Team India’s current nemesis in the current edition of the World Cup is not any particular opponent in the division B, but their own performance in the batting power-plays and bowling during the death overs. Their opening duo of Sachin-Sehwag, must be wondering what else they can do other than batting the full 50 overs amongst themselves. The first time Viru almost did that, India scored very close to 350, the other two occasions, when Sachin scored a ton but departed around 40th over, the rest of the squad couldn’t even stick around to play the full quota of overs.
As captain MS Dhoni repeatedly said, the Indian team is getting their basics wrong and in an attempt to score 40 more runs they are eventually ending up with 20 runs short. Against England, India was sitting pretty at 305/3 and with 25 balls to go they would have been expected to score 45-50 runs, however they fell at least 15 runs short. Last weekend, against the Proteas, they were 268/2 with 10 overs to go. Even a run-a-ball effort would have gotten them to 330 or thereabouts, however, they fell around 35 runs short. The batting power play to team India is like the red cloth to a raging bull, a situation where even the matador Dhoni can’t control his team.
The other aspect that is compounding the batting woes towards the end of the innings (while batting first) is the shuffling of the order. If Dhoni has publically said on multiple occasions that Kohli needs to bat at #4, to get his eye in, so why change is number, you just add to the problems by pushing him further down the order. Also, we are well aware that Pathan only knows one thing and that is to hit the ball as far as he can so why send him when we have 10 overs or more left to bat? It’s one thing to send Pathan at #4 because the second wicket just fell in the 47th over and completely different to send him at the fall of wicket in the 40th over. In all honesty the top four in the batting order should be untouched. Yuvraj-Dhoni-Pathan can bat interchangeably at any slot from five through seven depending on the game situation.
The other key issue behind India’s failure to win against England and South Africa was the bowling in the last 3 overs. Munaf, who usually can be trusted to bowl wicket to wicket and had done brilliantly in South Africa during similar situations, has let us down twice, giving 13 and 14 runs on the two occasions in a single over. India is clearly missing services of street-smart bowling of Praveen Kumar, however they have to learn to adapt to what they have, especially use all their available resources. There is no Cricket Manual that says you can’t have two off-spinners in an ODI side, so why not use Ashwin, who has lots of variety, was so impressive in the recent games prior to the World Cup, and is also much more useful batsman compared to Chawla or Nehra.
The West-Indies/Englnd and the Bangladesh/South-Africa games would almost clearly decide the four quarter finalists from Division B, that way India can utilize their last league game to iron out some of these niggles, so that they don’t become major issues at the knock out stages. For starters they could use Ashwin in place of Nehra and even give Sreesanth one more go by resting Munaf. On the batting front, Raina can be given a game so that he can get some match practice, in-case his services are needed later due to injury to any one of the first choice batsmen.
I am not saying it’s time to panic or anything like that. The batsmen just need to bat with common-sense during the batting power-plays, somewhat similar to what Sachin-Sehwag do in the first 10 overs. The bowlers may need a private tutoring session from the bowling captain ZK regarding bowling at the death overs. A win on Sunday would pretty much assure #2 spot for Team India in division B and are most likely to face Pakistan in the quarters, unless the later manage to beat the Australians.
-Nikhil Sharad Jadhav