Written by Harsha Bhogle | | March 29, 2015 11:15 am
Now that it has been a couple of days, hopefully the outrage has passed, maybe it has moved on to find another victim. Outrage is easy to do. But it is often inaccurate, misplaced and self-seeking. Occasionally too, it makes you look a bit stupid. And so, for all those expressing outrage at India’s performance at the World Cup, people for whom sport is too large to comprehend, the news is that India played as well as they could have and actually, had a pretty good tournament. (Full Coverage| Venues | Fixtures)
Often it is good to go back to the start of the tournament to see the distance traversed. India’s new ball wasn’t taking wickets, was inconsistent and had a bizarre fascination for heading into the opposition pads. Consequently the spinners were getting milked and they were resorting to bowling negative lines with flat trajectories. And with wickets in hand, the opposition was going on a merry rampage in the end overs. It had become the template to play India. Clearly, even though optimism and emotion are feel-good things, India weren’t among the favourites. A semi-final was seen as a good result.
By the time India’s run ended, at the semi-final which made it a really good result given where the campaign began, Umesh Yadav and Mohammad Shami were among the leading wicket-takers and had decent economy rates, Ravichandran Ashwin was among the top spinners at the World Cup and most days, the last few overs didn’t need to be bowled. It was an astonishing turnaround for discipline hadn’t, hitherto, been seen as a strength.
Shami and Yadav are sharp and can move the ball but they don’t scare batsmen. Not yet, at least. For them to be effective, they have to bowl with great control, whether it is the length for the ball to swing or indeed the line to bowl the bouncer. They did both admirably and with no disrespect, given the stage they are in their career, I think they over-performed and that is something to applaud. As is the performance of the spirited Mohit Sharma who makes the most of what he has been endowed with.
Mohit, an asset
At this World Cup, and by the looks of it in the immediate future too, anyone bowling in the range of 130-135 is going to become a batsman’s friend. Luckily in Australia, the boundaries were a respectable distance away (if the ICC or home cricket associations bring the boundary rope in after this World Cup they should be held guilty of crimes against cricket) and that helped bowlers like Mohit Sharma. But you make your own luck too and I was very impressed with the way he bustled in, put everything he had into every ball he bowled and ensured that the third seamer, long India’s Achilles Heel, became an asset. Mohit is a great example of what you can do with what you have. If only he had been a better batsman, he would have completed his offering to India but even without that, it was admirable.
I thought Ashwin was India’s best bowler and among the three best spinners of the tournament with Imran Tahir and Daniel Vettori. It could make for a fine debate but if there was one spot in a World XI for a spinner, he would have my vote. It was good to see him go back to the stock ball, turn the off break, bowl it slowly, bowl a more conventional line and give Dhoni a wicket-taking option in the middle overs. Yes, the fast bowlers were the revelation, but Ashwin’s progress was greatly satisfying too and, in a sense, could be the more permanent change.
India’s top order was very good batting first, but not quite as resolute and calming in a run chase. For all the ability it possesses, it still places an uncomfortable reliance on Virat Kohli. By his standards, he had an average World Cup but you get the feeling that with him, as with each of the other three in the top order, that their best World Cup could be ahead of them. Certainly Ajinkya Rahane is a very pleasant work in progress, Rohit Sharma is showing signs that he could shed the maddening side to him and become, more often, the player the rest of the world wants to see and the tighter looking Shikhar Dhawan is much more dangerous.
Suresh Raina has now been around for almost ten years and is still young enough to look ahead. In these conditions there will always be a question mark against him and yet he did the job most days. But there is a peculiar issue coming up that could well affect him. It is clear now that Dhoni is no longer the violent finisher he was. He is more likely, going ahead, to be someone who paces the innings and achieves a strike rate of 100 in doing so; in other words, a perfect number 5. Would Raina want to reinvent himself as a bludgeoning number six? Or, should a top order opening arise, for whatever reason, can he become that man? In either case, looking at the way the modern 50 over game is going, India need a game changing player in the lower middle order.
That is why, for all the value he can bring to a side, Ravindra Jadeja is the player who has most questions to answer. His bowling, on wickets like in Australia, doesn’t allow him to be regarded as a bowler who can bowl ten overs everyday. When the pitch isn’t his best friend, he can be limited. And he hasn’t yet emerged as the batting match winner a number 7 needs to be. Dhoni has often said he felt he was the last batsman in and you can see that it affected the way he batted. Jadeja is at the stage in his career where he has a lot going for him but needs to figure out who he is.
Going ahead therefore, if India want to mount a challenge at a major tournament, they need to sort number 7, find someone in the top six to bowl a bit and retain consistency with the bowling. This is a work in progress side and that is why we must applaud what they achieved at the World Cup and not get into petty, ignorant rants!
Once upon a time a chemical engineer and management graduate, now cricket and motivational speaking my calling...read more