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June 6, 2009
To succeed in the Twenty20 format a team needs players capable of breaking games, performers with the skill to grab momentum away from opponents in a single over. It's why India are a quality side in the shortest format. Every player in the XI against Bangladesh was capable of a match-winning display, a premise best supported by their most unheralded and least experienced player on the field, the debutant left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha, who short-circuited the chase and ended the contest at Trent Bridge.
Ojha's poise in trying conditions disguised his inexperience. Apart from having to make an international debut in a World Cup opener, the Nottingham weather was unhelpful. It had rained all morning and into the afternoon, the sky remained overcast and temperatures were below 15C when India were bowling, leaving the spinner's fingers cold and stiff.
He later said that bowling during Deccan Chargers' victorious IPL campaign in South Africa during the winter had helped him cope with the conditions. The experience gained by bowling successfully to quality international batsmen had increased his confidence and helped him back himself. A stint with Slaithwaite in the Huddersfield league a couple of years ago had also prepared Ojha for English conditions.
He came on in the ninth over, with Bangladesh on 72 for 2, and took two wickets in the space of five balls. He varied his pace, flighted the ball, and thrived in conditions that appeared more suited for fast bowling. His scalps were Bangladesh's in-form players - Shakib Al Hasan, Twenty20's leading allrounder, and Junaid Siddique, who had raced to 41 off 21 balls.
While Ojha sealed the game for India with the ball, Yuvraj Singh took it away from Bangladesh with the bat. India were going through a phase that their captain termed "below-par". They had scored no boundaries between overs six and 10 and both well-set batsman, MS Dhoni and Gautam Gambhir, were struggling to find gaps. Enter Yuvraj who dispatched four balls over the leg-side boundary during an innings of 41 off 18. And even after Gambhir, Yuvraj and Raina fell quickly, Irfan Pathan hit his first two balls for a six and a four to end the innings with a flourish.
India's victory by 25 runs was the first result in the World Twenty20 that conformed to expectations, after the Netherlands shocking England, New Zealand's nervous moments in a rain-shortened match against Scotland, and West Indies' thrashing of Australia. The two key performers highlighted the difference between the champions and the defeated sides so far.
England lacked a power player in the middle and lower order against the Netherlands and wasted a magnificent start provided by their openers. India's top six, on the other hand, are renowned strikers of the ball and their No. 7, Harbhajan Singh, can clout it as well. It's what makes India such a tough side, according to Bangladesh coach Jamie Siddons.
"They are powerful. They keep coming at you, particularly the firepower with the bat," he said. "You get a few wickets then Yuvraj blasts a few sixes. You get to the last over and there's another guy who can hit sixes."
Australia bowlers had no answer to the onslaught from Chris Gayle and Andre Fletcher at The Oval. Theirs was a one dimensional, all-pace attack and the only slow-bowling options, in the absence of Andrew Symonds, were part-timers David Hussey and Michael Clarke. Ricky Ponting had few options to choose from.
Dhoni, on the other hand, had plenty. His new-ball bowlers, Zaheer khan and Irfan, went for 20 in the first two overs and so he turned to Yusuf Pathan's offspin. The move paid off, with Yusuf striking with his third ball. Dhoni said the abundance of options - three spinners - allowed him to think out of the box rather than simply persist with the fast bowlers.
India's victory has sealed their place in the next round. Their opponents in the Super Eights will be more skilled than Bangladesh but out of all the teams on show so far, India have ticked the most boxes.