By Nishad Pai Vaidya
A comprehensive series win in Sri Lanka has set the ball rolling for the Indians with the long season ahead. Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Duncan Fletcher can be satisfied with the way things have panned out, particularly after the horrors of the last season. Going into the Sri Lanka tour, it was clear that the Indian management had a vision to test different combinations and zero in on certain players. While Virat Kohli continued to build on his prolific run, the performances of Manoj Tiwary and Irfan Pathan were the most encouraging developments.
It hasn’t been a smooth ride for Tiwary since his international debut – which was way back in 2008. On the eve of what would have been his first cap in Bangladesh in 2007, he injured himself and had to wait for months for another call-up. When it came, Tiwary had to go out to face the furious pace of Brett Lee – who got the better of him them. It looked like he had drifted away until he returned in 2011 for the tour to the West Indies. However, chances were still sporadic and came only when he was required as a back-up.
In December 2011, it looked like things would change when Tiwary stroked a hundred in a One-Day International (ODI) at Chennai. What happened later was bizarre as Tiwary warmed the bench during the whole tri-series in Australia and the Asia Cup. It was baffling as the famed batting line-up was struggling Down Under and the infamous rotational policy didn’t find him as a prospective beneficiary. In Sri Lanka, the trend continued and he was only brought in for the fourth ODI when India tweaked their combination.
Tiwary’s bowling was a major surprise as his leg-breaks derailed Sri Lanka in the fourth ODI. His four wicket haul restricted their challenge to 251 – one that India overhauled with comfort. As Dhoni pointed out after that match, if India doesn’t get an all-rounder, they can afford to field seven specialist batsmen and four frontline bowlers if the part-timers perform. To add to that, Tiwary is a good fielder and complements Kohli and Suresh Raina very well on the off-side. To have three quick fielders in prime condition on the off-side is fantastic and puts tremendous pressure on the opposition.
The Bengal batsman may not have made a major impact with the bat in the fourth game, but was in good touch during the final outing. When he walked in with the score at 87 for three, Tiwary had to stitch a partnership with Gautam Gambhir to take India to a good score. His knock of 65 was a well-paced effort and helped setup a platform for the lower order to blast off. He has shown tremendous mental strength through all these months and that wait has finally paid off. It would have been an unsettling experience, but he admitted that the time spent in the Indian dressing room has made him mentally stronger.
Pathan’s rise during the ODI series has been an incredible story as he wasn’t a part of the original squad. R Vinay Kumar’s injury paved the way for his return and he has grabbed the opportunity with both hands. His place in the eleven wasn’t certain, but Dhoni opted to play him as an all-rounder who bats at number seven. It was only when Tiwary came in for the fourth ODI did this combination change with Pathan retaining his spot.
Through the series, Pathan maintained a disciplined line and length culminating in good economical figures. He got the ball to move and it is a very good sign for Indian cricket. There may have been occasions where he may have picked up wickets with a few innocuous deliveries, but he has to be given the credit for maintaining pressure on the batsmen that resulted in them doing something extraordinary. In the last two games, he was at his wicket-taking best as his five-wicket haul in the fifth ODI and an economical three-for in the T20 international helped India taste more success.
Batting has always been an added bonus to Pathan’s game and an overemphasis on that aspect has hampered his bowling in the past. During this series, the onus was on the top order to score the runs and any contributions from Pathan at No 7 were always welcome. His knock in the third ODI helped Raina seal the deal without further hiccups and on a whole he looked stable with the bat. In fact, Pathan admitted that he has a renewed confidence in his bowling mainly due to his good touch with the bat.
Tiwary and Pathan have delivered on being called up and this would do their confidence a world of good. However, it is imperative that they continue to build on this success and cement their spots in the team in the coming months. The return of some players may affect their fate a touch though. If Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh return to the fold a few months down the line, Tiwary may yet again have to bide his time. On the other hand, Pathan may have done enough to hold on to his pot and if he stutters a touch, the likes of Vinay Kumar and Praveen Kumar would be waiting to grasp the opportunity.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a club-level cricketer with an analytic mind and a sharp eye. It was this sharpness which spotted a wrong replay in IPL4 resulting in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. Some of his analytical pieces have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. Nishad can also be followed on Twitter)