Following Ireland’s historic win against England, it was almost a given that Indians wouldn’t be in for a cakewalk on Sunday. And even as the Irish men went down, they made sure that they kept their pride in tact courtesy of an excellent fighting effort with the ball. In spite of the fact that India were chasing an extremely small total, the Ireland bowlers kept India in check throughout the chase. And it was only towards the end of the innings, thanks to some massive hits by Yusuf Pathan and a sedate knock by Yuvraj Singh, that India managed to breathe easily. Irrespective of the result, both teams came out with plenty of positives and would go into the future games high on confidence.
From the Indian perspective, the biggest plus was undoubtedly the all-round performance of Yuvraj. It was he who brought India back into the game with both bat and ball. Following the early loss of wickets courtesy a magnificent opening spell by speedster Zaheer Khan, Ireland had made a solid comeback via a fruitful and sensible alliance between skipper William Porterfield and the experienced Niall O’Brien. The two seemed to be cruising and building solid platform for the Irish innings, until a brilliant piece of fielding brought an end to the dangerous partnership. From there onwards, it was all Yuvraj.
The part-time left-arm spinner’s deliveries often look innocuous. But, there are times when he gets it right and could be extremely frustrating for the opponent. On Sunday, not only did he maintain a tight leash on the Ireland batsmen, but also undid them with some smart bowling on a pitch that had some help to offer. Ireland aren’t known to be great players of spin. Still they wouldn’t have seen Yuvraj as their major threat. But, as things panned out, he ended up plucking out half of their side. The Irish batsmen just had no answer how to deal with his spinning deliveries. They often ended up playing the wrong way and fell prey to Yuvraj’s guile one after the other. Okay, it was only Ireland, but this performance should egg Yuvraj on to greater things with the ball in the future. His captain MS Dhoni has always maintained that the lad from Punjab is a vital cog in the bowling machinery even if he wasn’t performing with the willow. And, on Sunday, Dhoni stood vindicated.
Buoyed by his bowling effort, Yuvraj came up with the goods while having the bat in hand too. Even as the other experienced guys like Sachin Tendulkar and Dhoni led the job half done, Yuvraj stayed till the very end and saw the team through. It was a mature effort that saw his hit only three fours in his 75-ball unbeaten stay at the crease, also a tribute to Ireland’s plucky effort. This knock should do a world of good for his confidence and India would be desperately hoping that he can now replicate this effort against the bigger teams.
While Yuvraj was undoubtedly the architect of India’s victory on Sunday, there were a couple of other noteworthy contributions that cannot be underestimated. Firstly, it was Zaheer Khan’s opening spell with the ball that gave India the much sought after early breakthroughs, something which they had struggled to get in the initial two games. The Indian left-arm pacer bowled two beauties to see the back of Paul Stirling and Ed Joyce. With the ball moving, the duo were totally at ill-ease against Zaheer and were easy meat for India’s numero uno bowler. The other heartening aspect was the big-hitting of Yusuf Pathan. He hadn’t had much to in the tournament so far apart from dropping catches, which doesn’t say much. But, on Sunday, it was his belligerent cameo that helped India sail through somewhat troubled waters. Even if it was against Ireland it was a crucial effort which will give Pathan some assurance going into the bigger tests.
The fact that Ireland managed to push India so hard reiterates that they still aren’t at their best and a lot of areas still need sorting out. First and foremost, Piyush Chawla’s place in the XI should be put under the scanner considering yet another unimpressive effort. Apart from the warm up game against Australia, he hasn’t looked threatening at all. Even against a team like Ireland, which has a reputation of not playing wrist spinners well, Chawla lacked penetration. And it is about time R. Ashwin gets his deserved chance, putting the theory of not playing two off-spinners together on the back burner for a while. One strong rationale behind this is that even the other part-time off spinner in the side, Pathan, has been least impressive. Against Ireland, Yuvraj bailed India out. But, everyday can’t be a Sunday. And hence the need to test Ashwin early in the tournament is essential. Though Dhoni has maintained that nothing much can be done about the fielding, the Indians at least need to hold their catches. If they keep dropping catches, a time will soon come when they will have to pay dearly for it.
Despite the loss, Ireland only won more hearts. This is one team that no cricket lover can hate for they give every game their hundred per cent. Even after losing two early wickets, Porterfield and Niall O’Brien batted with the poise of veterans as Ireland went about rebuilding their innings. It was a credible partnership that laid a solid platform for the team. The manner in which they handled the spin of Harbhajan Singh and Chawla was highly commendable. And if not for Yuvraj and Zaheer, might well have been facing a much tougher task.
Even with the ball in hand Ireland kept fighting. Former captain Trent Johnston did exceptionally well to get rid of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir with some intelligent bowling. The other bowlers and fielders also chipped in to frustrate India. In the end, India managed to stave off the challenge, but Ireland undoubtedly won over a few more fans.