Seen that Whatsapp viral image of Virat Kohli yet? Where he is the bahubali and carrying his team-mates on his shoulder. For a team that has been carried by Kohli, with help from the bowlers, it’s quite amazing to see the groundswell of opinion building up that suggests India are sailing through to the final. This isn’t to suggest that the Indian team is indulging in this talk — far from it as even Ravi Shastri, the card-carrying member of the ultra-confident club, talked about the West Indies being tough challengers, and how they have to take one game at a time. The public perception seems to be resting on hope that seems triggered by the momentum of the wins, and by the nature of breathtaking match-winning knocks from Kohli. (STATS || POINTS TABLE || FIXTURES)
Pakistan, check. Australia, check but this one against West Indies isn’t going to be easy. Not because West Indies are a vastly superior team, but because there are so many cracks within Indian team that can be cracked open. Pakistan didn’t quite have the self-confidence needed to prise them open, and Australia didn’t have the right arsenal for these conditions, but driven by their innate confidence they nearly broke through before they were blind-sided by Kohli.
Sentimentalism and parochial confidence is fine — and what is sportswatching without it? — but a roster of potential Indian problems is pretty long to brush them away with a simple shrug of hope. The Indian openers haven’t seen through Powerplay even once, and worryingly, Shikhar Dhawan has been actually scratchy in the middle. He of course has the knack of producing one good knock amid a barren run, but then that takes us back in the realm of hope.
In his last 11 games, his score sequence 9, 51, 46*, 2, 1, 16*, 60, 1, 6, 23 and 13; an average of 25.33 at a strike rate of 110.14. Forget his weakness outside off stump and his iffy pokes, he has mistimed, the bat-face has shut on his drives. There he was on Wednesday, customising his training. R Sridhar, the fielding coach, kneeled down and lobbed full tosses gently from a short distance with his left hand. He pulled those which were at his chest-high, and swayed away from the ones which were at his face. Even there, a thought arose, considering the West Indians are all right-handed seamers, wouldn’t it be better to take the ball away from the body, across him? He also practised quite a few upper cuts before he moved to the regular nets to face the bowlers. Hopefully, by the end of his stint, he found confidence if not his timing. The hope with Dhawan is that he will get a flat-ish track today to get him going.
Meanwhile, Rohit Sharma’s middle stump was sent flying by a faster one from Ravindra Jadeja. Sharma hasn’t been as scratchy as Dhawan in the middle but the runs haven’t come. He likes to normally start a touch cautiously but with Dhawan struggling, he has felt the pressure of taking care of the run rate as well, and has been felled by that itch. At this stage, it seems he might also need a patta track for him to get through the first six overs. In his last 12 games, his score sequence has read — 0, 43, 13, 83, 0, 15, 39, 1, 5, 10, 18 and 12; an average of 19.91 and a strike rate of 116.01. His two best scores — 83 and 39 — have come against Bangladesh and UAE.
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As has been his wont these days, Suresh Raina was the first to bat in the nets, taking throwdowns even as his team-mates had just begun to stretch and warm-up around him. He has had one decent contribution against Pakistan and even that wasn’t a polished knock. When he isn’t in form, he can look iffy against quality spin and seam. Again, the best hope is a flat track.
Pandey, the X-factor?
Manish Pandey, who seems likely to replace Yuvraj Singh, can actually come good on slightly sluggish tracks. And he has this admirable knack of delivering on big match moments — be it a Ranji Final, or in a big IPL game, or like he did with a career-shaping innings in Australia. He comes in for Yuvraj, who perhaps has played his last game for India (?), and considering Yuvraj’s form some have said that it could be a blessing in disguise. But this West Indies team is full of right-handers barring Chris Gayle and Yuvraj’s bowling could have been pretty handy. Pandey’s fielding and his batting definitely gives him the advantage but if there was a game where Yuvraj would have scored with his bowling, this would have been it. That’s how it rolls sometimes.
The Caribbean-flavoured Indian Hardik Pandya is an interesting candidate in this contest. His bowling, guided by Dhoni, did the trick against Bangladesh in a thrilling last-over finale and he has shown brief glimpses of his big-hitting capabilities. The lengths that come naturally to him are short and length deliveries. Under pressure, if he reverts to what comes innately to him, he can come under the hammer and the hope is he can continue carrying Dhoni’s intentions during bowling.
The bowlers have done well in the tournament and here is the catch 22. For the batsman to do well, India would need a flat track. The bowlers obviously would not want that. India can’t wish away these problems but here is the thing with the fans’ confidence: There are some things money can’t buy but for everything else you have Virat Kohli.