Despite loss, Team India are peaking at the right time

Source : SIFY
Author : SIFY
Last Updated: Wed, Feb 16th, 2011, 12:56:53hrs
Despite loss, Team India are peaking at the right time
Sunil Rajguru

The recently concluded India-South Africa ODI series threw up an interesting contradiction. This was probably the worst performance by the Indian top- and middle-order in recent times.

A look at how the top half performed in the five ODIs: 95-5, 169-5, 93-5, 123-5 and 60-5. One struggles to recollect such bad mid-innings collapses throughout any series.

Despite this, we came out with our best ODI performance on South African soil. It was a 2-3 instead of a 0-5 that would usually come out of the loss of such wickets early on in the innings.

Also See: India lose, inspite of Yusuf's heroics

That happened thanks to some good bowling, late-order hitting and some South African choking.

But the most important thing was the fight that the Indian team showed in the final match. South Africa lost their last five wickets in 11 balls while India put up a breathtaking 105 runs for the ninth wicket. Many a South African heartbeat must have gone up during that period.

Indian fans should take heart from the fact that the last time South Africa beat us in any kind of bilateral series (Tests and ODI combined) was in November 2006. Getting beaten by a team of such quality after four years isn't that bad!

After matches against Australia, the India-South Africa matches are the most intense now.

Yusuf comes of age at last

Yusuf Pathan had always shown promise.

There were the breathtaking innings in the IPL, but, for a long time, there wasn't anything substantial at the international arena.

But what a time to come to the party! On the eve of a World Cup! Three of his last four knocks have been dazzling.

Against New Zealand in December, he smashed a blistering ton in 79 balls, helping India chase down 316 despite being 188-5 at one stage.

In the third ODI against the Proteas (he was left out of the first two), he hit a match-winning 59 off 50 on a pitch where the other batsmen struggled to get anywhere near a run a ball.

But he was an even bigger revelation in the fifth ODI, bettering his own fastest century record, raising the milestone in a mere 68 balls. Thanks to his eight sixes, the final scoreline read: South Africa 250/9, India 234/10. A far cry from the 119-8 we were at one stage!

Yusuf is also a handy bowler.

It sure looks like Suresh Raina will not make it to the playing XI in the World Cup now.

The return of the big three

The good news is that Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir are back for next month's World Cup.

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Add Virat Kohli (who was our leading run-getter in the ODI series) to the list and our batting looks good again.

One hopes that this will make the recent top-order collapses a thing of the past. If the troika comes good, then handy late-order hitting by MS Dhoni, Yusuf and Harbhajan Singh could make us a formidable side.

While Yuvraj Singh's form has been indifferent, he did score half-centuries against Australia in the only ODI we won against them in October last and one again in the second ODI of the South Africa series, which we also won.

His part-time bowling has also been a revelation. Opposition batsman will find him quite a handful on Indian pitches.

Our frontline bowlers Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh look good and captain Dhoni has plenty of fifth-bowler options.

India has also come up with one of their best fielding performances in the recently concluded series.

All in all, it wouldn't be unfair to say that we are peaking at the right time.

A team in form

India is ranked Number 2 in ODIs. That's a result of a string of consistent performances after the debacle at the last World Cup.

In fact, India has won eight of their last 10 ODI series' played on home soil. Both the series which we lost were to Australia.

The last time we lost on home soil to any other team was against Pakistan way back in April 2005.

If there's any time to break the World Cup home soil jinx, it is now!

The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger.