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After being locked in battle against the Sri Lankans and the Australians all through February and March,the Indian team will face their first relatively easy opposition in Bangladesh on Friday. Yet,despite playing the ninth ranked ODI team in the world and despite having kickstarted the Asia Cup on a winning note,the Indians will be forced to approach Fridays match with the same intensity as they have displayed for the last two months.
The reason is a simple one,a win over Bangladesh will book Indias spot in the final. And it will be their only opportunity to fine-tune their skills before back-to-back encounters against Pakistan first in the last match of the group stages,and then in the all-important final.
On the batting front,the team ticked most of the boxes in the game against the Lankans. The top-order fired with a century each from Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli,while skipper Dhoni and Suresh Raina gave a glimpse of why they are the best finishers in the game. It was,however,the performance of the bowling department that was a real concern.
Yes,Irfan Pathan and R Vinay Kumar picked up four and three wickets respectively. But they werent always consistent with their lines and lengths,relying more on clever change of pace to bag their scalps. Praveen Kumar,on the other hand,didnt even do that.
The last two columns of Praveens bowling figures 0 for 47 will be the biggest worrying factor for Dhoni going into the Bangladesh match. Praveen was expected to take on the mantle of the leader of this attack in the absence of Zaheer Khan,who was rested for this tournament. He did just that in England,after Zaheer had limped off during the first Test at Lords.
At that stage of his career,in July 2011,Praveen had the dual task of shouldering a weak Indian bowling attack and simultaneously proving himself as he was on a comeback after missing the World Cup due to injury. A left-ankle strain ruled him out of the fourth Test at the Oval,and that marked the start of a period when he was shuffled in and out of the team by constantly being on the sick-list.
Ever since,a rib injury ruled him out of the home ODIs against the West Indies and Indias Test tour of Australia. And even after his recovery and return to the ODI side,the Uttar Pradesh medium-pacer hasnt been able to get back in the swing of things.
The injury-induced interruptions perhaps disturbed his rhythm,because even when he made a comeback during the tri-series in Australia,he wasnt at his best. At Sydney,he picked up two early wickets,that of Shane Watson and Peter Forrest,using movement and change of pace. It was a praise-worthy wicket-taking effort with the new-ball,which is his strength. There havent been enough of those kind of early spells.
Praveen is talented,but we want him to work a bit more, Dhoni had said before the last round of group matches in Australia. He bowled a bit short in the first game (of the tri-series in Melbourne). And once he was dropped,everyone who replaced him did well. A month later,nothing much had changed.
Indias opening game against Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup highlighted the regression in Praveens form. He continued to bowl too short or down the leg side or made the ball move too wide off off-stump to have any telling impact. He did produce an occasional beauty,but inevitably followed it up with a poor ball.
When Praveen has an off-day,at his pace,he goes for runs. He can also be held guilty of getting carried away and overusing his ability to swing the ball both ways,a skill that becomes ineffective when he loses control over his art. In the sixth over of the innings,Jayawardene scooped a bad inswinger to the fine-leg fence for a six and then steered the following outswinger,one which was moving away from off-stump,to the third man fence.
Praveen went for 29 runs in his first three overs before Dhoni took him out of the attack. Although his second spell was a better effort,he would still be disappointed at his failure to get on the wickets board in a crucial game.
But against the Bangladeshis,in what would have otherwise been considered an inconsequential game,Praveen can make amends by shaking off the rust. It will help India before their twin dates with Pakistan.
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