Here are my thoughts on the India v England game.
First of all, what a match !! As an Indian fan, I have mixed feelings, sadness and anger that we could not defend 338 runs. But considering how well-placed England were after 40 overs, I am happy and relieved that we squeezed out one point from this match. And remember, it was not a minnow side that we were playing. England is one of the big teams in our group, along with SA and WI, so even before this match, there was a possibility that India could have lost this one.
But let us look at a few aspects of the game.
As expected, India put up another huge total. But they visibly relaxed after being about 320 for 4, and this cost them a few vital runs in the end. Also it gave England the momentum after they took 6 Indian wickets in the end and did not even India to bat out the 50 overs. This is the difference between India and the best teams from yesteryear like the Aussies under Steve Waugh and the West Indians under Clive Lloyd. When those teams used to have the opposition down and have their foot on the neck of the opponent, they would finish off the contest right there and not allow the opposition to stand up and fight. This Indian team is much better than the older Indian teams in terms of killer instinct and self-belief, as can be witnessed by the number of times they have come back to win from difficult situations, both in tests and ODIs. But they need to improve by about 5-10 percent in that aspect to get to the next level.
As I had predicted, Sachin was India's top scorer and played wonderfully well. But in my opinion, India are lacking boundary-hitting tailenders. Harbhajan and Zaheer can hit the ball and get some runs, but are not consistent enough in ODIs. In that aspect, England possess better tail-enders on paper and in the field.
What can I say about the bowling that we dont already know ? We knew that bowling was India's weak point, but a top team cannot concede 338 runs and hope to win the World Cup. The team selection was correct given the opposition and conditions. If we were to play this match tomorrow, I would again pick Chawla. But he had an off-day and performed well below expectations. Harbhajan bowled well, but did not attack enough. In fact, that was a flaw observed with the bowlers and mainly, Dhoni. Having 338 runs on the board and not attacking the opposition is inexcusable.
I backed the selection of Chawla to bowl the 49th over. He was a better selection compared to Yuvi and Yusuf, who were the other options. But he did not bowl well in that over. And in the final over, what was Munaf thinking when bowling length to a tail-ender ? You never, never bowl length balls to tail-enders, because those deliveries are the easiest to hit. A short ball, or a slower one, would have been ideal at that time. Good length and low full tosses are the worst deliveries to bowl at tail-enders.
One more point about the bowling. Strauss is a good batsman, but is limited in his stroke-play. He loves to cut and pull, and expects width or straight ones to hit to his favorite areas - square on the off side and to the leg side. But he is too much of a bottom-handed player, somewhat like Jayasuriya, and does not appear to possess a straight drive, on-drive or off-drive. So the ideal length to him would be very full, almost yorker-length. And of the 140-odd balls he played, the only full one he received was the one that he got out to. That really explains the lack of a thought process and plan from the Indian think tank in the bowling department.
Dhoni correctly said in the post match presentation, that there is not much we can do about the fielding as we are carrying quite a few slow movers in the team. But we knew this when the World Cup squad was selected, so we need to be smart and minimize the damage that could be caused by this. Again, that involves some planning from the coach and captain and setting fields for each opposition batsman so that the slow movers can be placed in positions where the batsmen dont hit the ball too much and having the good fielders where the ball will go often. in my opinion, the slow movers for India are Munaf, Zaheer, Harbhajan, Sehwag and Chawla. The good/safe fielders are Sachin, Gambhir, Yuvraj, Kohli and Yusuf.
In this match, Dhoni made a few basic mistakes in the captaincy department, so I would like to comment about those as well. He needs to understand that the fielders within the 30-yard circle are meant to stop the singles and they need to be placed so that they actually do that. Too often now, Indian captains have conceded easy singles by placing the inner-ring fielders too deep and that takes away the support for the bowlers.
The other mistake, in my opinion, was not opening with spin at one end. Dhoni had only two pacers at his disposal. If he opened with someone like Yusuf, it would have achieved at least two purposes. One, he would have had a pacer to bowl with till about 15 overs or so into the innings, and two, it would have denied the England openers pace on the ball, which they obviously enjoyed and got them off to a flying start. Here, by the time the England innings reached 10 overs, Dhoni had only 10 overs left of his two pacers. In today's cricket, particularly the shorter forms like ODIs and T20s, predictability is the one thing all teams should avoid.
I want to end the review of this game with a few stats that reflect the pathetic nature of the Indian bowling.
England scored at least one boundary in 27 out of the 50 overs. Out of these, a whopping 17 overs were non powerplay overs. And England scored 76 runs in overs 31 to 40, without any powerplays. Think about this last stat again. Overs 30 to 40 is the stage that is considered boring for the spectators because it is the time when the batting team consolidates for the final push. To allow the England batsmen to score 76 runs in that period, is appalling.
India's future in this World Cup
The next 2 games are against Ireland and Netherlands. These games could not have come at a better time for India. They have some serious thinking to do regarding the composition of their bowling attack. And in that context, it is very important for them to test out Ashish Nehra and Ashwin and see what they have to offer this team. Also they should try out Raina for the same reason. I would suggest resting Sachin or Sehwag (or one each) for the next 2 games and also resting Zaheer, since it is obvious that if something happened to Zaheer, that would mean the end of India's campaign in this world cup.
India should win the next 2 games, and also the one against the West Indies. Against SA, it would be a tough game, and the bowling and fielding need to improve drastically, otherwise they will just steamroll us.
Lets hear it from you guys now. Two relatively relaxing games are coming up for us Indian fans. So let us discuss about how India can improve, and what their chances are for the later games.
My next post will be before the India-Ireland game, so stay tuned.