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Sanjay Manjrekar: Middle-overs cost India the match

The indifferent performance of the bowlers and the brittle batting display cost India the match (09:38)

September 26, 2009

Transcript

India v Pakistan, Champions Trophy, Group A, Centurion

Sanjay Manjrekar: Middle-overs cost India the match

September 26, 2009


When Shoaib Malik is in, Pakistan have an advantage of a batsman who knows how to capitalise in the last four or five overs © Getty Images
 

Dileep Premachandran: Pakistan's 54-run win against India leaves them on the verge of a semi-final place. It also leaves India needing nothing less than a victory against Australia on Monday to have any chance of making to the semi-final. Sanjay, where do you think the match turned today?

Sanjay Manjrekar: I think the middle overs for India when they were in the field. I thought they started off quite well, and Pakistan looked a little tentative after the lost Imran Nazir and Kamran Akmal. Mohammad Yousuf and Shoaib Malik seemed to be under some pressure. There has also been some pressure from home as to their performances and their contribution with the bat, and they seemed a little too cautious to begin with. But India somehow just couldn't get those wickets, and it also seemed like they were also not looking to get wickets at that stage. So there was that huge span in between where they weren't even coming close to getting a wicket. That allowed these two to build a partnership, build their confidence up.

Once they got well settled, they have so much class and ability that India basically did not have the bowling to come back. So I thought the middle stage, where they weren't really looking to get wickets, was where India let the game slip away.

DP: Would you agree the thought process seemed to be to just hurry through the fifth-bowler quota rather than try to take wickets and pin home the advantage that they had at 65 for 3.

SM: I can tell you one thing that MS Dhoni has a tough job on his hands in this Champions Trophy because of the obvious constraints. He has got a very weak seam bowling attack, and the loss of Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh, apart from their batting ability; he lost the part-time bowling options that he relied so much on. So I thought going into this game he was little worried about that fifth bowler. He got Virat Kohli and Yusuf Pathan as change bowlers early, and I could see the logic behind it. It was basically to get a few overs out of them, while the batsmen were still tentative, both Yousuf and Malik. But, in the end it did not work.

The biggest disappointment for Dhoni must have been Harbhajan Singh, who he called upon at a time when the batsmen were more settled and perhaps a tougher challenge. He works on a principle that the seniors should come in when the challenge is tougher. So I think that big concern of the fifth bowler hurt India.

DP: Even the other bowlers, Ashish Nehra apart, there was no consistency from the seamers as well.

SM: I think the seam bowling attack is lacking confidence. Apart from Nehra who has had a good comeback. Even the opposition recognises that this is a bowling attack where you have to worry about just Nehra, who is in form, and not try too many things against him. So Nehra also is enjoying that privilege as the bowler in form, and the batting side knows it can target the other bowlers. There are four other bowlers in the team - there are two seamers who are down in confidence, two part-time bowlers and Harbhajan . So for the batting team it is not really a stiff challenge, they just got to worry about maybe Nehra a bit and Harbhajan , who bowled unimpressively. So today, on the field, nothing worked for India.

DP: But some credit has to go to Pakistan, the way Malik and Yousuf put those innings together. Especially in Yousuf's case who got 180 odd runs in the last nine innings, and like you said there were calls to drop him. He made a big statement on a stage like this, isn't it?

SM: Yes, and he just carried on. You know it's not about getting 60, and Yousuf getting a 40 and throwing it away. I think that's where the old school of batting comes into play, once the batsmen find their form they make it count. And I think that was the difference.

Even when India were chasing, there were few guys who got going, but there is a tendency to play too many shots and do something sensational. But they [Yousuf and Malik] played sensibly, and Malik, halfway through the innings, until he got his fifty he was really struggling. He was just about accumulating runs, but once he got into his groove, he made sure that he went on and on. He was well past his hundred when he got out. When Malik is in, Pakistan have an advantage of a batsman who knows how to capitalise in the last four or five overs. So he is not just an accumulator but he can also get into an overdrive when needed.

DP: Even then, for about 35 overs of the chase, India were still in with a fairly good chance, especially when Suresh Raina and Rahul Dravid put together 72.

SM: You know, 50-over cricket is a long game for me. Raina's approach in Twenty20 can work, a quick 40 or 50 can do the job for you. He did threaten to take the match away, but I constantly felt that he is taking a chance every time he tried to accelerate. So I thought in this game, Sachin Tendulkar's presence was important. Dravid played to the best of his ability, but he has got some constraints obviously.

I am never comfortable watching the younger players in a longer innings of 50 overs and thinking that Raina is going to take us through. There are always those high-risk shots that they keep attempting, and it's amazing how most of them come off. But they are still high risk. You know when Yousuf and Malik played, there weren't too many high risks shot that they were playing. Raina was playing well, but I never felt, watching from the sidelines, that he is the man who is going to do it. Dravid needed somebody who looked a little assured and maintained a little balance between attack and defence. Though Raina was a little unfortunate in the way he got out. Kohli as well, missed out on a great opportunity, again hitting a big shot.

DP: It was fairly obvious that Pakistan spinners handled the conditions better, especially Shahid Afridi and Saeed Ajmal.

SM: So did the seamers. Rana Naved was disappointing. Mohammad Aamer once again showed promise and got two good wickets. They bowled good length, and for me it was the length that was the difference of a wicket like this. India bowled short, short of length right through the innings, I think they attempted to bowl further up only early in the innings.

Pakistanis generally look to bowl full, and you see the way Aamer got Yusuf Pathan out. Even though Pathan is a big hitter, he pitched the ball right up to him and got him driving. Ajmal and Afridi pitched the ball up, and I thought Afridi bowled beautifully. So it's just a fact that they were bowling a length that was helping them pick wickets, inducing shots thereby picking wickets. Whereas India was just short, and the batsmen were forced to defend them and just pick them off for singles and two. No Indian spinner made the attempt of flighting the ball, tempting the batsmen to play the shot and try to get wickets.

DP: Where does India go from here? They obviously have to beat Australia. Would you have a long look at the team composition? I know there are constraints, but somebody like Pathan, for example, has played lot of games, averages 20-odd. Is that good enough for a player who is a middle-order bat and who is essentially a part-time bowler?

SM: Let's not forget this team has a few problems because of player injuries. It's not the best Indian team, so it's a difficult job for the captain, vice-captain and the selectors. There are so many limitations, but they will have a look at Pathan's role in this team. He was a little unimpressive with the bat especially, and he looked slightly out of place when he came into bat and shaped up against the seamers.

Amit Mishra on this pitch, because we are putting too much pressure on Harbhajan , he has not been a bowler who is looking to pick up wickets. Like Shane Warne, when he is bowling he is looking to pick up wickets. But Harbhajan would prefer a role of bowling 10 overs for 45, and pick up a odd one or two wickets. So maybe Mishra could be the spinner that India could call upon to get wickets. India need somebody in the middle to take wickets for them, and I don't think the seamers are going to do that job for Dhoni.

DP: And do you think that they have a decent chance against Australia?

SM: On this pitch in Pretoria, yes. If they were playing Australia at the Wanderers, then Australia would have been the firm favourites. Here India have a chance if they put on a big score, and spinners have to play a big role. I thought today Afridi made the difference in the middle, and Ajmal also got a few wickets.

At Pretoria seamers are working at a disadvantage in these conditions and so spinners have to contribute by picking wickets. You know if Mishra picks up two or three and even Harbhajan chips in with two or three, then you can see India playing well or perhaps winning against Australia.

DP: Thanks for your thoughts Sanjay.


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