England succumbed to Minnow Flu on Friday, while Australia slipped up on Saturday against a team that were once titans but are now prone to playing like pygmies. There would have been more than a few nervous Indian fans ahead of the game against Bangladesh at Trent Bridge, with memories flashing back to a Port-of-Spain afternoon when India were pushed towards the exit of the 50-over World Cup. This though is a very different Indian team, enjoying a remarkable run of success, and there was no element of complacency in their approach to this game.
The media, increasingly becoming a tawdry joke with its unprofessional and at times disgusting scandal-sheet approach to news, had tried to cause a stir in the build-up with talk of a rift within the team, and the players reacted in the best possible way with a comfortable 25-run win. There are still areas to improve, but the manner in which they dug themselves out of a couple of small holes was once again testament to the big-match temperament that the Indian Premier League has helped many of these players to develop.
Pragyan Ojha took 4 for 21 on his debut, but the real game-clincher was an innings of 41 from just 18 balls by Yuvraj Singh. India were heading for a total around 150 when Yuvraj lashed out at Naeem Islam and Rubel Hossain, and he might well be worth a promotion in the next game. MS Dhoni sent himself in at No.3 today, but with Suresh Raina and Yuvraj in such devastating form, it makes sense for the captain to drop down the order once the Super Eight starts.
Gautam Gambhir managed a patchy half-century, but the early impetus was almost all courtesy Rohit Sharma, who hits the ball in dreamy slow motion. The form that he’s in, it might make sense for Virender Sehwag to be kept back, or for Gambhir to drop down to No.3. While other teams struggle to get a menacing top order together, India’s problem seems to be one of plenty.
The new-ball bowling needs some work though. Neither Zaheer Khan, returning from injury, nor Irfan Pathan looked especially sharp, and on pitches with pace and bounce, it’s surely better for Ishant Sharma to take the new ball and bowl out. The one thing he isn’t particularly good at is death-overs bowling, a fact that Islam illustrated with two huge swipes for six.
It was bitterly cold at Trent Bridge, but even at a venue known to assist the pace bowlers, it was India’s spinners that turned the match their way. Ojha and Harbhajan Singh will continue to tease and torment batsmen, while Yusuf Pathan will be the floater, often used to bowl during the Power Play as he was today. He did the job too, sending back the dangerous Tamim Iqbal after Bangladesh had enjoyed a flying start.
A 7-out-of-10 performance from the defending champions, who now have a relatively easier game against Ireland to look forward to. After all the talk of a Super Eight group of death involving Australia, South Africa and England, it suddenly appears as though India’s path to the last four might not so thorny after all. As for Bangladesh, they will be back, with brio and enthusiasm. Expect an upset or two if they reach the Super Eight.