to be in India’s default team as India’s fifth bowler with Hardik providing sixth bowler cover. Teams with a number of left-handers are likely to complicate Axar’s usage: this happened in the third T20 against South Africa in Indore and saw Axar only bowl one over and this match-up will happen again in the World Cup. Axar’s economy rate against left-handers of 8.39 is considerably higher than his 6.50 against right-handers. 

Against left-hander heavy South Africa it’ll be interesting to see if India leave Axar or Yuzvendra Chahal out for Ravi Ashwin or Deepak Hooda. Although Axar’s spot in the team may be protected by his value as a left-handed batter. 

Pakistan’s batting is very right-hander heavy and will look to one of Shan Masood and Fakhar Zaman to counter Axar and might promote Mohamamd Nawaz to help out as well. Left-handers should be wary of Axar though: although he is expensive he does get have a healthy strike rate against them. 

Take on Chahal

If Chahal plays he represents the key to unlocking India’s attack. In matches that India have lost since the start of 2021 Chahal’s economy rate is an eye watering 10.94 – higher than regular death bowlers such as Harshal. Not only has Chahal’s recent form been mixed but taking him down robs India of flexibility with their bowlers and might force them to bowl the finger spinner, even to an unfavourable match-up. Pakistan are notably defensive against spin but the recent promotion of Mohammad Nawaz and Shadab Khan could help them attack the leg spinner. South Africa, with a plethora of left-handers, should be better placed to take him on.

Left-arm pace in the Powerplay

India’s top three of Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Virat Kohli should be far better suited to conditions in Australia—where pace and bounce thrive—than the UAE where pitches are slower and lower. However, irrespective of the venue, left-arm pace remains a good match-up against all three batters who to varying degrees and at different times have had issues against that over the wicket angle, particularly when coupled with lateral movement. 

Winning India’s batting Powerplay is crucial

Since the start of 2021 no team in the world has a bigger difference between their Powerplay batting average when they win (54.93) and lose (19.66) as India. Taking early wickets and drying up runs is of paramount importance against India – teams cannot afford to let them get off to good starts because it not only sets them behind in the game but sets up the middle and death overs for India’s deep, varied and dynamic batting line-up. Teams should not look to get through cheap overs in the Powerplay; instead they should bowl their best bowlers and go all-in from the get-go. Pakistan are well-suited to this with their elite pace attack but South Africa are more challenged in this area and will look to Wayne Parnell who is a perfect role-fit, to prove he is a good quality-fit. 

India are RH-heavy; avoid bowling off spin

India are likely to select an almost entirely right-handed batting order with all rounder Axar Patel as the only left-hander. There is a chance that Rishabh Pant plays but it seems as if Dinesh Karthik is ahead of him in the pecking order. Teams need to construct their bowling attacks accordingly. Relying on off spin would be a big mistake against this side. Indeed, since the start of 2021 during which India have picked more left-handers than they are likely to pick in this tournament, no team has scored faster against off spinners than India have. 

On the flip side, the imbalance in India’s batting line-up should bring left-arm spin and leg spin into play. Left-arm spin in particular is an excellent match-up against India’s likely top six and Pakistan’s Mohammad Nawaz, South Africa’s Keshav Maharaj and Bangladesh’s Shakib Al Hasan should all enjoy plenty of favourable matches in their group stage clashes. It’s worth noting how poor Pant’s record is against left-arm spin lately – he might be a left-hander but he might not be the panacea he at first seems. 

Hold spin back for DK

Karthik is used in a specialist pace-hitting role by India, coming in very late and targeting the final few overs of the innings. India have shown willingness to be flexible with their batting order and have promoted the left-handed Axar to delay Karthik’s entry point and shield him from spin. If this happens teams should consider shifting an over of pace earlier and using it to target Axar and then holding an over of spin back for Karthik who prefers pace on the ball. 

Freddie Wilde is Head of Performance Analysis at CricViz.

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