ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features

India v Netherlands, Group B, World Cup 2011, Delhi

India must experiment with bowling combination

Sticking to a winning combination has its advantages, but given the way India have bowled so far in the World Cup, trying something new is logical; it is time for R Ashwin to get a game

Sharda Ugra in Delhi

March 8, 2011

Comments: 63 | Text size: A | A

The country that gave the world 'total football' has come up with another catchphrase for a sport that is most detached from the land of Cryuff, clogs and cheese. Peter Borren calls it 'brave cricket'. Netherlands captain Borren used the phrase several times as he fronted the largest mass of media he ever has in his career, at the Feroz Shah Kotla. 'Brave cricket' was what his team would need, he said, when they meet India at the Kotla on Wednesday.

Netherlands will be up against the hosts in front of a crowd that will convey via every cheer and hand-clap that they believe that Netherlands are at the World Cup merely to fill the numbers; that for India, Netherlands are merely a box to be ticked off.

Borren's men have had a rough World Cup, unable to make an impression after their first game, in which they gave England a scare. When Borren talked about being 'brave', he was referring to his team pushing their skills to the edge, rather than finding reserves of extra courage. In events like the World Cup, smaller teams often jump into uneven contests with complete optimism. It is the bigger outfit that must walk onto the ground not merely looking the part but playing it.

India are the only team in their group not to have lost a game, though they dropped a point against England, and their place in the quarter-finals will be as good as secure should they beat Netherlands. However, India must look at the game as something more than just one they need to win, but one in which they can try something different in the bowling department, which has been an area of concern so far in the tournament.

MS Dhoni was in Mr Quick Quote mode when he summarised India's World Cup so far as being "a tight game, a close game and a good win." What was due now he said, with the smile that has launched a thousand endorsements, was an "easy game". It would be perfect for the side, yet should it come by taking the easy route, that would be something of a cop-out. More than an option, going by how the Indian bowling has panned out over the last two weeks, experimentation would perhaps be common sense.

In keeping with cricket's ancient social orders, experimentation for India, in this event, means that it is the bowlers who must lump it. All barring Zaheer Khan, of course, who through his indispensability these days could surely lay claim to the title of Indian cricket's most-valuable player ahead even of the team's most feted batsmen. Other than Zaheer, India's most impactful bowler so far in three games has been the part-timer Yuvraj Singh, while the rest have mostly been works in not-very-rapid progress.

The Indian spin contingent: R Ashwin, Piyush Chawla, Harbhajan Singh and Yusuf Pathan, Bangalore, March 3, 2011
It may be time for R Ashwin to get a go ahead of Piyush Chawla © AFP

Ashish Nehra's comeback is awaited, Munaf Patel must demonstrate he can lead, Harbhajan Singh must fill in his wickets column, Piyush Chawla is finding that bowling on a turner in a warm-up is not the same as trying to rein in England on a belter, while Sreesanth must once again understand that being liked and picked are somehow interconnected.

It is time to give R Ashwin a go, not because the commentariat wants it, or experts are filling in hundreds of column inches or that it is the tea-stall talk, but because it is the logical option. Cricket teams are not, and rightly so, political parties who must go with the popular mood. There are times though that popular opinion may be the most appropriate one. To turn away from it, merely because it is popular, is to respond not to logic but to ego. There is only one way to see if Ashwin's wicket-taking ability has not melted away and that is by giving him a game.

Dhoni said he "did not want to bring any particular bowler under pressure" and thought he saw "signs of improvement." India will, he indicated, keep juggling combinations and "hopefully, we will have the best attack by the end of the league stage." Hopefully for their breathless public, 'hopefully' is not the operative word for India in this World Cup.

If India can lay claim to having structure and balance in some areas, it is, not surprisingly, in their batting. It is now clearly established that the No. 4 and No. 5 slot will be switched between Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh depending on the state of play, and Dhoni and Yusuf Pathan are ready to float along too. Should wickets fall early, Kohli goes in at No. 4 to be given the time and breadth to construct an innings of the kind that has made him the fastest Indian to a 1000 one-day runs. Should the innings need a lift in the run-rate, it will be Yuvraj who goes in at No. 4, like he did in the match against England, a move that is believed to have been made on coach Gary Kirsten's prompting. Dhoni virtually stated on Tuesday that Suresh Raina would be unable to squeeze into the XI should things stay the same.

The "signs of progress" that Dhoni sees in the bowling were somewhat more evident in the measured Indian batting versus Ireland, where the India batsmen, for a change, ran more singles than their feisty competitors.

The logic and success rate of sticking to a winning combination is a hard one to argue against at most times. Yet, in a six-week long World Cup, gaps between games may be long but the windows of opportunity to try different things are fewer. The match versus Netherlands is one of those windows for India. After Wednesday, all dramatic changes in personnel will come either from injury or panic. That cricket will not be so brave.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by Parag on (March 9, 2011, 14:45 GMT)

The only reason I can think Ashwin has not been given a chance yet is he will be used as a surprise bowler, a surprise bowler in some important matches. Since other teams have not faced him yet, it can work big time in India's favor.

Chawla seems to have become useless and bhajji is not a wicket taker any more.

Posted by Syed on (March 9, 2011, 10:12 GMT)

Zaheer and Munaf were bowling like the Pakistani pace duo. Why did they tamper with the combination? Bringing in Nehra is not too wise.

Posted by IMRAN on (March 9, 2011, 8:34 GMT)

chawla should be replace by ashwin and rest zaheer give chance to nehra,nehra should play in finalx1, if we bat first send yusuf up the order for big matches practise.

Posted by Supan on (March 9, 2011, 8:15 GMT)

india should try playing 8 batsmen (raina instead of chawla )any ways the 4 th bowlers gives runs at 8 rpo better play onre more batsmen and play more attacking cricket with aim of 400!!

Posted by Rakesh on (March 9, 2011, 8:10 GMT)

Ashwin is nice baller but he is ok if you don't compare him with other options that we have ... that is Pushing his luck Chawala and Never a Shanta Kumar. He has done well in Power Plays and can be used in containing job... I guess apart from Munaf all our ballers are tagged as attacking. If Bajji is one ...then why the fourth column have nothing in it. No complains though as he did a nice containing job last match. thats what he should be doing as a leader of the tweek pack.

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 9, 2011, 8:09 GMT)

Piyush Chawla was no where near taking wickets in the past match. And Harbhajan has been lucky enough to escape from radar for his lackluster performance. Seeing the way they played, none except Zaheer posed any trouble to the opponents.Thank god we were pitted against some minnows. Proteas or Aussies would have piled runs from our primary school level bowling. Though everybody tend to disagree, Sreeshant is capable of bowling wicket taking deliveries in the midst of every spell.. And he is also capable of irritating the batsmen to commit mistakes. Dhoni was also struggling to cover the huge holes we have in the fielding... where only Virat and Yuvraj are the only safe bets.. I think we are expecting too much from the team that has nothing exceptional on field apart from their batsmen, whom you can't depend all the time.

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 9, 2011, 7:36 GMT)

Rest Zaheer for one match and Indians will struggle on batting wickets to get even one wicket. And harbhajan might get wickets on spinning wickets, but he will struggle to get wickets on Batting pitch or pitches that even assists fast bowlers. I dont know how India is going to do well in later stages of tournament with such a pathetic bowling attack.

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 9, 2011, 7:20 GMT)

@rahul kaushal ... y rest tendulkar?.. considering this to be his last WC, he should be given every oppotunity ....

Posted by Br. on (March 9, 2011, 7:18 GMT)

Hello Everyone! Who will play Ashwinin or Chawla ?

Posted by Vinodh on (March 9, 2011, 7:14 GMT)

I really expected to drop Harbhajan in the last match against Ireland. They are a quite decent side. We could have tested in that game, with whom to go.. either Ashwin r Chawla bowling to same opponent. Dhoni dint do that. Against Netherlands experimenting is an absolute waste. With out scare should test Ashwin and Chawla either against SA r WI, that will be wise. @Karthik, you saw the Champions trophy match CSK vs Victoria.. D Hussey smashed Ashwin in super over. Dont ever say Aus cant play against spin. Even without spin bowlers, look at their firing fast bowling attack. Great Aussies. SA except Kallis and AB always juggle against spin. As no option is there, we can test with them and WI. India needs good bowling attack, else just as what hppnd to PAK yesterday. One single nite will prove what the attack is and by that time it will be Knock out stage. Hope INDIA will go well. Cheers!!!!!!!!!

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