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

Sambit Bal at Motera

March 24, 2011

Comments: 58 | Text size: A | A

Zaheer Khan got Michael Hussey cheaply, India v Australia, 2nd quarter-final, Ahmedabad, World Cup 2011, March 24, 2011
Zaheer Khan once again provided a wicket when it was needed, doing in Michael Hussey with a slower ball © Getty Images

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.

Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo

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Comments: 58 
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Posted by vinodh on (March 27, 2011, 16:21 GMT)

it almost was good as any final in a world cup

Posted by Unni on (March 27, 2011, 7:01 GMT)

is there some way to get praveen kumar back in team?????????? even if you replace munaf with sree or nehra it would be no better.. sree has an edge over munaf.. but he can be horrible at times leaking a lot of runs.. but ashwin is just brilliant to be frank.. to bowl in powerplays with that economy rate is great.. i dont know how he works out against pak.. they are easonably good plyers of spin..

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 26, 2011, 5:40 GMT)

Well done India, played this match like they wanted to win the world cup, the same aspirations as their adoring fans. They have to keep up this intensity against Pakistan in Mohali, especially in Bowling and fielding

Posted by Nick on (March 26, 2011, 4:33 GMT)

Their fielding was definitely unbelievable in this match and as much as I agree with you Sambit about the "never consistently spectacular", I think Dhoni and everyone will be looking back saying, we proved to ourselves we're a much better fielding side than we thought and that's going to be motivation enough to continue! Munaf is a sad excuse for a pace bowler. What good is his wicket-to-wicket accuracy if he has no fire but can't really say Sree is a better choice. He's too wayward. Oh boy how India needs a good pacer. One last missing link!!

Posted by Vinod on (March 26, 2011, 2:37 GMT)

Munaf is indeed a weak link in the Indian bowling line-up. He should be replaced with Sreesanth in the Semi-Final. Sreesant is good on the field and carries certain energy level. If Dhoni has to somehow find overs where he can bowl Munaf's overs, he can do the same thing with Sreesanth as well.

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 25, 2011, 22:40 GMT)

Pls pls replace munaf patel with sreesanth.......else All Izz Well!

Posted by Muhammad on (March 25, 2011, 21:16 GMT)

crunch game b/w pak & india pak favourite

Posted by Junks on (March 25, 2011, 19:15 GMT)

Nice article. I was quite surprised by the good bowling effort!

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 25, 2011, 13:27 GMT)

according to ponting if India and Pakistan bowling is same then why Australia scored 84 runs short against Pakistan as compare to India

Posted by Senthil on (March 25, 2011, 12:46 GMT)

Another Excellent Article :-) India really Saved their best for Big Matches and Saved their best XI also, This should be the XI for the remaining 2 Matches as well. Hope Dhoni keep Attacking with Same kind of Field Set, never mind his Worst batting Form at present. All the Best Team India.

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Sambit Bal Editor-in-chief Sambit Bal took to journalism at the age of 19 after realising that he wasn't fit for anything else, and to cricket journalism 14 years later when it dawned on him that it provided the perfect excuse to watch cricket in the office. Among other things he has bowled legspin, occasionally landing the ball in front of the batsman; laid out the comics page of a newspaper; covered crime, urban development and politics; and edited Gentleman, a monthly features magazine. He joined Wisden in 2001 and edited Wisden Asia Cricket and Cricinfo Magazine. He still spends his spare time watching cricket.

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