By Nishad Pai Vaidya
A side that looked completely out of depth in Australia has taken no time in regaining lost touch in friendly subcontinental conditions. Virat Kohli and Gautam Gambhir’s sterling performances may have stolen the limelight, but the contributions of the Indian bowlers were equally critical to India’s victory over Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup at Dhaka. The 300-plus total didn’t look all that imposing and it required a remarkable performance from the bowlers to finish the job.
Mahela Jayawardene’s knock threatened to take the game away from India with some sublime batting. He dissected the gaps with ease and picked his spots to perfection. It was a typical Jayawardene knock as the shots were executed with minimal power, and yet they managed to beat the fielders. In the company of Kumar Sangakkara, he rallied Sri Lanka towards a comfortable win. With the duo in their zone, the Indian bowlers had to produce something special from their armoury to turn the tide in their favour.
Irfan Pathan progress with each passing game is a heartening development. In Australia, he bowled well and was amongst the wickets, though that zing of the past was missing. That vigour is gradually returning as he is getting into a good rhythm. He was India’s most economical bowlers on the day - a fact that speaks volumes of his efforts. More importantly, he picked up three crucial wickets - of batsmen who held the key to Sri Lanka’s run-chase.
Throughout the match, we witnessed some bizarre cricket - Sachin Tendulkar getting out on a full toss being the prime example. That trend continued well into Sri Lanka’s innings as three out of Pathans four victims succumbed to innocuous deliveries. Tillakaratne Dilshan pulled a shortish delivery straight into the hands of short mid-wicket. Jayawardene went after a wide delivery and edged it to Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Upul Tharanga dragged a harmless delivery from outside the off stump onto his woodwork. It was astonishing that his good deliveries didn’t get rewards, but the average ones nailed the big fishes. All this on the day Tendulkar lobbed a full toss straight to the short cover fielder.
Vinay Kumar was expensive to begin with, but made amends with two strikes in an over during the latter stages of the innings. Unlike his performances in Australia, Vinay wasn’t able to stem the run flow during his initial spells. There weren’t too many boundaries, but the ones and twos were quite frequent. As the innings progressed, Vinay became more accurate and was rewarded with wickets.
Ravichandran Ashwin just continued from where he left off against Sri Lanka Down Under as he derailed them with a tight spell during the middle overs. There was a lot of talk of the dew setting in which would have eased the batting conditions. However, Ashwin continued to purchase turn and spun a web around the batsmen. The carom balls were deceptive and he gave it a bit of air to add the extra punch.
The performance of Vinay, Irfan and Ashwin augur well for India’s chances in this tournament, but Praveen Kumar and Ravindra Jadeja’s non-performance would worry Dhoni. Praveen didn’t have a very good outing in Australia as he picked up just three wickets in five One-Day Internationals (ODIs). Jadeja’s poor form with the ball continued as he was expensive and failed to scalp a batsman. As Dhoni admitted during the post match presentation, he had to bring in the part-timers as the two weren’t effective. Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina did a decent job under pressure and deserve to be lauded.
With this performance, the team management may be mulling replacing Jadeja with Yusuf Pathan. It is Jadeja’s superior bowling that has kept him in the side so far. Now that it has faltered, Yusuf should walk in by virtue of his destructive batting. His off-spinners may not be lethal, but can be very useful. On the other hand, Praveen recovered well in later spells and should be persisted with in coming games.
The worry surrounding Praveen and Jadeja’s form magnifies when one takes into account the absence of Umesh Yadav and Zaheer Khan. India have one-paced seam attack, devoid of dynamism. Zaheer’s mere presence in the side has a positive effect on the other bowlers as his wealth of experience is indispensable. Yadav’s pace brings a new dimension to the attack - something that is missing currently.
It is for this reason that Irfan, Praveen and Vinay have to be careful and concentrate on hitting the right areas consistently. With their pace, the margin for error is minimal and it is imperative that they bowl in the appropriate channels. Opposing batsmen would have no problems in adjusting to their pace and only persistence would help them succeed.
With just three qualifying games before the final, each encounter is of vital importance. It is essential that India don’t lose focus or take things too easy as one mistake can lead to a team’s ouster from the tournament. They can tighten the screws and aim to put in surgical performances in the coming games. There certainly is scope for improvement!
(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 21-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.")