Friday, March 25, 2011

2011 World Cup: When greatness beckons Dhoni’s India

By John Cheeran
Greatness beckons Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his men. When it mattered, India came up with a fine team effort to knock the faltering world champions Australia from their unsteady pedestal. From being banished from the first round of the 2007 World Cup, India, under Dhoni’s leadership, has come a long way.
In 1996, too, played at home, India had carved out a confident victory in the quarterfinal. However, that quarterfinal will now be played when India clashes with Pakistan in Mohali in what is 2011 semifinal. Few would now like to recall what happened in the semifinal against Sri Lanka in 1996. Banish all negative thoughts, say shrinks.
This has been an interesting World Cup so far for India and Indians. Dhoni, as a captain and player, and his men hardly inspired confidence in the group stage except against the West Indians, in their last group match. They stuttered against Ireland, the Netherlands, Bangladesh, England and South Africa.
Well, the important point was that they lost only one game -- against South Africa -- though they came quite close to that against the now-hot, now-cold England.
No one can now accuse India that they are over dependent on their talisman, Sachin Tendulkar. Yes, Tendulkar is in great form. He has hit two brilliant centuries but none in a winning cause and to say this would be churlish. It was not Tendulkar’s fault that the rest of the batsmen couldn’t contribute enough in those two matches to seal the victory. But equally what matters is that whenever India won there were other men working hard to ensure the winning runs. And that augurs well for India not just in the World Cup but for the coming days as well.
Hopes are ballooning to new heights now all across this vast, passionate but broiling land. Heat is on. Can India defeat their neighbours and intense rivals Pakistan in the semifinal to be played on March 30? A lot many people said India’s match against Australia in the quarterfinal was the final played two matches early. That is preposterous. The real turner, the game-changer is only at hand. No match between India and Pakistan could be watched without keeping a dose of aspirin at hand. The heart attack could come at any moment.
Many are taking refuge in the fact that India has never lost a match against Pakistan in the World Cups. Three of those wins came during the campaign of Mohammad Azharuddin, who knew how to spread his butter and bets. In 1992, when Imran Khan lifted the World Cup we could console ourselves by replaying the winning moments against Pakistan in the group stage. In 1996, India’s disappointments were washed away in the slipstream of the quarterfinal victory against Pakistan in Bangalore. In 1999, in the backdrop of Kargil skirmish, Azharuddin’s Indians were feted for defeating Pakistan yet again, though Pakistan went on to play Australia in the final. There is no final bigger than the clash against Pakistan. In 2003, Sourav Ganguly’s decision to bowl first in the final against Australia was pardoned since India had beaten Pakistan in the early stage.
All these are comforting thoughts. In a surcharged atmosphere in Mohali, India could stop the band of mercenaries from Pakistan, led by the wild and wily Shahid Afridi. Pakistan the country would be on the verge of an implosion but despite almost being a cricketing outcast, that team has been justifying its right to play dazzling and exasperating cricket. The absence of star players has not stopped Afridi’s men from being inventive, divisive and united on the field.
By applying the right kind of heat, the solid Pakistan can be liquefied. India outclassed an Australia in decline by playing to its strength, spin. Ricky Ponting, despite a self-flagellating century, lost the match to India by investing his faith in his pace trio of Brett Lee, Shaun Tait and Mitchell Johnson, the Kangaroo hallmark in the post-Shane Warne era.
Has Dhoni sorted out his bowling worries? To ask R Ashwin to open bowling could prove suicidal against the fleet-footed Pakistanis. How would Indian spinners fare when confronted by the cheeky Pakistanis? Is there a spinner in the Indian ranks with the effectiveness of Afridi, who has taken 21 wickets in the tournament so far?
Virender Sehwag and Tendulkar are capable of hanging Pakistani spinners from the outside edge of their bats. But one cannot be blind to the reality that Pakistan boasts of a better bowling attack.
Someone – fate, God or the betting syndicate -- has already decided who will win this World Cup. All of us – including Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka, are waiting to find out which is that side. The side that has much more than a Tendulkar, prayer mats and beads. You bet.

No comments:

John Cheeran at Blogged