India bounce back with emphatic win over Bermuda March 19, 2007

Normal service resumed



It was an all-new Team India on display at the Queen's Park Oval © Getty Images

"Do or die," screamed some national television channels with typical subtlety. "Now or never," said others. Mahendra Singh Dhoni had not only had his effigy burnt but his house, under construction in Ranchi, vandalised. One set of spectators at the Queen's Park Oval held aloft a banner: "Last warning to Team India: Reach Barbados or stay forever in Trinidad."

On a day when the world of cricket was still reeling from the shock of losing Bob Woolmer, the ugly hype provided a rude contrast to the sentiment that this was nothing, absolutely nothing, but a game of leather and willow.

India started the day needing the big win would take them closer to qualifying for the Super Eight stage. A loss would have been disappointing; not the end of the world, not a national disaster but a cricketing disappointment. They responded to the challenge in style. Inserted under leaden skies, they paced their innings well, not committing the blunder of going for too many shots too early yet seizing on the loose deliveries. They realised that every ball can't be hit outside the ground and pinched singles at every opportunity.

The long-running Virender Sehwag issue showed signs of resolution. He was dropped one spot down the order but effectively opened, walking in as early as the second over. He wafted initially and blasted later. He didn't have to contend with any deliveries jagging back in - Bermuda's gentle medium-pacers hoped for swing rather than seam - and his hand-eye co-ordination was soon to the fore. He was soon spanking fours through the off side. Sehwag in the mood can make military medium, and honest attempts at spin, look extremely ordinary.

There was another demotion in the batting line-up. Only three of Sachin Tendulkar's 372 innings have come at No.6 - he last walked in at that position in November 1993 (he's batted at No.7 once but that was way back in April 1990). But his 29-ball 57 showed exactly what India have been missing for a few months.



The long-running Virender Sehwag issue showed signs of resolution © AFP

It's been a while since somebody has walked in at the start of the 40th over and finish at close to two runs a ball. He seemed to know exactly what to do: tapping the gaps at the start of the over, launching sixes effortlessly, sweeping past short fine leg, reverse-sweeping past short third man, flicking, jabbing, whipping. Yuvraj Singh's 83 was the more murderous but for tact and effortlessness Tendulkar was, well, vintage Tendulkar.

Sourav Ganguly hasn't made a hundred for four years - his last century came on March 20, 2003 against Kenya in the previous World Cup semi-final. But that isn't a problem because he's managed five half-centuries in his seven innings since his return to ODIs. Today's was a cautious knock but India needed someone to play anchor and he did the job. His innings contained 70 dots but finished with a strike-rate of 78. It was probably the least entertaining of the half-centuries but someone needs to go the grafting as well.

India's bowlers mopped up the job convincingly, ensuring that India's victory margin was bigger than Sri Lanka's was against the same team. Anil Kumble, chosen as the lone spinner for the match, tormented the leaden-footed batsmen while Ajit Agarkar and co. mopped up the rest.

The sole negative was Robin Uthappa's second consecutive failure. Bowlers must have figured out the equation by now: teasing delivery outside off + ball moving away = ambitious poke + edge behind the wicket. Uthappa, like Sehwag, must get through the early phase and curb his aggression when the ball is seaming a bit. If he can manage that, India wouldn't have to worry about run-rates and other peripherals.

Nothing major should be read from this effort - this was a match against a side filled with amateurs. It was an expected win and nobody in their right minds should even mention it in any other breath. Don't be surprised if you see posters tomorrow screaming, 'India in line for World Cup'. In a country of extremes, expect nothing less.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo