ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features
India v England, World Cup 2011, Group B, Bangalore
India exposed in flawed thriller
The tied match was just what the World Cup needed, but the exciting finish cannot gloss over what was an embarrassing performance by India in the field
February 27, 2011
First things first. The fans and the organisers must give thanks to India and England for conspiring to produce an extraordinary finish that has ignited the World Cup after ten days of relative torpor. Six hundred and seventy six runs, 18 wickets and a heart-stopping tie ensure that the match will linger in the memory of anyone present. But in the cold light of cricket logic, the reverse of what is normally said of a tie will apply to this match: the tie was a fair result because neither team deserved to win.
The outcome would have left both teams with both relief and regret. India would be relieved because they found their way back into a match which seemed hopelessly lost, and then did not concede more than a single off the last ball after the first five of the final over had gone for 12. But how did they let England amble to a match-winning position in the first place, after scoring 338? And how did they manage to concede 28 to the tailenders in the last two overs after knocking over four wickets for 25 runs in the batting Powerplay?
England would be mightily relieved after the Powerplay choke had left them with 42 to get off 24 balls with all their specialist batsmen gone, and they would take overall satisfaction from constructing such an epic chase. But just how did they manage to botch it from 278 for 2 with 61 needed off 54 balls?
The match featured some splendid performances, and in many ways those mirrored each other. There were polished and controlled hundreds from Sachin Tendulkar, the game's enduring icon, and Andrew Strauss, who has found his batting mojo in this form of the game in the second half of his career; there was outstanding bowling from Tim Bresnan, which was responsible for keeping India down to 338, if such a thing can be said, and there were three skillful and cunning overs from Zaheer Khan that brought India back into the game. There were strong support acts from the No. 4 batsmen - Yuvraj Singh and Ian Bell - and both were dismissed at crucial junctures which led to the innings dipping into decline.
But the enduring image of the match would be the last-over six from Ajmal Shehzad, hit so cleanly and with such majesty that it might have come from the middle of Tendulkar's bat. For that, and for mounting such an improbable chase with such aplomb for the large part of the innings, England would take more from the match than their fancied rivals. India were expected to bat big; England, despite botching up the chase, surpassed expectations.
Their one-day team was annihilated when they toured India the last time. Their progress since then was never doubted, and with this, they have served notice: while the bowling worries remain, with the bat, they can chase.
India have known even before a ball had been bowled in this World Cup that whatever success they were to achieve they had to do it off their bat. But on Sunday night, they were served the starkest possible reminder that whatever they can do with bat can be easily lost on the field. The track at the Chinnaswamy Stadium was, according to Strauss, unbelievably flat and MS Dhoni said it got even better during the second innings. Still, the frightening aspect from the Indian point of view was not merely that England almost chased their total down, but how easily they did it till the 43rd over.
The format of this World Cup has been designed to insure them against the embarrassment of an early exit, but for the most part, their performance in defending a total never chased even on the flattest and deadest Indian pitches - the highest successful run chase on Indian soil is 325 by India against West Indies in 2002 - was an epic embarrassment in its own right: it has swiftly shorn them of their aura, and the tag of the favourites.
Every time they bat first, this question will haunt their batsmen: just how much is safe enough? Nine days ago, it was only the margin of victory that muted the questions about their ability with ball after Bangladesh had taken 280 runs off them in the World Cup opener, but so lacking in energy and spirit were they on the field on Sunday that a win for them would have been a travesty.
It was only after the 43rd over, when Zaheer produced two wickets in two balls, that the Indian fielding acquired a sense of urgency and charge. Suddenly the fielders in the ring attacked the ball, a couple of diving stops were made, and outfielders sprang to life. Till then infielders had hung back and allowed the batsmen to stroll singles (England scored 134 of them compared to India's 107) and fielders in the deep acted as perfect escort services to the fence. Their outcricket made India's meagre bowling resources look even thinner.
In their first warm-up match, their bowlers had defended 213 against Australia on the same square. But the ball spat and turned then. The curator had since been nudged to flatten it out, and on the belter that was laid out, the first part went to script for India. But the second provided glimpses of what lies ahead. Apart from Zaheer in those Powerplay overs, no bowler ever came close to being able to apply pressure; Harbhajan Singh was the most economical, but he was picked off with ease and conceded 10 runs in the crucial 46th over, and while Piyush Chawla had two wickets, he conceded the maximum boundaries: five fours and three sixes. The lack of skill from the bowlers was merely exacerbated by apologetic fielding.
Dhoni sounded nearly resigned to the ineptitude in the field. "We could have defended this total if we had a better fielding side," he said, "but we have to make do with what we have got." But if this is the best they can put up, their batsmen would have to bat out of their skin for the rest of the tournament. Never has a team so light in bowling and so heavy on its feet won a World Cup.
But from a broader perspective, this was the match the World Cup needed. However flawed, it was highly entertaining: it had twists and turns; big hitting and lots of wickets; drama and suspense; and the rarest of results. The stadium was a spectacle, and the crowd, however partisan, went back with a match to remember. Dhaka gave the tournament a passionate start, Bangalore has brought it alive.
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