One-Day Mataram

Deconstructing the gentleman's game

Bold moves can help India win

When India played their first match in the ICC Champions Trophy 2006, the tournament was just beginning (minnow matches notwithstanding). After defeating a flat English side, it's been a long break for the Indians. In the meanwhile, there has been plenty of action in the tournament. Sri Lanka, one of the pre-tournament favourites, is out after suffering defeats at the hands to two teams in green... Pakistan and South Africa. England is all but out. Eternal darkhorses, New Zealand, have qualified for the semi-final. Pakistan have shown that they can be stunning one day and pedestrian on another! And Australia have shown that they too possess a vulnerable underbelly. Chemicals have been used on the pitch and the outfield, with the sanction of ICC. While Pakistani speedsters have been hauled up for using chemicals of a different kind!

Now as India is about to take on a buoyant West Indies team (albeit with doubts over Lara's participation in the match), an exciting contest is on the cards. Both teams will be trying to go for a kill as a win in this match will ensure a semi-final berth. But looking at the situation in Group A, India should treat this as a must-win match if they have to qualify for the next round. A loss against WI will not end their chances of making it to the semi-finals, but will create a situation wherein they will face Australia in their last group match with both teams looking for a win to qualify. And a cornered Australian side is not an attractive proposition, to put it mildly! West Indies can afford to lose today's match because they face England next and given the form and class of this English ODI side, WI would not be unduly worried! But of course, both India and WI would like to settle matters today itself!

Rahul Dravid has gone on record to advise the Motera curator against keeping grass on the pitch. And I wonder why! With dew playing a critical role in these matches, spinners are rendered impotent in any case. So conventional wisdom (of grass-less pitches to aid Indian spinners) should not hold true. However, I am sure that Dravid and Chappell would have some plan in mind. That said, I would love to see the Indians bat first today. The batsmen are not playing at their best and it makes sense to give them the benefit of playing without the pressures of a chase. Also, batting on a hard pitch unspoilt by foot or ball marks... alongwith batting in natural light should help batsmen. And if the captain and coach are worried about the dew, let them look at what South Africa and New Zealand did in their respective matches. Moreover, I am surprised at the general trend of holding spinners back until the powerplay overs are out of the way. With the dew playing a key role in negating the spinners' effectiveness, I am bemused by the fact that captains have held back class spinners. If you have a spinner like Muralitharan or Harbhajan or Vettori in your team, use him in the first 20 overs when the ball is dry and hard. Surely, spinners of this class will be able to handle aggressive batsmen. And in any case, frontline batsmen are more accustomed to pace bowling than spin. So using spinners within the powerplay overs is a risk worth taking... especially in the second innings of the match. I am hoping Dravid uses such unconventional and bold ideas if he has to bowl last.

As far as team set-up is concerned, I would stick to the same side that beat England. Bringing in RP Singh at the expense of Powar may prove costly since without helpful (read swinging) conditions, RP looks a bit ordinary. Moreover, Powar is a much more accomplished batsman than RP.

But more than anything else, the Indian batsmen have to fire today. Relying on the bowlers alone is a strategy fraught with danger. The Sehwags and the Dravids of the Indian team have to come to the party tonight! Frankly... there's isn't much choice. As an ad for a motorcycle says... "It's now or never!!"

Update: Ahaa! ... Indians will bat first after all! Though this decision was made for them after West Indies elected to bowl first.

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