The Indian cricket team laboured its way to a facile victory over the Netherlands at the Ferozeshah Kotla on the 9th of March, 2011. It was Ash Wednesday; the men in blue seemed to be aware of this. Indian fans had little to celebrate.
Though a quarter-final spot is now virtually assured, question-marks about India’s bowling attack persist.
It was expected that the pitches in this World Cup, especially the ones at home, would be batsman-friendly. That the very same dead pitches would draw the fangs of the Indian bowlers and render them venomless, even toothless, was probably not factored in by the Indian think-tank.
Zaheer Khan has lived up to his billing of being the leader of the pack. It was his shrewd bowling at the death against England that brought India back from the dead.He may not be the fittest bowler around—the paunch is a dead giveaway—, yet he has the ability to mix it up and bowl in the right spots to the right batsman. His experience proved handy.
Munaf Patel is the little lost boy of Indian cricket. He has sacrificed pace for accuracy but, for some reason, has forgotten to garner wickets along the way. He is restrictive without ever being penetrative. Will someone in the dressing room take him aside and remind him that a fast bowler lives (and dies) to knock over those three pieces of timber?
Shantakumar Sreesanth played one game and went for plenty. That was sufficient for MS Dhoni to make his displeasure known to all and sundry. He has not played another game since.
That is not the way to handle a potential match-winner. Sure, the Kerala paceman leaks runs, a well-known fact ,which ought to have been factored into calculations. The crucial breakthroughs the seamer can provide, like he did in South Africa,can and will make a difference.
For some reason, the temperamental bowler has been made aware that he was not in the original scheme of things and that the well-laid plans (of mice and men) have not altered since.
Piyush Chawla promised much in the warm-up game against the Kangaros. His four wickets against Australia proved crucial. It has been an uphill struggle since. The UP leg-spinner is perceived as MS Dhoni’s blue-eyed boy—plucked out of the wilderness ahead of Delhi’s Amit Mishra.
Can Dhoni expect wickets from the tweaker when his stock ball is the off-spinner? He terms it the googly.
Can Chawla come good for the men in blue? Time and patience is running out.
R Ashwin is the other passenger in the side. Picked for his cool head and his affinity with Dhoni in the Chennai Super Kings, the off-break bowler has warmed the bench. The Indian skipper believes that Ashwin can come out firing on all cylinders, irrespective of little or no match practice. Let’s hope that he is proved right.
Harbhajan Singh has disappointed. He is the most experienced spinner in the side. But just two wickets in four games is not what the doctor ordered or what his bitterest critics expected.
Can the Turbanator turn it around? He has been written off before.
Yuvraj Singh is the silver lining. He has provided vital breakthroughs, in the process, earning two man-of-the-match awards. His batting has been mature, shedding the customary explosiveness and buckling down to the need of the moment.
The fluency is not quite there. With runs under the belt,the swagger returns.
Yousuf Pathan, the other batsman who can bowl a bit, has done just that—bowled a bit.16 overs for 70 runs in three games implies that he is doing his bit, but just.
His batting came in handy against Ireland when he eased concerns towards the end. Is he the man Dhoni can trust if his main bowlers fail? And they have failed. (Just not against the minnows.)
Much has been said and written about India opting to field five bowlers and just six batsmen given the placid nature of the pitches in the tournament.
The ploy could have worked just fine if Harbhajan Singh had been a reliable all-rounder to turn to. If a decent 30 runs (on average) can be expected from the Sikh, it might still be a gamble worth rolling the die over for. But maybe, that’s just a pipe dream.
Dhoni, however, believes it is the extra batsman that defines this team.
And that the bowlers can bat a bit—theoretically.
It was evident in the game against England how fallacious that assumption is. Zaheer and Chawla ran themselves out. Harbhajan went for a duck.
When the ones who can “bat a bit” neglect the basics, should we not consider the depth in the Indian batting line-up a figment of the imagination? Even on dodo tracks.
The final two group matches against South Africa and West Indies await.
The result may have not much bearing on quarter-final places. However, the games are significant because they are the first real test for the pre-tournament favourites.
Let the real World Cup begin.
PS: Ashish Nehra finally paraded his wares against the Netherlands. Maybe, things in the bowling department will start looking up. Maybe.
Quote of the day:
All human situations have their inconveniences. We feel those of the present but neither see nor feel those of the future; and hence we often make troublesome changes without amendment, and frequently for the worse. – Benjamin Franklin