Ravichandran Ashwin is tipped to play in India’s next game against Netherlands © Getty Images
Ravichandran Ashwin is tipped to play in India’s next game against Netherlands © Getty Images


By Murali Venkatesan


What does not kill me makes me stronger Friedrich Nietzsche


This was the best cricket India has played up until this point in the 2011 World Cup. While Yuvraj Singh was clearly a shoo-in for the man-of-the-match award, the best part about India’s victory was that it was a collective effort, with a few obvious aberrations, that won us the match.


The Indian batting line-up, while having to fight it out for each run, played well within themselves, and in the end cantered to a win. More importantly, this game has substantially narrowed India’s team composition options going forward.


Let us first acknowledge that Ireland played really well, proving that their performance against England was no flash in the pan. Ireland were buzzing in the field, they used the conditions well, and were in the match with a whiff throughout, never more so that when India was down to 167 for five when Yusuf Pathan walked out. Porterfield’s soft dismissal and to a lesser extent, Johnston’s knee injury were important moments which hurt their chances. Well done, Ireland!


For Team India, this was a tricky match situation, even before the match started. The fan euphoria had evaporated in the wake of poor bowling performances in the previous two matches. Anything short of a clinical victory over Ireland, despite the fact that they had laid England low a few days before, would create additional buzz amongst the chatterati about India’s chances. Talk about pressure!


In Piyush Chawla’s case, there was added pressure with his place in the side under the radar. It was this pressure that resulted in him bowling a poor line and length on a pitch that had something in it for the spinners. To Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s credit, he brought Chawla in for a second spell with new batsmen at the crease to give him an opportunity to regain his confidence.


Unfortunately, with today’s performance, Piyush has played his last game in this World Cup. I was stupefied when the crowd booed Chawla after a couple of wides and a no-ball in a particularly bad over – a further demoralized bowler is not what India needed in that passage of play.


The most heartening part of India’s bowling was that the first 15 overs yielded a couple of wickets while giving away 47 runs. Both the seamers beat the bat routinely in conditions where the ball did a little bit off the pitch and Zaheer Khan’s twin strikes pegged the Irish on the backfoot. However, what was truly heartening was that eight of these overs were bowled by spinners for 21 runs, with Powerplay in effect.


Pathan and Harbhajan routinely beat the bat and it is my belief, that with batsmen of better caliber than the Irish top order, the wickets would have been in the spinners’ column and not the seamers’. With Ravichandran Ashwin likely to replace Chawla in the next match, I am very bullish about our prospects against South Africa next Sunday on the bowling front.


On the batting front, India has to pull their socks up on the running between the wickets. There were way too many moments of confusion in calling and taking quick singles. While the dismissal of a well-set Virat Kohli was the only price that India paid, there were several close calls which could have resulted in additional run-outs.


In the England match, Virender Sehwag closed the face of his bat several times to Anderson as he tried to play away going deliveries around off-stump on the leg side. Luckily, the leading edges landed in no-man’s zone. Against Trent Johnston, the ball was on leg stump and only had a hint of straightening so the flick off the hip was on – but yet again Sehwag had closed the face of the bat early and the leading edge carried to the bowler.


Against South Africa, he will be expecting a barrage into his ribs and I am sure he will spend the next week perfecting this aspect of his stroke making.


Yuvraj had a standout game. Watching his street-smart bowling, innocuous on the surface even as he lulls the batsman into making mistakes, is a treat to watch. It was good to watch him show the kind of grit needed to play on such a surface when he batted. However, I still cannot shake off this feeling that he is still groping for the imperious form that defined that defined his style of batting not too long ago.


When India lost their fourth wicket with 100 runs on the board, the realization that Pathan was next in line was a little unnerving. While he clobbered the 18-year-old George Dockrell into submission and released any pressure that had built up at the fall of Dhoni’s wicket, I cannot imagine him doing that against a stronger opposition. He patiently waits for the ball to be bowled in his slot – the top teams know that and will sort him out. Suresh Raina should continue to be in contention for the No 7 slot as a better batsman and an equally effective off-spinner.


With Shantakumaran Sreesanth and Chawla effectively out of contention to get into the playing XI, India has the task of selecting two seamers and two spinners out of the five on offer. I wish India had Praveen Kumar available for selection and that Praghyan Ojha had made the cut ahead of Chawla. If wishes were horses!


India will definitely want to land at the top of the table in Group B. This should ensure a match at the spin-friendly Premadasa Stadium against New Zealand for the quarters and the winner of this encounter will play the semi-finals in Premadasa, as opposed to seam-friendly Mohali.


Life is Good!


(Murali is a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area. When he gets time off from his cricketing duties, whether it be playing or watching cricket, he attends to his duties as a husband, father, and engineering new solar technology solutions)