By Veturi Srivatsa*
The talk in television studios is already about India’s semifinal opponents, hurdling over the quarterfinal against Bangladesh. That’s the kind of confidence Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s boys have instilled.
Just to jog the captain’s memory, the Bangladeshis might take him back to 2007 in the Caribbean. That was a World Cup wherein the Indians suffered performance paralysis and they could not get the better of either of their subcontinental neighbours, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, to crash out of the tournament at the preliminary stage itself.
To be fair to Bangladesh, they have harassed India quite a few times but rarely got the measure of their Big Brother.
As things stand India and New Zealand are the only teams to win their preliminary stage roundrobin without losing a match. If New Zealand came close to being beaten by Australia in a low-scoring match, the Indians were severely tested by the West Indies and Zimbabwe, though in the end they ran out comfortable winners.
India are playing Bangladesh at the hallowed Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in quarterfinal 2 on Thursday and on current form they should win that game. Likewise, New Zealand are expected to win their quarterfinal round at home to qualify to meet India in the semifinals.
Curiously, the other three quarterfinal matchups will be decided on Sunday after the matches between the West Indies-UAE and Ireland-Pakistan in Group B. Only in Group A have all four quarterfinalists been decided.
The confidence of Dhoni is such that he said in his post-match remarks that he would have liked Ravindra Jadeja to get a hit. This coming from a captain whose team crossed the line in the penultimate over after the Zimbabweans, or say their stand-in captain Brendan Taylor, posed quite a few questions raising the highest total against the reigning champions.
In the end, the Zimbabwean bowling firepower was not good enough to bring India down, though they rattled them.
Dhoni should be happy to have seen in a big partnership his blue-eyed boy Suresh Raina hit a match-winning hundred. The most inspiring part of the innings was the confidence level of the left-hander and his cricket thinking in pacing his innings.
Raina did show a streak of recklessness when he had a heave. He was on 47 and if Hamilton Masakadza had pouched the sitter at backward square-leg the going could have been much tougher for India. That apart, he showed a deft touch in dabbing and flicking the ball for boundaries. Maybe, seeing Dhoni at the other end, he had to curb his instincts.
There was a stage when the asking rate had gone to nine and half runs an over but the T-20 cricket made these high-risk rates meaningless when you have batters like Dhoni and Raina at the crease.
India ran into to an in-form Taylor who also had a hundred against Ireland in their last game and they will be up against another batsman who has back-to-back hundreds, Mohammed Mahmudullah Riyad.
Just like Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav and Mohit Sharma carried the new ball load with fire, Bangaldesh’s two lively pacemen Rubel Hossain and Taskin Ahmed are making experts to sit up and take note of them.
Bangladesh have Shakib Al Hasan, for quite some time ICC’s top-ranked all-rounder, to handle the spin like Ravinchandran Ashwin does for India.
Don’t forget when Bangladesh beat India only the second time at the 2007 World Cup, Mushfiqur Rahim and Tamim Iqbal were brash youngsters and today they are the most experienced along with Shakib.
If India got to the target of 288 set by Zimbabwe with eight balls to spare, Bangaldesh asked New Zealand to score 289 which the Black Caps made it with seven balls remaining.
So, both the unbeaten teams in the tournament were stretched just before they got to the business end and that can give the unfancied quarter-finalists a big hope.
The big question: Is India’s ability to turn thing around even from desperate sitations that got them victory or is it Zimbabwe’s lack of weaponry to fight. Bit of both, perhaps.
The top-order of batting is fulfilling every wish of Dhoni. In more than one match they returned with not much on the board to test the middle and lower order.
India can satisfactorily look at their unbeaten run. A critical factor is that they have bowled their opposition out in all six matches. What’s more, like all major teams in world cricket, they did it with their fast bowlers showing up. Shami, Yadav and Mohit took three wickets each against Zimbabwe, coming back strongly in the last 10 overs, last six wickets falling for 52 runs.
With India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in the last eight and Pakistan looking good to join them, there is balance in world cricket with the subcontinental teams proving that they are among the best. In soccer parlance, it is like Europe and Latin America sharing the spoils.
(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected])