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On 27 June, three days before the world awaited India’s clash with England in the on-going cricket world cup 2019, a former Pakistani cricketer, Basit Ali made a sensational claim on national television of Pakistan, “India will deliberately give away the match against England in order to make sure that Pakistan doesn’t make it to the semis.”

Soon, Mr. Ali’s words on a Pakistan-based channel Ary News created havoc on social media, and discussions around it started making rounds. It all happened when his country, Pakistan, had seven points in their kitty and were locked in a four-way battle to secure a semifinal seat along with England, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

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Pakistan was counting on its neighbor and political rival, India, who had enjoyed an unbeaten run in the tournament, to get the better of England. The favorable result would have increased the chances of Pakistani skipper Sarfaraz’s men to make it to the semifinals.

While a few bought Mr. Ali’s argument, others just rubbished his predictions for the clash between the tournament’s favorites: England and India.

Fast-forward to 30 June, the match day, England scored a formidable 337 on a pitch that was dry and quite subcontinent-like. While chasing it, India was falling short of the target, with a significant five wickets in hand, the blues’ approach was questioned. To everyone’s amazement, the World Cup’s invincibles walked back to the dugout with 31 runs more to score. It was India’s first loss in the tournament against a team that had to win the game to keep themselves afloat.

Now, the world took Mr. Ali’s claims more seriously, with so many in Pakistan, and Kashmir, believing that India gave away the match deliberately. Besides the commoners on social media, even the popular like former Pakistani cricket legend Waqar Younis questioned the approach tweeting, “…Me not bothered if Pakistan gets to the semis or not but one thing is for sure. Sportsmanship of few Champions got tested and they failed badly.”

The stats that came ahead may lead one to believe that India did actually lose to England to bar Pakistan from reaching the semis, though the fact is that it was not the case. Below, I put arguments to debunk the claims made by a few cricket pundits and fans alleging that India gave away the match.

  • The World Cup is a marquee event where momentum plays an important part to keep your morale high. Given that India was unbeaten till then, there is no way that Virat Kohli-led team would ever give away the match, knowing that they would have to face England again at any time of the tournament in the future, that too, when their spot was not reserved.
  • There was an argument that India did not score much in the first ten overs – deliberately. However, with a closer look at the match, one realizes that England boasts four extremely quick bowlers, with three of them hitting the 145 KMPH mark frequently. Their supremacy can be cited by restricting every side below 300 in all the matches, except two. India’s first powerplay score, twenty-eight, seemed like an attempt to play out Jofra Archer. This was more evident when Rohit Sharma and Mr. Kohli dominated in the 10-28 overs.
  • While a lot of criticism was directed towards the Indian batting, the fact still remains that, even after India losing just one game of the tournament, their middle order is fragile. It can be further established by the fact that the two-time champions have tried KL Rahul, Vijay Shankar, Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya, Rishabh Pant, Dinesh Karthik and, of course, MS Dhoni in the middle order after skipper Mr. Kohli, but they are still looking for a stable combination. So, criticizing the batting is unfair.
  • However, the biggest villain for Pakistani fans came out to be one of the best finishers the game has ever seen—Mr. Dhoni. He along with Mr. Jadhav scored merely thirty-nine runs in the last five overs, raising questions over their batting approach. The fact though remains that Mr. Dhoni, who scored forty-one runs on thirty-two balls against England, could be seen struggling not only in the match, but for a few years now. In all, India has played eight matches in the ongoing world cup tournament so far, and he managed to score only 258 runs, putting up an average of thirty-two runs per innings. He has been subjected to criticism for his USPs: strike-rate and the ability to rotate the strike. 

A further analysis into Mr. Dhoni’s downfall reveals that since 2017, his batting strike rate got reduced to eighty, which goes even starker when it comes to matches where India was chasing a target. Hence, calling him out for hatching conspiracy, or for that matter, a culprit, who deliberately played a particular way, is sinister.

The fact is that England is a formidable side, with a deadly combination of openers, who decimate any bowling attack on their day. That’s what Jason Roy and Johny Bairstow did against India. Their bowling attack has been striking whenever England asks for it, and that’s what sets them apart. These knights have been bowling sides outwhen the opposition bats second. So, to say that India lost to England deliberately is taking away the credit from these quickies.

Conspiracy theory or not, what we all know is that Pakistan didn’t even play up to its potential. Their teeth-of-the-skin win against Afghanistan didn’t do any good to their cause either, as far as the net run rate is concerned. Amidst all of this, the fact remains that Pakistan began this tournament on a sordid note and showed no intent or skill to go beyond where they find themselves today.

This article originally appeared in 8-14 July 2019 print issue of The Kashmir Walla.