The final league match of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 between India and West Indies was symptomatic of the problems both teams have been having continuously in the tournament. While India did manage to pull off a win, their batting collapse yet again reiterated that all is not well on the batting front as of now. Okay, it was a slightly improved effort from M S Dhoni and co, but far from enough to inspire confidence going into the knock out clash. On the other hand, the West Indies, like in the game against England, succumbed under self-created pressure and lost a match they should have won hands down. And even though both teams have qualified for the next round, the signs aren’t great as of now unless they really pull up their socks. The only positive for both teams, if one can call it so, is that their opponents Australia and Pakistan have problems of their own and thus aren’t at the top of their game either.
No lessons learnt?
In the game against England, India folded up for 338 after looking good for a score well above 350. Against South Africa, they could have touched 400 had they been somewhat judicious. And then versus West Indies on Sunday, they looked set for 300 plus, but fell well short once again. On all three occasions, India messed it up in the power play, raising serious questions as to whether they have learnt from their mistakes. True, as Dhoni said in jest after the game against West Indies, there was a slight improvement. However, it is far from enough to inspire confidence in the team. Of course on all three occasions, the opposition found a great spell from one of their premier bowlers. If Tim Bresnan did it for England, Dale Steyn was hot for South Africa and Ravi Rampaul was the man for West Indies. On all three cases, the bowler in question ended up with five wicket hauls. However, while the bowlers deserve credit for the same, it has been more a case of poor batting by the Indians, which needs to be sorted out very soon, as early as the next game else it could be all over for the home team at Ahmedabad.
What India need is for one of the set batsmen to bat through, which is what hasn’t been happening. Against England and South Africa, Sachin Tendulkar fell in the power play overs after completing his century whilst in the match against the Caribbeans, centurion Yuvraj Singh departed one ball before the start of it. On all three occasions, India suffered a collapse and, on two of three occasions, it almost cost them the game. South Africa were the only team good enough to capitalise on India’s weakness. And even if Australia went down to Pakistan, they would be do the same against India in the quarter finals on Thursday. The Indians will not get another opportunity then so they better beware.
At long last, Dhoni gave his Chennai Super Kings mate, Ravichandran Ashwin a go and the off spinner did not disappoint. Like in the premier T20 league, he opened the bowling and troubled the West Indies batsmen. On the little evidence on offer so far and the confidence the country and experts have in him, he is definitely a better choice as compared to Piyush Chawla, who has clearly struggled since impressing in the warm up game against Australia. Having said that, it would be too early to judge him on one performance considering the fact that it came against a weakened West Indies batting line up, minus the likes of Chris Gayle and Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Even so, it was an impressive effort nonetheless by the Chennai super star, particularly with the knockouts coming up. The effort against West Indies should inspire confidence in Ashwin. He would have been under a lot of pressure following the frenetic roars for his inclusion in the team ahead of Chawla. If picked for the game against Australia, Ashwin could even end up being India’s trump card considering the fact that the Aussies haven’t seen much of him. That said, the task for Ashwin would be that much difficult against the Aussies considering that they are a much better team as compared to the West Indies side.
Windies’ inexplicable collapse
While India managed to find a few answers to some of their tough questions, the Windies once again fell short when they should have gone all the way. Even as the Windies decline has been steady over the years, there has been one chief reason for their poor performance in the ongoing World Cup, and that has been their inability to build partnerships in the middle-order. Opener Devon Smith has done exceedingly well in the tournament, but the others have let him down in a big way. It hasn’t helped that Chanderpaul has not been at his best for some time now. So bad has been his form that the Windies camp have had to ‘rest’ him for a couple of games now. And that isn’t great signs for the team.
The one man who has symbolised West Indies’ woes with the bat has been the other highly experienced batsman in the team – Ramnaresh Sarwan. In both the games against England and India, he got stuck at one end, nothing getting into any rhythm at all. It has been an absolutely sad sight to see a man of such class and talent struggling on the big stage. Sarwan’s struggle only emphasises that there is so much wrong with cricket in the West Indies. Not long ago, he and Gayle were out of the side following the never ending dispute between the cricket board and the players. And ever since he has comeback, he hasn’t looked the same. The fluency has disappeared, he is struggling even to rotate the strike. Of course, he can’t be the only one to be blamed for West Indies’ downslide in the series. But, his struggles clearly mirror those of the team. In his defence, unlike the others, Sarwan at least made an effort to hang in there. But, he found no support at all. And when he tried to hit out, he wasn’t good enough to succeed. It’s really sad to see someone with the talent of Sarwan to struggle in such an obvious manner.
As both India and West Indies head into their quarter final clash, they will have to answer most of the questions raised above. The failure to do so could end their World Cup hopes in a jiffy. Will India and West Indies rise to the occasion? Wednesday and Thursday will provide the answers.