MS Dhoni at a press conference © Getty Images
MS Dhoni at a press conference © Getty Images

 

By Ramesh Shotham

 

Weeks before the 2011 World Cup kicked off, the Indian media was anointing India as one of the favourites to win the cup, if not the favourite. But this honeymoon didn’t last longer than it took Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men to win their opening match.

 

The Indian team started off with a bang against Bangladesh with a swaggering knock by Virender Sehwag and a well-crafted century by Virat Kohli that helped the team to post a total of 370 for four. The famed batting machine functioned as per expectations. Although the Bangladeshis ended up scoring 283 for nine, they were never really in the game.

 

That’s when the Indian media started its campaign of denigrating the Indian bowling. Respected sports journalists and TV pundits wondered how the Indian bowlers were they ever going to rein in classier batsmen from more high-profile teams in the matches ahead if they gave away so many runs to Bangladeshi batsmen.

 

Then came the high-profile game against England, whose seam bowlers and star spinner Graeme Swann were far superior to the Indian bowling.

 

But that quality English attack gave away 338 runs. But the Indian bowlers gave away 338 runs as well, matching the English bowlers run for run! Everyone agreed that this was one of the greatest ODIs ever. As a keen cricket fan, I was left totally satiated.

 

But not the Indian media! They had an agenda. On and on they went, carping about the Indians having no fire power. Mahendra Singh Dhoni has the reputation of being “Captain Cool” and, in my opinion, he deserves this title more than before, because of his calm demeanor when the way the media came at him during the press conferences, with their perceived notions of India’s bowling weaknesses. Their probing questions were answered patiently by Dhoni. No one could ruffle his feathers, because he knew his plans for this tournament. And he had implicit trust in his players.

 

Anybody who has followed India’s progress till India’s game against South Africa would have noticed that Dhoni has very cleverly made the most of the league games. He has ensured that the Indian team has not peaked too early. On winning a couple of tosses, he didn’t always choose to bat first, but also chose the option of chasing. As we all know, chasing is different ball game altogether.

 

He has boldly given Piyush Chawla an extended run in spite of criticisms coming from all directions. This leg-spinner could still be a trump card on his day in the knock-out stages. But he media kept asking, “What about is Ashwin?”

 

Why isn’t Dhoni playing Ashwin? The offie may have a lot of potential, but I think his best deeds have been in the T20 version of the game, for the Chennai Super Kings in the IPL matches. Having said that, he may still get a game and prove to be the surprise trick up Dhoni’s sleeve.

 

Nehra had a forgettable day today, and Dhoni could have tossed the ball to Harbhajan Singh for that decisive final over against South Africa. But as they say, hindsight is 20:20!

 

Now let’s take stock of India’s progress in this tournament:

 

1. Beat Bangladesh: India 370 for 4. Bangladesh 283 for nine.

 

2. Tied with England: India 338 all out England 338 for eight.

 

3. Beat Ireland by 5 wickets: Ireland 205 all out India 210 for five

 

4. Beat Netherlands: 189 all out. India 191 for five.

 

5. Lost to South Africa: India 296 all out. South Africa 300 for seven

 

Both Ireland and Netherlands have proved that they are no longer minnows, but teams with cricketing nous. India’s wins against these teams might have been perceived to have been hard-fought wins, but in reality there was never any danger of them losing.

 

Contrast this with England who, with a supposedly superior bowling attack, gave away 292 for six runs to the Dutch batting lineup and even ended up losing to the Irish by letting them score 329 for seven!

 

I think the Indians have been making smooth and gradual progress, rather than walking all over their opponents, which is what our media probably expects. But this is unrealistic, and none of the teams this time around is invincible enough to be able to do that. All the favourites have had their hiccups during these past weeks, not just India.

 

The Indians should have probably knocked off the runs against Ireland and Netherlands with minimum fuss. But the way things panned out helped them to simulate pressure situations.

 

Middle order batsmen like Yuvraj Singh and Dhoni were able to get a workout. Yuvraj has three 50s under his belt, which augurs well for the team.

 

The one criticism I would venture to make is that Dhoni should be the only floater in the batting lineup. Yusuf Pathan should come in at No 7. Virat Kohli needs to come in at No 4 because he is a class act who can play proper cricketing strokes. He should not be sent in lower down in the order because we’ve seen him fail when he has to blast from the word go. This role is better left to big hitters like Yuvraj, Pathan and Dhoni.

 

(Ramesh Shotham, was born in Chennai but was schooled in Bangalore at Clarence High School. Right from the 9th standard, he played in the school’s first XI as one of the youngest players ever. It was during one of the inter-school tourmaments that he first bumped into a young wicketkeeper batsmen called Syed Kirmani. He continued his studies in Madras at the Loyala College where, his enthusiasm for cricket faded and music became his main focus. After graduating Ramesh left Madras to go to Bombay and form one of India’s earliest and famous rock bands ‘The Human Bondage’. Around 1982 Ramesh moved to Europe and based himself in Germany. He has established himself as one of Europe’s most successful and sought-after percussionists. During all these years he has remained a passionate cricket fan)