India sound ominous warning

India, the world champions of the Twenty20 format, made an emphatic statement against their fellow finallists from 2007, brushing aside Pakistan by nine wickets at The Oval

Rohit Sharma hooks, India v Pakistan, ICC World Twenty20 warm-up match, The Oval, June 3, 2009

Rohit Sharma goes for a hook  •  Associated Press

The world champions of the Twenty20 format made an emphatic statement against their fellow finalists from 2007, brushing aside Pakistan by nine wickets at The Oval. In an ominous sign for the competition, India were not at their strongest - Virender Sehwag and Zaheer Khan are still carrying shoulder injuries - yet still produced an imperious performance before a raucous south London crowd.
Rohit Sharma slotted so seamlessly into the opener's role that India might be tempted to continue with him at the top even when Sehwag returns to the side. Rohit had success opening against New Zealand as well, smacking 36 off 20 balls, and on Wednseday he managed one better, staying the distance with a match-winning 53-ball 80.
Rohit has taken to the role of opener with relish, however the captain, MS Dhoni, remained non-committal as to whether he would be retained at the top of the order when Sehwag makes his return.
"Frankly speaking I don't know [whether Sehwag will bat in the middle]," Dhoni said. "I think it's always better to have a problem of plenty than having nobody to fill in the space. It's good to have Rohit Sharma in form. As of now I don't know what will happen when it comes to the batting order."
Rohit was a key member in Deccan Chargers' triumphant IPL campaign, and was one of that tournament's most consistent performers. But unlike in England, where he is being relied upon to lead the Indian innings, Rohit earned the reputation as one of the IPL's better finishers, coming in at No. 5 for Deccan to accelerate scoring rates and polish off a run-chases. His versatility was on show on Wednesday, displaying both poise and power as he pierced gaps in the infield while seldom risking the airborne route.
"We discussed it with him [Rohit] during the practice sessions and he was quite keen," Dhoni said of the decision to elevate Rohit in the batting order. "When you ask a guy, you always watch for his response, how quick it is and whether he has thought twice about it or not. Rohit was very keen on opening and with Viru [Sehwag] injured, he was the best option available. Rohit always has time, even when he plays quickest bowlers he has got the time and talent. Gary also played a part in the decision."
Rohit's innings, and Gambhir's supporting half-century, denied the match of an exciting finish that would have done justice to the feverish atmosphere at The Oval. The ICC wanted everyone to 'Catch the Spirit' and it was impossible not to. Celebrations were adrenalin-filled and every ball - be it dot, six or out - was cheered by an emotionally-charged full house, evenly divided in support between the teams. This was more than a warm-up game.
The players felt the same way, with India shelving all thoughts of experimentation. Dhoni said the bowlers had attempted a back-of-a-length approach in the previous game but merely tried to stick to basics today. "We were not experimenting," Dhoni said. "An India-Pakistan game, even though it's a warm-up, is a tough game to play. We were looking to do the basics, bowl yorkers."
One bowler who wasn't looking to bowl yorkers was Ishant Sharma, and he turned the game India's way. Pakistan had raced to 45 after four overs when Ishant came on and completed a rare double-wicket maiden, which included a run-out, to wrestle back the momentum. Ishant bowled the fifth, 14th and 17th overs and finished with 3 for 11. Dhoni said that he was looking to use Ishant during the middle overs, when he could bowl to his strengths.
"It's about how you want to use him. More often than not he has been used with the new ball while the field restrictions are on and later on in the slog," Dhoni said. "I feel it's important to use him in the middle overs when batsmen are not really looking to go after the bowlers, so he doesn't have to bowl those yorkers. He can then bowl to his strengths; he's the kind of bowler who likes to hit the deck hard."
Twenty20 victory margins are rarely more emphatic than nine wickets and 18 balls to spare and Dhoni said that it would be "tough to replicate the performance". Perhaps it was fitting, though, for he felt that today's crowd at The Oval would also be the best the tournament gets.

George Binoy is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo