Pretty as you please is how one can best describe India’s performance against the South Africans at St Lucia last night. The game sent out strong signals that the Indians would be a handful at the T20 World Cup and so might be the case with the Aussies who outclassed Pakistan despite losing five wickets in an unforgettable last over.
The two sub-continental neighbours made for an excellent study in contrast. Dhoni seemed to know, as always, what he needed to do and more importantly, what he was doing. Conversely, Afridi appeared rather clueless especially when the Aussies were batting. The manner in which the Pakistani captain handled his bowling resources reflected a lack of clarity of thought, much less planning.
Raina’s century, frankly, has been a long time coming and no surprises there given his talent and potential. He handled the short stuff with confidence and as usual, his timing and footwork was spot on, especially after he got his eye in. In fact, he carried his IPL form into the game and was unstoppable.
After Raina’s blitzkrieg, Dhoni took over and preyed upon South African well-known weakness against spin bowling. Although the spinners went for a few, they caused some uncertainty in the South African ranks and the seamers picked off the wickets backed by some quality fielding.
Overall, there was a lot of assurance and confidence in the Indian team, signs that other teams would not have missed. Yet, I feel that the Indians would be better off without leg-spinner Chawla and when Zaheer returns, the bowling attack would be that much more potent when he bowls in harness with Nehra and Praveen Kumar.
Probably, the slowness of the pitch would have influenced team selection though I suspect, Dhoni preferred to give Zaheer a break so as to keep him fresh for the Super Eights. Whatever, it ultimately did not make much of a difference to the result and the Indians were far too superior to the Proteas whose batsmen, barring Kallis, failed to fire.
T20 World Cup
India’s win against Afghanistan on Saturday is hardly worth commenting upon, for the game was too one-sided. The Afghan team, for all the romance of coming from a strife-torn country, is not yet ready to be playing at this level. The Indians did not waste time in showing Afghans their place in the cricketing pecking order.
As for Pakistan, they have a long way to go if they hope to retain the crown that they won last year. In the past 12 months, the team has undergone dramatic chances while just about surviving various controversies that have been needless distraction to a very talented bunch of cricketers who on their day can yet beat the best. They were trifle fortunate to come through against Bangladesh in their opening game that the latter could have won with better effort.
Although I fancied Pakistan to reach the final, I will have to do a rethink on that in the light of their drubbing against the Aussies who seemed to have come together as a very explosive unit. I get the feeling that the Aussies have finally come to grips with the T20 format and have the talent and the specialists to do the job for them. Against Pakistan, they looked every inch a champion side, notwithstanding the bizarre final over.
A total of 20 wickets falling in a T20 game is a rarity, but that precisely was the case last night. Indeed, it was a sight to watch the procession of Australian batsmen in the 20th over, but ultimately, Pakistan paid the price for some atrocious fielding and of course, captaincy.
The performance of Sri Lanka was rather disappointing against the Kiwis, but they have the safety net in the form of the tournament structure that gives every team a second chance to make up for a loss. I thought that the intensity was missing in the Sri Lankan squad while Vettori did a fine job of masterminding a New Zealand win.
The West Indies nearly came apart against Ireland whose inexperience stood out while chasing an eminently gettable target. If anything, the Windies need to pull up their socks and tonight’s game against England, playing their first game, will be a clear indicator of their chances.
Of course, early days yet in the tournament to form firm opinions, but for India, their sternest test will be in the Super Eights where they are in the “group of death” along with Australia (likely), Sri Lanka (assuming they beat Zimbabwe) and the West Indies.
Meanwhile, the Indians have the luxury of a four-day break as they head to Bridgetown, Barbados, for a possible game against the Aussies on Friday in the Super Eights. The relaxed schedule is a welcome change from the frenetic pace of the IPL!