Fireworks only for Diwali

Yes India got the crucial two points at the very start of the tournament and yes (thank God) Irfan, with the new ball, finally looked in better rhythm than he has done for a long time but in spite of this, the fireworks that lit up the sky at the end of the India-England opener at the Champions trophy in Jaipur on Sunday were justified only because it’s the festival season in India and Diwali (the Indian festival of lights) is just one week away.

This was not my feeling not just at the end of the match but even before the last two wickets fell in a heap.

I am sorry to report that the Indian cricket team’s problems of recent times (barring Irfan’s bowling) appear unresolved as ever two points in Group A notwithstanding.

At the end of the 14th over of the Indian innings the score read 91 for 3. Sachin and Yuvraj were at the crease, the opposition lay in tatters and a thumping Indian win appeared just around the corner. However, fifteen overs later the Indian batting had scraped together a measly 31 runs and lost three wickets in the process and Harbhajan was one of the batsmen at the crease! During this time the Indian batsmen managed to add just one boundary to the fifteen that had gone before. This was easily the least productive batting period in the entire match. Even England, as they struggled after being put in, did better in any fifteen over period.

Harbhajan put an end to the Indian misery by hitting another boundary in the 30th over and then the fire works went off.

Oh yes, I am aware that the wicket had uneven bounce but how many Indian batsmen were done in by this? Only one ? Sachin Tendulkar. However his batting hasn’t been the problem for India in its recent downturn nor was it today. But Sehwag and Dravid at the top to Dhoni and Raina in the middle showed little to no signs of the Indian batting being resurrected from the recent slump.

Dravid pushed away from his body without moving his feet a clear sign of a batsman in poor form. Sehwag chased a clearly wide over pitched delivery showing, one could say, that he is back in ‘form’. Dhoni struggled to defend and looked uncomfortable doing it for 21 deliveries while scraping seven miserable runs. He finally jumped out with no idea except to send the ball somewhere far away. He does this in an ad on Indian TV and the ball lands on the moon today it didn’t go too far and one wasn’t surprised. Raina went forward tentatively and the ball sneaked through after nicking the bat.

This was as miserable a batting performance by India as any in the recent months. Worse – since it was at a time when the opposition had started smiling and joking around as if they were about to throw in the towel.

Yuvraj who scored 27 vital runs looked anything but the free stroking dominant batsman we know. What one recalls of his 61 ball innings is not just the glorious extra cover drive and two near defensive prods that went for fours but the innumerable short pitched deliveries that were directed at him and had him weaving and bobbing. As Sajid Mahmood came in for his second spell he bowled a short awkward one first up to Yuvraj who barely managed to avoid it. As he looked up at the umpire he asked if this was one bouncer for the over. On getting a negative response it was amazing how he kept worrying about a short pitched delivery for the rest of the over.

Clearly the word is out in the fast bowling community that this wonderful striker of the cricket ball is more than a bit cramped by short fast stuff. Thankfully he had made up his mind not to do anything silly and that helped see India through.

Pathan the other man to get runs was also shown up by Jimmy Anderson. Bowling round the stumps, wide of the bowling crease, into his body Anderson cramped him so much that he finally lost the cool he had maintained till then to jump out and take a wild loose swing. Tendulkar had to come down the wicket to him and try and put sanity back into him. But clearly the young left hander who seems to move well to make place for his free swinging bat can be cramped and what’s worse he doesn?t like it one bit and could try a Dhoni in response!

Oh yes Pathan batted decently but as the entire cricketing world is discussing how he is ’eminently unsuitable’ to bat in the top order, this fellow is batting better than those who are supposed to displace him at the top. This is the worry.

Were their any positives for India in the game? Oh yes. Besides the valuable win, the bowling was very impressive. Irfan and Munaf bowled with great discipline at the top and Romesh Powar showed how a deceptively flighted delivery could be such a potent weapon even in the limited over game. Even Boycott and Ian Chappell were impressed! The fielding was classy with Raina standing out. Harbhajan took a breathtaking catch after misjudging it initially.

Does this win augur well for India as far as this tournament is concerned? Only in so much as they are just one win away from reaching the semi finals. As for their chances to lift this trophy, I am afraid this performance does nothing to enthuse an Indian fan to anything beyond fervent hope and crossed fingers!

The much-celebrated Indian batting line up seems to have an unsettled look about it. The much lauded Dhonis, Rainas and Kaifs appear poor substitutes for the classy Gangulys and Laxmans. In such circumstances the appearance of Pathan at the pivotal number three position is baffling.

For this Indian side to start looking solid as a phalanx India needs the top five to look like the Sachin, Sehwag, Laxman, Dravid, Ganguly top order looked not so long ago. There is need for Dravid to get back to three and Yuvraj to come in at four. Hopefully Raina will make a more consistent number five than he has done so far. If not India may not have too much time before the World Cup to put together a batting side that does not appear to have a weak link after every second wicket.

Ganguly?s form is too miserable for him to be considered a serious contender at the present time and Laxman has been out of favour for too long for one to speculate that he may still sneak back. Are there other classy batsmen lurking around who instill confidence that they can face the worlds best and put them to sword? And has Team-India left itself enough time to try them out over a protracted period in battle?

Time is running out for the Indian batting to settle down and this is a HUGE problem, which will need more than the desperate prayers of a billion fans.

Leave a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until they have been approved

More articles by Swaranjeet Singh