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WC 2011 Special: Interpreting India's plans for England
by Chetan Narula
Feb 25, 2011

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By Chetan Narula

Revenge jobs are never easy. There is the great chance of overdoing things and plans going awry, thus upsetting the apple-cart. Especially in sport, and cricket therein, where the unpredictability factor is at its greatest. There are so many things that are beyond your control and there are so many other things that can go beyond your control. Try telling that to Virender Sehwag though and he will stare at you as if not knowing what is being talked about.

Matches against sides like Bangladesh are the clichéd banana skins. You never know when the slip-ups happen, but they do for the Tigers are a side on the upswing. Sample this: they won the toss and put India into bat, trying hard to enforce the pressure from four years back. In the West Indies they had taken three quick wickets and went on to win the game as the Indians never recovered. To be honest it was their best chance, given the dew factor, and they proved it right by notching up a score of near-290 batting second. Point is, they lacked the definitive direction and penetration of the injured Mashrafe Mortaza and the rest didn’t cause batsmen enough trouble. Otherwise who knows?

Again, the likes of Sehwag do not believe in conjecture. He probably didn’t think about the how and why when India went down abysmally in 2007. For batsmen like him, it is the now that matters. What ball is being bowled now? Can I get a boundary off it or will I have to play it sensibly? On the day this tournament began, not many deliveries came his way that needed to be played sensibly. And the 175 runs that Sehwag got were near enough to inflict revengeful damage on our eager neighbours.

One says near enough simply because it is time to lay the ghost of 2007 to rest. Team India went to Dhaka for their one away game, didn’t lose, got the points in the bag, came away with a good run-rate and are now back in the confines of their country. Of course the pressure will increase now, playing in front of packed stadiums from here onwards. Yes that can be a negative at times, but mostly – especially in the present – that will be a long serving positive. This is a statement made keeping in mind the next game at Bangalore against England.

Andrew Strauss and his men will feel the brute force of crowd support at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium. It will make them thankful enough not to be playing at the Eden Gardens but the fans here won’t be any less vociferous than at Kolkata. That is however the least of their problems as Ryan ten Doeschate and Netherlands showed. When a non-Test playing nation pushes you to the brink, and with frightful regularity in major competitions, you know something is either broken or very soon will be. It is not to say that all of a sudden the English have forgotten the art of batting, bowling or fielding. No, you can’t win the Ashes in Australia without knowing a thing or two about that. However, in Nagpur, it almost seemed that coach Andy Flower would have to take them back to the drawing board and in a hurry.

If at all there is a plus point from their first game, then England will be happy that perhaps it was only a motivational problem to be playing against the Dutch and the two points garnered assured that it didn’t become a complacent setback. They went into that match pretty much knowing the combination they would want to play against the Indians, for a second spinner in the playing eleven against ferocious opposition is something to be not thought about. And in that context it could be pretty dangerous for the Indians as, apart from bothering about injuries, selection dilemma is their one true trouble. They say it is a good problem to have on his hands for any skipper. One believes that it is truly the case when you are either Clive Lloyd in the seventies and eighties, or Steve Waugh from the previous decade. If you are MS Dhoni and the choice is between playing Ashish Nehra, S Sreesanth and Piyush Chawla, you would want to shake your head in disbelief.

Two weeks ago, Sreesanth wasn’t even in the picture, Nehra was supposedly in good form and thought to be fit, and Chawla was considered a passenger in the squad. Praveen Kumar getting injured and the three matches India played in the last fifteen days (two warm-ups and one WC tie) created a mess. Back then, Sreesanth bowled with venom against Australia and New Zealand, and got some stick in Bangladesh. Nehra went from bowler number two to four in a quick drop and got injured. Chawla spun the ball, took some wickets and almost everyone expected him to play in the opening game. But he didn’t! As a result, whether Dhoni should go in with two fast bowlers or three, or two spinners rather than one is the most harrowing topic of debate in our trade circles.

One had earlier professed the horses-for-courses policy, and it still holds good water. In Mirpur, where the ball went wet in the dewy conditions, playing three fast bowlers was to counter a worst-case scenario where spinners would struggle to grip the ball. Though it could have come about, Sehwag’s destructive brilliance assured India of a win. Even so, there could be some dew expected at Bangalore as well, but the pitch will have a greater bearing on this decision. Rest assured it will not be anything like the warm-up one against the Aussies. Expect a lot of runs, some wickets and a little bit of spin!

(Chetan Narula is a sportswriter based in New Delhi, India. His Twitter feed is here.)

 
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