The Indians are peaking at just about the right time
When things looked difficult for the Indian team in the triangular series having lost the first three matches, three sterling performances ensured that India did qualify for Sunday's final against Sri Lanka for the Coca-Cola Cup. It was a remarkable comeback by the Indian side to beat Sri Lanka back-to-back and then to thrash New Zealand in the decider.
A brilliant batting performance by Yuvraj Singh against Sri Lanka went on to prove what 'trust' can do to a cricketer. It was a great display of resilience after being 64/4 and Yuvraj went on to play a big hand in the victory. I have always felt that this young lad had the talent for One-Dayers. He only lacked application and temperament to stay in the middle. He proved the fact that he will rise to the occasion if he is given the opportunity and trust.
I always maintained that if Muralitharan failed to give the vital breakthrough, the Sri Lankan attack would struggle. The Indians now appear to have sorted him out. Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra seem to have developed into a useful combination. Once again it is was their excellent line and length that gave the Indian bowling the edge.
Harbhajan Singh seems to be playing a containing act, understandable because he cannot have an attacking field. I am sure that he will be a different proposition in the Test matches. No doubt that Harbjahan is bowling his off breaks quite effectively; the one that Sri Lanka is worried about is the one he bowls flat and fast and at times moves the other way.
Sri Lanka did themselves and India a favour by beating New Zealand rather convincingly. Full credit should be given to Sri Lanka's fast bowlers, Chaminda Vaas and Dilhara Fernando for their brilliant bowling. Their line and length were impeccable and they demonstrated how important length is as they cleverly varied their line.
So it all boiled down to the crucial match between India and New Zealand on Thursday. It was a do-or-die match as the winning team would qualify for Sunday's final against Sri Lanka. I think it brought India's talent to the fore. For once our bowlers failed to curtail the rate of scoring and allowed New Zealand to accumulate an imposing total of 264. The game plan of the Kiwis was to steal runs and put pressure on the Indian attack. Nathan Astle played a superb knock and along with captain Stephen Fleming took the side to a commanding position.
The Indian approach to the run chase was one of confidence and aggression. It was evidently clear from the previous games that Virender Shewag was stroking the ball beautifully. It must have been a toss up between Ganguly and Yuvraj Singh to open with Shewag. The captain must have decided on himself, taking his experience into consideration. Shewag's knock mesmerised New Zealand and they were destroyed by his onslaught. When India reached 100 without the loss of a wicket, the writing was on the wall.
The New Zealand bowlers faltered in their line of attack as Shewag piled on the runs. It was an object lesson of playing side on and one could easily see the advantages. While playing side on, he created gaps on the leg side, effectively flicking the balls pitched on middle and off towards mid-wicket and wide of mid-on for fours. The strokeplay upset the Kiwi plan as the bowlers failed to bowl on one side of the wicket and gave runs to be scored by Shewag at will.
In conclusion, I must say that the initial failure of the Indian side was a blessing in disguise as they are peaking at just about the right time. The final between India and Sri Lanka will witness a similar sort of style of cricket being played. One has to realise that the 'cricketing style' in the subcontinent is practically the same, whichever way you look at it.
Eventually it might turn out to be a match between Chaminda Vaas and Zaheer Khan or a match between Muralitharan and Harbhajan Singh. The effectiveness of these players will be the crucial factor in deciding which team will be the eventual winner.