ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features
India v West Indies, Group B, World Cup 2011, Chennai
India look to kick the habit
"Your daily habits will determine how far you go," says India's vision document for the World Cup. At the moment India need to stop their habit of making silly errors with large consequences
Sharda Ugra in Chennai
March 19, 2011
Chennai is a city of early risers. At the first sliver of light, the streets are dotted with people delivering milk and newspapers, setting up flower stalls, going for walks. Even the sun over Marina Beach switches swiftly onto a full beam in March, demanding that the day be seized.
India are not the early risers of this World Cup. They come to Chennai knowing that every little detail of the team will soon be under its fierce glare, from their brightest parts to all that is hidden in India's shadows. On Sunday, the team will not only wrestle against West Indies, but also try to clutch at their reputation that has dangerously peeled away, layer by layer, over the course of this World Cup.
At the moment, all attention is focussed on India's brightest parts: the batting that is due one blazing firecracker of a performance, the bowling that could be revitalised with a fresh face and a new edge, and the undeniable fact that their rivals can often be brittle under pressure and have a great sense of detachment from the art of playing spin.
Yet it is from the shadow that India must find their answers, because after Sunday, they will be into what captain MS Dhoni calls the World Cup's "lottery stages". India's 'vision document' for the tournament contains a paragraph that says, "The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses. You don't succeed when your dream is accomplished ... you are succeeding or failing right now. Your daily habits will determine how far you go."
As India prepare for their last group game, the result of which will determine whom they play against in the Ahmedabad quarter-final, they will have to undo all habits formed over the five group games sprawled over a month. With the undeniable advantage of hindsight, Dhoni and his team know that what they are missing in this World Cup (apart from sharp fielders, of course) is the detailing.
This has happened at an event where the broadest brush has been constantly swept around in their favour: the format has been fool-proofed so that the disasters of 2007 are avoided. Barring their opening match, India play every single game in conditions they know well. Australia and Sri Lanka are now on gas awaiting Sunday's result to work out who will travel to Ahmedabad for the quarter-final. No-one on BCCI's payroll will be lent out to visiting teams as temporary support staff even in emergencies. In this environment, the team has not performed with an assurance its fans need, its Board wants and its competitors would be daunted by. Sachin Tendulkar's two centuries have virtually disappeared behind a blur of India's uncrossed 't's.
Against England, India's first World Cup match against one of the stronger teams in its group, a single was run short on the last ball of the innings. Against Ireland and Netherlands, India lost its top four within 100 runs when chasing, a warning sign about the batting's collective sense of direction. That then morphed into the thoughtless 9 for 29, against South Africa.
Eight balls were left unplayed in that innings. At the tail-end of the South African innings in Nagpur, a catch dropped of Morne van Wyk was forgotten because the batsmen fell three balls later but then the ball had also wobbled over the boundary. That was runs conceded. In the 49th over in Nagpur, an easy run-out chance with the two batsmen stranded at handshaking distance in the middle of the pitch was fluffed because of a bad throw. The batsman? Robin Petersen, who got a streaky inside-edged four off Ashish Nehra's first ball in the last over, and then hit the six that swung the match South Africa's way.
On Sunday night, India and West Indies will fill in the final details as to how the World Cup knockouts will be shaped. India needs its most precise performance, with no straggly bits in selection, batting orders or bowling changes. The injury to Virender Sehwag may see him sit out the game and give him time to get ready for Ahmedabad, and it will also act as India's best option to still persist with its power hitter Yusuf Pathan and try out both newbies, Suresh Raina and R Ashwin.
It is as if the pieces of advice offered in the vision document by Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong are now taking on a life of their own. "Pick your battles," Armstrong advises, saying that businesses and teams need "detailed strategies on which stages to win and which to sit back." The World Cup is the same, Dhoni's team has been told. "You can't win every battle. However, you can win the important ones."
Sunday's game qualifies as one of those. Irrespective of the result, West Indies are not expected be India's most formidable opposition in the tournament. Yet, it could be the match in which the World Cup's late risers finally reveal what they are really capable of doing when fully awake.
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