India needs to iron out batting creases

Jaideep Ghosh

Virta_rainaIt is a pretty apt reflection of the World Cup and its format that things have been pretty silent in Australia and New Zealand for the past couple of days.

The fire and brimstone of the clash between the joint hosts has gone. Even the close matches of the first couple of weeks seem to have ended, as the bigger teams reflect the real picture of the gap between them and the associates.

It is the silence that can lead to a little complacency and lethargy. As India may just feel against the West Indies at Perth.

While Virat Kohli did his bit to keep things alive by openly abusing a journalist during practice on Tuesday, there must be a little bit of a subconscious tendency to take the foot off the pedal when it comes to the real match.

After all, India have beaten off anything thrown at them, with contemptuous ease, Their biggest test in Group B was supposed to come from South Africa and they tossed it aside without much ado.

So the match with the West Indies won’t be worrying them. Nothing seems to worry them in the field at present. But if there is any team that can trip up any of the big names, it is the West Indies.

Caribbean cricket is a far cry of when they were feared. Gone are the days of Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding, Joel Garner or even current coach Curtly Ambrose with the ball. Or the fear of having to deal with Gordon Greenidge, Viv Richards or Brian Lara. But there is still a Chris Gayle. Or even a Marlon Samuels. Or a Jerome Taylor, for that matter.

Perth was, for decades, the fastest pitch anywhere in the world and though the era of drop-down pitches etc. would have affected the WACA square as much as any, the basic nature of the track would still be the same.

So when the Indians go down to bat against the West Indies, they would be well served to be a little careful of the fast stuff, particularly Taylor.

The 30-year-old Jamaican was on fire when the West Indies met Pakistan and, with some help from skipper Jason Holder, reduced the Pakistanis to 1-4, effectively ending the match.

Taylor has found his second wind after some years in the wilderness. So much so that he has kept Kemar Roach out of action. And Roach was rated as the better bowler.

India have shown few weaknesses in the three matches they have played so far and given the fact that they only have Ireland and Zimbabwe to face after the West Indies; they couldn’t be blamed if they thought they were done and dusted in the group.

But one little chink needs to be addressed immediately. For all the batting prowess shown by a rejuvenated Shikhar Dhawan or Kohli, or Ajinkya Rahane, India have not been able to accelerate at all during the last five overs, a spot where other sides have gone ballistic.

Against both Pakistan and South Africa, India fell well short of the even the most pessimistic of anticipated scores by a good 30-40 runs.

Now, this was fine in the league stages, especially since the Indian bowlers were way better than they were anticipated to be, and walked over Pakistan and South Africa.

But when things go to the knockout stage, things will change. In the quarter-finals, India may well end up facing Bangladesh, or even England. While neither team seems at present to have the wherewithal to stop the Indian juggernaut, it’s still a knockout game. Ten runs can make a huge difference.

So essentially, this is India’s last real chance to iron out the issues they have in their batting. Ireland or Zimbabwe don’t have the attack which can test the Indian batting as much as the West Indies.

Especially for Suresh Raina and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, it will be vital to get some crucial time in the middle. Raina has got some runs but doesn’t look too convincing. Dhoni has passed through since India are winning. But he hasn’t looked like half the finisher he normally is.

Then there is Rohit Sharma at the top of the innings. He really is on an eternal roller-coaster ride in terms of runs scored.

Also, you never know which side of the bed Gayle will get up from on Friday. He is the most mercurial player in international cricket. He can get out first ball. Or he can score 215.

There are others too. Samuels can be infuriatingly slow and self-obsessed, but he is dangerous. Players like Andre Russell or Darren Sammy can create havoc in the death overs.

So if India were to lose any match in this World Cup, they would rather lose one now than in the knockout. However, there is also the league table to top.

South Africa has scored 400-plus in two consecutive matches, and barring the aberration against India, they are in superb shape. Any slip on India’s part will immediately hand the top spot over to them.

So it would serve India and the likes of Kohli well to focus on the job at hand instead of getting into unnecessary distractions. They have done well so far and there is no reason whatsoever to assume that they cannot go all the way.

But it isn’t always going to be a walk in the park. So play every match like it’s your last. That’s the only sure way to success.