ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features
India v Australia, 2nd quarter-final, World Cup 2011, Ahmedabad
India's bowling rises to the challenge
With Zaheer Khan on top form, R Ashwin proving a vital addition, Yuvraj Singh flighting the ball more and Harbhajan Singh bowling more aggressively, India's bowling attack has improved to the extent Ricky Ponting compared it with Pakistan's
March 24, 2011
Yuvraj Singh is turning this World Cup into his own, but India chose the right match to turn in their most wholesome performance of the tournament so far. Apart from about ten minutes of headless running, from which they were lucky to escape with the loss of only one wicket, it was a display worthy of a knockout match; and it impressed Ricky Ponting enough to anoint them favourites to win their semi-final clash against Pakistan.
India were always expected to win on the back of their batting but, for the second consecutive match, the bowling delivered. Against West Indies it was difficult to ascertain the quantum to which the bowlers had been assisted by the opposition batsmen, but against a far more purposeful group of batsmen on Thursday, the Indians gave little away. And the most noticeable, and dramatic, improvement was in the field. Even MS Dhoni, who has worn a look of resignation whenever asked about Indian fielding, reckoned that his team might have saved 15 runs in the field. It might have made the difference between victory and defeat.
It helped that they put up their best fielding side. Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli were both electric in the ring, not only saving runs and keeping the batsmen honest but visibly lifting their team-mates. Early in the innings, Kolhi stopped a scorching drive at short cover and had a lightning shy at the non-striker's end. Raina dived first to his left and then his right at point to cut off boundaries, and suddenly India looked a perkier team, determined not to give an inch. Yuvraj Singh joined in, making desperate stops off his own bowling, and R Ashwin hared around in the outfield, turning fours into twos.
The fielding never reached a level where it could be described as consistently spectacular. Munaf Patel was still sluggish and Yuvraj failed to pick the ball a couple of times near the boundary, but it was miles above the embarrassment it had been throughout the tournament. Maybe it was all part of a grand design: they were saving themselves up for the real matches.
The bowling rose to the challenge too. Ashwin's figures might not say it, but he has been a vital addition to the attack. He provides the control that India have missed at the start of the innings, and he has also provided early breakthroughs in both matches he has played so far.
Shane Watson's wicket was among the most crucial today. With his reach, and the ability to generate his own pace for strokes, Watson is a dangerous batsman on the slower wickets, and he was forced to swipe at a ball because Ashwin starved him of space.
Ashwin's presence in the XI also seems to have spurred Harbhajan Singh, the senior offpinner, to bowl more attackingly. Harbhajan was much more full on Thursday and though he went wicketless, he was the spinner who looked most likely to make a breakthrough. And as it has been the case throughout the World Cup, Yuvraj was the one who picked up the wickets, and it was not by coincidence.
Yuvraj may still look the innocuous handyman bowler who must quickly and unobtrusively get his overs out of the way but it's clear that he has worked on his bowling. The trajectory is consistently higher now, and consequently, there is more spin. When a spinner gets batsmen out driving, he is doing it right. His two scalps, of Brad Haddin and Michael Clarke, derailed the Australian momentum mid-innings.
And then there was the magnificent Zaheer Khan. What he has lost in pace he has more than made up with his mastery over his craft. He has been Dhoni's talisman in the World Cup. He has provided both the brakes and the breakthroughs every time Dhoni has needed them. He did Mike Hussey in today with that wonderfully deceptive slower ball he has developed for left-handed batsmen. It's bowled full, at drivable length, but it's never there for the drive, because it arrives after the bat has made its arc. Inevitably, Hussey's bat met with air, the ball found the stumps.
And then, apart from two balls down leg, Zaheer's yorkers were virtually impossible to score off in the batting Powerplay. Even Ricky Ponting, then batting in the 90s, was forced to work him around for singles. Asked later at the press conference to compare the Indian and Pakistan bowling attacks, Ponting said, and he looked like he meant it, that they were quite similar.
That's as big a compliment as the Indian bowling attack could have hoped to get.
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