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
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.
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.
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