ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / News
India v South Africa, Group B, World Cup 2011, Nagpur
Dhoni wants top-order to bat longer
Sharda Ugra in Nagpur
March 11, 2011
For all the fuss around India's bowlers during this World Cup - normal service could well be resumed within 24 hours - there's another slightly underwritten set of numbers from its first four matches. These numbers come from the unlikeliest of sources: India's top order, from the prime batting positions in the short game, numbers one to three.
India may not have lost a game in this World Cup so far but its opening stands have read: 69, 46, 9, 69. Both Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar have scored hundreds in this Cup - Sehwag reminding Dhaka and the world that a 200 could come any time and Tendulkar following it up with a measured construction of an innings in Bangalore. Yet in the two 'gimme' games that followed - versus Ireland and Netherlands - neither of the openers nor the No. 3 Gautam Gambhir have built from reasonable starts and none of them have crossed 40. Between them, Tendulkar (38, 27), Sehwag (5, 39) and Gambhir (10, 28) have spent significant time at the crease, but have not gone on to dominate.
In a tournament that was supposed to be about big-hitting batsmen on wickets that were belters, outfields that were small and opposition that was tiny, these are underwhelming returns. MS Dhoni believes that it is the start from the trio that will enable India's explosive middle order a chance to play their A-game, which will be needed in what will be India's most revealing match of the World Cup so far: against South Africa in Nagpur.
In his pre-match pow-wow at the VCA stadium, Dhoni said the team was hoping its top order comes through in the rest of the competition: "If we have slightly longer partnerships at the top, the explosive power of our middle and lower-middle order can be used more in the positive way." Read as: if the top three get runs, then Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Dhoni and Yusuf Pathan will be able to do more than fire-fight like they did against Ireland and Netherlands.
"If our openers can play as long as possible, it will be good for us... what we have seen is that if both Sachin and Viru get going, it gets very difficult to stop them," Dhoni said. And that gives India the launch pad with which to build those innings that will give their unthreatening attack enough to bowl with. He was quick to add that even though "we have not got very big [opening] partnerships" what was important, was "the way we have got the runs".
The struggle against the two Associate teams has given the batsmen who followed the chance to test themselves under pressure, but the top order now needs to give the team the legs to bat through the rest of the competition.
Dhoni said India's batting relied heavily on momentum. "So if we get off to a good start from either momentum point of view or time-period point of view, our lower order can really cash in." In a slightly roundabout way, he was referring to the importance of the top order doing something emphatic against the South Africans: either scoring at a rapid rate or occupying enough overs to give the hitters who follow a chance to crank straight into turbo mode. For the first time, Dhoni looked fatigued on the eve of a World Cup match day. His normally jutting-chin-square-shoulder self slouched over the mike, the tedium of fronting the press evident, even though his replies still came with the full range: from considerate detailing to cutting snub.
The batting, he believed, had gained much from its wobbly performance over four matches: India had set totals and it had chased. It had played on run-heavy wickets and then slow tracks. "We have got fair exposure as to what we may get in the coming games depending on the venue. The first four games have been good for us to get into the groove and be ready for the next leg of the tournament."
With India's quarter-final slot as good as assured, Dhoni said meeting slightly tougher opposition two games before the knockout was a blessing of sorts and gave the team the "liberty of having two extra games" on the side. We will see.
What the Indians need right now, is to get that elusive momentum going. There will be no better time for India's top order to jump-start it than against South Africa on Saturday.