There were plenty of similarities in India’s victories over Ireland and Netherlands. Both teams ran India close during various phases in the match and the Indians somehow managed to scratch their way to victory. On both occasions, it was Yuvraj Singh who starred with both the bat and ball even as Harbhajan Singh went wicketless in these games. Also, while in Pakistan everyone was gunning for Kamran Akmal’s head, among Indians the opinions over Piyush Chawla remained harsh. And even though he did pick up a couple of wickets Netherlands, it wasn’t good enough to change much. In spite of all this, the good news is that India have managed to make it to the quarter-finals.
Of course, it was a given that India would make it through to the knockout round considering the schedule and their matches were arranged accordingly. And, this has been officially admitted by the BCCI. Even so it was a monkey off the back for India considering their disastrous exit in 2007. However, the real battle begins now. And one is not quite sure how much they have improved since the first game against Bangladesh on February 19. That is why it is good in a sense that they have two big games to go – against South Africa and West Indies – before heading into the knockout clashes.
The problem areas
Piyush Chawla or R. Ashwin? The fact that the leggie has played all four games in the tournament so far possibly points to the fact that Indian skipper M S Dhoni has more faith in Chawla. However, leave aside the Australia warm-up game, his performance against all the others, including the minnows, has been abysmal. Thus, there has been a lot of talk surrounding the inclusion of Ashwin, the off-spinner ahead of Chawla. It will be important to give Ashwin a chance before the quarter-finals begins else it would be a big element of risk in trying him out all of a sudden in a knockout game. Having said that it has been surprising that Dhoni has persisted with Chawla in spite of his below par performances. Indian fans would only be hoping that the decision doesn’t return to haunt them in the future games.
Munaf or Nehra? While Munaf Patel has been reasonably good in the games he has played in the World Cup so far, Ashish Nehra has always been the favoured choice. The problem though with the left-arm seamer, like always, has been his fitness. Even though he played against Netherlands, he wasn’t at his best. Still the match practice should stand him in good stead. If India wants Nehra to play the bigger games, they need him to be in top gear. But first, they need to figure out who fits better into the playing eleven from among Munaf and Nehra.
The combination? Questions have been constantly raised regarding the Indian combination, whether they should stick to the present seven batsmen four bowlers theory or try out five bowlers by dropping one of the batsmen. This is definitely a tricky one since India have been faltering in both the departments. They began the tournament with batting as their strength. However, in the last two games, they have struggled in that aspect too. And, it has been only due to Yuvraj that they managed to get home safely in both the matches. It is time the others too stand up and deliver. Virender Sehwag began well but has tapered on since. Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli have got some runs, but the time has come for Gautam Gambhir to come to the party as well.
In the bowling department, only Zaheer Khan has been performing exceedingly well and support has come from surprising quarters – in the form of Yuvraj’s left-arm spin. However, the part-time spinner cannot be expected to do as well against the bigger teams as he has done against the minnows. Amongst the biggest disappointments in the Indian bowling outfit has been Harbhajan Singh. The off-spinner was expected to be India’s key man in the attack after Zaheer. But while he has been economical, he has only managed to grab two wickets in the tournament so far. True, teams have been cautious against him, but it is also a fact that Harbhajan himself hasn’t been attacking enough, which at one time was his greatest asset. The stronger teams will definitely take him on and then it will be interesting to see how he responds. As mentioned earlier, they also have to decide who from among Munaf, Nehra, Ashwin and Chawla will feature more prominently in the future games. Unless all that is settled, they will continue to have a tough time. And, there is not much time left now for Dhoni and co to finalise the playing eleven for the future games.
The Indian fielding is another major worry. But, as Dhoni admits, nothing much can be done about it. And as long as nothing Akmalesque transpires, the team can manage to live with what they have got. All said and done, Team India may have progressed to the next round, but how far they can go from them will be deciphered to quite an extent by their performances in the next two games. Wait and watch.
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