ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features
India v Australia, 2nd quarter-final, World Cup 2011, Ahmedabad
Time for India's batting to 'bring it'
Going by the numbers alone, India's batting line-up looks in great form; but three late-order collapses tell the story of a side who need their batsmen to fire as a unit if they are to progress to the semi-finals
Sharda Ugra in Ahmedabad
March 23, 2011
Preview : Battle of the flawed heavyweights
News : Dhoni expects high-skill battle
News : India delay decision on playing Sehwag
Analysis : Mini-battles to light up Motera
Analysis : Immense Zaheer continues his Australian opera
Matches: India v Australia at Ahmedabad
Series/Tournaments: ICC Cricket World Cup
On the sandy outskirts of Ahmedabad this Thursday, all will be revealed. If things go according to the home team's plan, a month of uncertainty about the kind of cricket they have played in this World Cup will suddenly cease.
Victory will return to India the status of being popular, irresistible favourites of their home World Cup. It will mark the decisive announcement of the end of Australian ownership of cricket's biggest prize. It will mean that for the first time in 19 years, there will be a World Cup final without the Australians.
The quarter-final between the world's two top-ranked one-day teams may be a World Cup contest arrived at two rounds too early. Its result will, however, emphatically establish which of the two teams' plans have worked: Australia's unrelenting dependence on pace in the subcontinent or India's slow-drip progress from group to knockout stages.
After the defeat to South Africa in Nagpur, the news that floated - much like one of Harbhajan Singh's more deceptive offerings - out of the Indian camp, sought to pour water over the heated debate around the team's stuttering World Cup. Citing fairly reliable "team sources", journalists were told that the Indians had decided to handle the Cup in two phases: in the group stages, players would be kept relaxed, fresh and pressure-free, intensity upped in the tournament's shoot-out section. This meant easy-does-it training sessions in the last month as well as the final tinkering around with team composition. The reasons behind it were irrefutable: the end of a long season, a slew of injuries to a cast of seasoned, if ageing, performers and the hot-house environment at home. Easy does it would be the only way to do it in the first month.
What the Indians then put out against West Indies in Chennai certainly appears to be their general bowling plan for the knockout: R Ashwin to open the bowling, a few early overs for Zaheer Khan with the new ball and the heavy dependence on spin all the way through till the seamers could come on towards the end in reverse gear.
At his media session, Ricky Ponting spelt it out carefully in case no one had noticed. "We have an idea that they will probably open with Zaheer with the new ball and one of their spinners, get their spinners on early and their part-timers on early. Then bring their quicker bowlers on around the ball-change time and then probably close the innings out with their quicks." He then graciously explained to his audience what could be anticipated at Motera on Thursday. "We are going to face at least 30 overs of spin and they can probably be assured that they will be facing at least 30 overs of fast bowling."
So there. The bowling tactics have been laid out for all to salivate over, like one might over one of the region's famous set meals, the Gujarati thaali. On Thursday, the other half of India's game plan will have to come to fruition. The batsmen must, to borrow from American slang, "bring it."; be that their A-game, their best form, or their long-distance runner's kick that will take them past the finish line.
To be honest, so far India's batsmen have not quite brought it as a unit. Going by numbers alone, all of the batsmen appear to be in that intangible called form. There are two Indian batsmen in the top five run-scorers of this World Cup. So far, no team has produced as many centuries [five] as India has. No other team has dazzled with as many fours and sixes as India either. Yet, after their earliest performance in Mirpur, the Indian batting line-up has not been collectively fluent. There have been stomach-churning late-order collapses in three of their six matches and the top four have been out within a 100 in seemingly easy chases against the two Associates in the group. India captain MS Dhoni admitted India had not tackled the slog overs or the batting Power play as well as they should have.
One of the key features of the Dhoni-Gary Kirsten regime has been the sense of "personal responsibility" given and taken by individuals, which has led to exceptional results, particularly in Test cricket. Translating that into combined batting consistency in the World Cup group stages has been India's primary glitch; this despite winning the toss (and so being able to dictate the early course of play) against England, Ireland, South Africa and West Indies.
India will expect more from its batting unit, and Dhoni didn't think it would be much of a burden on the hot bats. In any case he said, it was the bowlers who faced the rougher side of the stick. "If you are batting first you look to put 300-310 on the board and it's the bowlers who are supposed to defend it," Dhoni said. "If you are chasing 310 runs, normally you don't see a couple of batsmen chasing the score. Normally, you have one of the batsmen with the No. 8, 9 or 10 at the other end. Ultimately the pressure is on them [the bowlers] whether they are bowling or batting." To be fair, it is the already under-strain Indian bowling attack, full and part-timers put together, that has kept the team's results effective in the competition.
Against Australia, it is only fair that India's batsmen take on a Dhoniism: call it the "the responsibility of pressure" or "the pressure of responsibility". Or call it executing the plan methodically put into place for the most critical phase of India's World Cup, which will either be proved dead right or dead wrong.
It was Ponting who explained how this plan business really worked even when a team was having a far from smooth passage through a World Cup, like Australia had in the past or India were having now. "It's the self-belief, that's the biggest thing," Ponting said. "You have to keep believing that what you are doing is right. The longer you stick at it ... things tend to change for you."
If there is anything the Indian batting possesses, it is a conviction about its skills, particularly in conditions like Ahmedabad. It is what could primarily take them through tomorrow, rather than the meaningless mind games that seem to be taken more seriously by those outside the team camps than folks in them. The Indian batting's susceptibility against short balls, of which there can be a few expected from Australia is, Dhoni said, an old and somewhat battered hat. "The best batsmen in the world don't like facing the short-pitched deliveries. This is not something new to us. It follows us. Wherever we are, the shadows of short-pitched deliveries can be seen. I don't think it's a new strategy."
A famous 19th century Prussian general called Carl von Clausewitz had made a wise observation about military campaigns when he said: "No plan survives first contact with the enemy." It could be applied, minus the shooting, to cricket as well, particularly to the one-day game. Ponting, now a troubled, but insightful short-game sage, said that ODIs between two teams like Thursday's quarter-finalists, were often ruled by a single, emphatic event. "It can just be one good shot, it could be one good ball, it could be a freakish piece of fielding that goes your way and all of a sudden, you've got some momentum back."
India needs precisely this single emphatic event to spark some momentum in the batting to put its knockout plan into something approaching execution; of the kind that it seeks; not of the variety cricketers avoid mentioning on a World Cup quarter-final morning.
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