India need to do something about making the most of the Powerplays © Getty Images

 

By Akash Kaware

 

The group stage of World Cup 2011 is about to wind down. And if England hadn’t been so ‘noble’ in their attempts to make Group B interesting, the quarter-final line-up most predicted after one look at the tournament format would have been a reality.

 

India, one of the pre-tournament favorites – though I honestly don’t think there are any in this tournament – have played two games against the big sides and have a depressing scoreline which includes lost one, tied one. What’s more disturbing is that India seemed to have both games in the bag at one stage. Still, discounting a mathematical probability, India have almost made it to the quarter-finals. Any more slip-ups thereafter will mean a healthy rest before the IPL, but that’s one rest that most Indian players will be hoping they don’t get!

 

The Indian bowling has been a cause for worry long before the World Cup began, and everyone knew things were not going to improve overnight. It must be said, however, that they exceeded all expectations against South Africa, except for Ashish Nehra’s forgettable last over. What has caught most fans unawares, though, is the fallibility of the batting, even on Indian featherbeds.

 

From the first game of the tournament against Bangladesh, considering the fact that the Indian bowling was unlikely to give many batting sides sleepless nights, it was clear that the batsmen would have to score 350 in every game, or be ready to chase down the same.

 

Things went to plan against Bangladesh, and would’ve done the same against England and South Africa if it hadn’t been for a curious inability of the batsmen to cope with a passage of play that was thought to be designed for them to loot even more runs – the batting Powerplay.

 

The batting Powerplay against England was taken in the 36th over, and produced 32 runs and claimed a well-set Sachin Tendulkar’s wicket. Those numbers may not sound as bad when you think India were still a very healthy 251 for three at the end of it, but what those overs did was make the batsmen plan unnaturally and robbed the innings of all the momentum it had gathered until then.

 

The Powerplay against South Africa was worse. India were on course for 370 when those 30 wretched deliveries resulted in 30 runs and the loss of four big wickets, and a collapse so spectacular that even Pakistan at their worst would be hard-pressed to match it!

 

Clearly, the Powerplay is messing with the Indian batsmen’s rhythm. A crescendo has the desired impact only if it is reached gradually, otherwise it is little more than cacophony. On the evidence of the last two games that mattered, it seems the best two people to call for the batting Powerplay would be the two umpires, after 45 overs! Or get it out of the way early by opting for it right after the bowling Powerplay, which most sides take after the mandatory 10 overs field restrictions.

 

Against South Africa, India missed a trick by not taking it at the start of the 16th over. Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag had hammered everything South Africa could throw at them for 15 overs, and instead of adjusting to the spread out field thereafter, they could’ve used the additional five overs of field restrictions much better than the batsmen down the order eventually did.

 

After all, when a side boasts of batsmen like Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Yusuf Pathan down the order, all of whom are perfectly capable of making field placements redundant when they find their range, who needs a Powerplay anyways? Do such batsmen, whose six-hitting prowess beats the average Indian ground size by at least 15 metres, really need an incentive of two extra fielders in the ring for clearing the ropes?

 

Well, the loss of nine wickets for 29 runs is the kind of numbers that no one will forget in a hurry – not the fans, and much less the players. However, what one wishes is that the Indian team would forget though, is that such a thing as a batting Powerplay exists!

 

(Akash Kaware is an Indian IT professional, who would’ve been a successful  international cricketer if it hadn’t been for an annoying tendency to run towards square-leg while facing tennis, rubber or leather cricket balls hurled at anything at little more than genuine medium-pace! Watching Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid convinced him that breaking into the Indian team was not going to happen anytime soon and hence he settled to become an engineer and MBA, who occasionally wrote about cricket. A few months ago, sensing his uselessness and constant use of cricket websites at work, his company banished him to Canada. His hopes of playing international cricket have, thus, been renewed!)