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Despite two wins, fifth bowler remains India’s concern in World Cup

Makarand Waingankar

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India's two victories at the World Cup were not error free.

Toss played a crucial role in shaping the India-Australia matches outcome. When India skipper Virat Kohli won the toss he had no hesitation to bat, knowing full well the onerous task of negotiating the dangerous Mitchell Starc.

Starc swings the ball both ways and he is deceptively quick. The tall left armer is also able to extract steep bounce from the wicket. Yet under the clear blue sky at The Oval, none of that happened.

The ball neither swung nor cut, forcing Starc to immediately opt for his Plan B of bowling back of length. When a bowler bowls back of length then he sends out a message of containment rather than attack.

Both Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma took time to assert their dominance. They were not overtly aggressive but there was intent in their approach.

They slowly build up a partnership by rotating the strike. As soon as the Indian openers realised that the pitch was tailor made for batting, they shifted gears swiftly.

Virat Kohli (left) and Shikhar Dhawan forged a solid partnership in India’s win against Australia.

In limited over cricket, particularly at the World Cup, you have to assess the situation of the match quickly and act accordingly. Youhave to put pressure on bowlers because on such run-oriented tracks, anything less than 330 is easily chaseable.

In the middle overs, Indian batsmen ran like a hare, which puts the Aussies under pressure. Yet they saved atleast 25 runs, which gave them a slim chance of chasing down a huge total.

India’s vastly improved running between the wickets is due to the team management’s insistence on attaining supreme fitness levels. When the Yo-Yo test was made mandatory, criticism poured in from all quarters.

But India’s two victories have proved that its introduction has been a game changer for Indian cricket.

After a solid opening stand, Virat Kohli and Dhawan batted freely. Their task was made easier by the inconsistent Adam Zampa, who failed to strike up any rhythm, spraying the ball all over.

As the great EAS Prasanna once famously said: “Length is mandatory, line is optional.”

Modern bowlers tend to experiment too much. Some Australian bowlers also tried too many things and went for runs on a batting-friendly pitch.

The five-time world champions have a strong batting unit, studded with several all-rounders, and began well during their run chase. They benefitted from David Warner’s lucky reprieve when the ‘zing’ bails failed to be dislodged even after the ball hit the stumps.

This is the fifth time these electronic bails haven’t been dislodged on impact. It is quickly becoming a joke. The ICC must discuss this issue ASAP.

The ‘Zing’ bails have become a joke at the World Cup.

Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s disciplined bowling kept the Aussies under leash. Kumar, primarily a swing bowler, bowled cunningly, and ensured that Warner is kept quiet. They cramped Warner of width.

India might have won two matches. But India’s fifth bowling option remains their biggest worry. Hardik Pandya’s medium pace and Kedar Jadhav’s slow spin form India’s fifth bowling option.

On flat pitches, if India lose the toss and the bats opts to bat, they would score heavily of these 10 overs.

India’s bowling coach Bharat Arun has to work overtime on Pandya, who has no control over line and length.

Pandya has the mentality of a fast bowler but doesn’t have the pace of one. So Arun has to instill more discipline within Pandya, India’s preferred third medium pacer.

India can’t afford Pandya to go for runs because scoring anything over 300 on English pitches won’t be a fancied task.

The spinners were not at the top of their game against Australia. Yuzvendra Chahal bowled a leg stump line to left hander Usman Khawaja. As is common knowledge, any left hander loves to sweep and bowling a leg stump line was providing fodder to Khawaja.

All-rounder Hardik Pandya’s bowling has left a lot to be desired.

But Kohli kept his cool and didn’t tinker much with Chahal’s line of attack. One important aspect of this Indian team is that they are quietly effective.

They control the game. They stick to their game plan and every member of the team are aware of their roles. This approach has paid dividends so far.

Kohli also endeared himself when he requested the Indian crowd not to boo Steve Smith for his ball tampering guilt, a mark of classic sportsmanship at international level.

Some experts call Kohli arrogant. But he is not arrogant but straight forward. He reminds me of former Australia captain Ian Chappell, who is not afraid to speak his mind and act accordingly.

Dr. Makarand is a cricket journalist for more than five decades contributing to Sportsweek, Sportstar, The Hindu and The Times of India. He did his PhD on the “History of Bombay cricket and its impact on Indian cricket”. He initiated the Talent Resource Development Wing (TRDW) for the BCCI to unearth talent from small towns. He was the CEO of the Baroda Cricket Association and consultant to KSCA.