ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features
India v England, World Cup 2011, Group B, Bangalore
After the controversy, time for the cricket
Already this match has made headlines, from the venue being changed to controversy over tickets. Now, at last, it's time for the actual cricket
Sharda Ugra in Bangalore
February 26, 2011
The team called the Rock Stars of Cricket announced their arrival at the Chinnaswamy Stadium with the most unusual sound. Not guitar, not drums, but the echo of a conch-shell.
It came from their bald, body-painted travelling fan and it sounded significantly sonorous, the ceremonial trumpet that it is meant to be. If Sri Lanka and Pakistan set off the weekend with a heated contest at the Premadasa, the least India against England in Bangalore must do is live up to its advertising. Of being firecracker or pressure cooker or, at the very least, a big sink. This is, to use a rather dark pun, the 2011 World Cup's big-ticket game.
Much theatre has circulated around the game even before even a ball was bowled. It has been moved from Indian cricket's iconic venue, the Eden Gardens, due to organisational blunders. It has been the reason that close to 3000 people lined up at 2am for tickets and, within few hours, a thousand were scattered by the police's five-foot long bamboo batons. It has also brought the biggest contingent of travelling fans to this World Cup. It had better not rain. In less than the first two minutes of his press conference, MS Dhoni used the word "important" six times.
When he was done with his ten minutes of answering questions to a roomful of around 120 people, Dhoni walked out onto the outfield carrying his kit like a backpack, as if he were a tourist sauntering down towards the Anil Kumble Circle, past the 11 TV broadcast vans lined up near the ground. Dhoni was heading out to inspect the wicket which in India's practice match against Australia did not thrill their batsmen with its ease, but built the case for their bowling balance they were looking for.
It still does not mean that Piyush Chawla will be an automatic pick on Sunday. Or that Harbhajan Singh will open the bowling like the six other teams who have opened their bowling with spin in this first week of the World Cup. It will only mean that England will have to prove that they are, as Andrew Strauss believes, an improved batting team against spinners bowling in their very element.
India's batsmen moved swiftly on from their stutter in the Bangalore match to a general feeling of well-being after Dhaka. Their worries with the bat are far removed from the strugglers in this competition. The most important question must be whether Virender Sehwag will keep the promise he made to himself of batting 50 overs and then maybe even field. Dhoni seemed to think that 30 overs do nicely. Yet for all that India's batsmen did against Bangladesh, they will be up against a far better and more organised bowling attack, Stuart Broad's upset stomach not withstanding.
The most mouth-watering rivalry in the contest, though, rather than that of batsman versus bowler, might well be between the two lead offspinners, Harbhajan Singh and Graeme Swann. The last time the two teams met at the same venue it rained. The result was decided by Duckworth-Lewis and India took a 4-0 lead in a series that would be truncated three days later by the attacks in Mumbai. Swann was just finding his feet in India and Harbhajan had gone for 42 in four overs.
Since then, cricket, Swann and Harbhajan have travelled a vast distance. Today, Swann is regarded as the world's No. 1 spinner and recently, Harbhajan said that it was Swann's videos that helped him find the rhythm that led to of his best performances in recent years on the tour to South Africa.
Given the drama that has followed this match, if India do feel in a mood to gamble or surprise maybe they should give their new left-arm spinning option an early go at England's latest ODI opener. Being out to Yuvraj Singh five times (just one less than Harbhajan, not kidding) could just mean that Kevin Pietersen doesn't like pies. But that's no reason not to try. Dhoni, celebrated for his occasional wild gambles, once threw Yuvraj an almost new ball in a Test just to put the pies out again.
After the India net session, there was a meeting between Dhoni, coach Gary Kirsten, physiotherapist Nitin Patel and BCCI secretary N Srinivasan. Rather than discuss the Ashish Nehra injury situation, maybe they were planning the innings-break menu to ensure that it follows the coach's 'eight rules of eating' found in his vision document.
They were in the full glare of the hawk-eyed media, whose ranks swell every game. Their numbers could well rival those of ticket-seekers outside the Chinnaswamy of whose fate, Dhoni said: "It's unfortunate that some of the fans had to go through it. But again when the Indian team don't perform you have to go through a lot of criticism so I feel that it is part and parcel ... Maybe some of them wouldn't have felt so bad because at the end of the day, they want to get tickets. So that's what I want to say."
"Part and parcel" of an India game includes the public expectation of a victory. Defeat would affect the confidence on the street far more than that of the team and had Dhoni not just given us all a glimpse of what he thinks of the street? He described, mostly for overseas journalists to whom it might be new, what it was like to be India at the World Cup. "Pressure always comes when you start playing for your country," he said. "First, you want to seal a permanent place and then be consistent. When you are part of the team the pressure follows you like your own shadow." His counterpart, Strauss, offered another option. "I don't think it's the time to take the pressure off. It's a World Cup and we all need to stand up and perform."
One man leads a team who is trailed by billions, the other captains a side that has just erased a quarter-century of cricketing misery in Australia.
It had better not rain.
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