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By Partab Ramchand
At about the halfway mark it must be said that the Indians do not appear to be a side that could win the World Cup. The bookies had installed them as favourites on the eve of the competition but one would not be surprised if they have dropped a notch or two and are now available at more lucrative odds.
It was well known at the start of the campaign that the Indian batting was the strong point whereas the bowling and fielding were the weak links. There is no change in that scenario after four matches. How can a team listed as favourites to win the World Cup concede 621 runs in their first two matches? And then to top it all when confronted by minnows Ireland and the Netherlands they have huffed and puffed their way to victory. There is a strange lack of killer instinct a quality that New Zealand for example have displayed while shrugging aside the challenges from Kenya and Zimbabwe. This is the worrying thought as the Indian campaign continues on its roller coaster ride, the ups being provided by the batting and the downs by the bowling and fielding.
The fielding in particular has been a cause of major concern especially after seeing players from other teams diving, leaping and sliding on the field to stop the ball or bring off a miraculous catch. Even the minnows with all their batting and bowling limitations have excelled in the field. But for some of the Indian cricketers it is a throwback to the bad old days when the fielders used to ``escort the ball to the boundary.’’ How can a team hope to win the World Cup with thin bowling resources, sub standard fielding and a lack of killer instinct one wonders? Fielding has always been a sadly neglected aspect of Indian cricket and while there has been some improvement in recent years the Indians are still some way behind most other countries. In a closely fought match between teams evenly balanced in batting and bowling - and from the quarterfinals every match is going to be frightfully close – it is the 20 odd runs conceded in the field or a
dropped catch that can make the decisive difference between winning and losing.
The disturbing aspect is that there seems to be no solution to the problems confronting the Indian team. Skipper Dhoni seems resigned to the ineptitude in the field for example. After the game against England which ended in a tie he remarked that ``we could have defended this total if we had a better fielding side but we have to make do with what we have got.’’ Therein lies the problem for the Indians since there is no solution. The fielding will continue to be sub standard while the bowling will continue to be hit all over the park whether the team management go in for three seamers and a spinner or two seamers and two spinners. A lot has made about the Indians having many part time spin options but apart from Zaheer Khan and Yuvraj Singh the bowling does not provide a comforting thought. Indeed is alarming to think that the team will have to soldier along on these lines with the Indian team management not inclined to shift from the seven batsman
four bowler policy – even against teams like Ireland and the Netherlands.
Time and again the Indian batting has come to the rescue of the team. But it appears that the most lustrous batting line-up in the game will have to perform superlatively even by its own Himalayan standards in the World Cup. If the bowling and the fielding cannot defend a total of 338 that was notched up against England what can be done? But perhaps the warning signals had already been hoisted when Bangladesh notched up 283 in the tournament opener.
At the moment India are perched on top of the table in Pool B but it would be a surprise if they stay there at the end of the preliminary stage. With two tough matches against South Africa and the West Indies coming up they look increasingly vulnerable. Harbhajan Singh is strangely ineffective, Piyush Chawla is lucky to be keeping his place despite Ravichandran Ashwin breathing down his neck while Yusuf Pathan’s bowling lacks sting. All the Indians have to hope for during the rest of the tournament is that the batsmen continue to fire on all cylinders and Zaheer Khan continues to take the wickets. The emergence of Yuvraj Singh as an all rounder is perhaps the most positive outcome of the Indian campaign thus far but whether these crumbs of comfort can result in a victorious campaign is a moot point.