So India lost to Bangladesh and Pakistan to Ireland. India batted way below par at the two ends of their innings and Pakistan batsmen succumbed to Irish persistence in not allowing them to score. Indian bowlers were too wayward to defend 191 and Pakistan bowlers didn’t have enough to defend. India are still hoping for two wins and some winners’ luck to qualify for the next round but Pakistan are out of the world’s biggest cricket tournament by the 5th day.
We can go on and on elaborating on the surprise results of the two 17th March games in this fashion. But are we giving credit where it is due? Probably not. Yes those results were surprises, but they were not upsets in the true sense of the word. An 'upset', so far as history of such matches go, is a loss that resulted mainly (sometimes solely) from the big team playing badly. I'm not sure that was the case yesterday either at Trinidad or at Jamaica (unless we have reports of post-match upsets of a visceral kind in the Pak camp).
Bangladesh and Ireland in this World Cup
Unlike other wins of Bangladesh in other tournaments and series involving big teams these wins are no one-off shows. Their matured game and that warm up result against New Zealand indicate otherwise. Ditto for the Irish. In fact the latter deserve a bigger applause for making full use of their county exposure to make up for lack of matches against international sides.
I gladly take back the words from an earlier post of mine. Ireland and Bangla were not doing too much too soon by surprising big teams in warm up matches. They were merely serving up warnings. To then come into the World Cup and live up to the growing expectations against teams that were already aware of their shock value speaks of self-belief, meticulous game planning and talent in the ranks.
The Bangladesh game plan
I have not had much of the Irish game except in highlights. But I watched a new look Bangladesh unfurl at the biggest stage. They were slightly aided by the ever-prepared-to-choke Indians but the win belonged to only to Bangladesh.
Bangladesh remind us so much of the Sri Lankans in the 1996 tourney. They have a number of attacking batsmen with just one (Nafees) or two (Bashar) likely to get near a hundred. They have a swashbuckling opener (Tamim Iqbal) who announced himself in yesterday’s match, and looks good to score a few in the Powerplay overs whenever a loose delivery comes him way. That bevy of enticing, accurate, strangling slow bowlers in their ranks is ably supported by one very good pace bowler, Mortaza. Just what the doctor ordered for the West Indian grounds.
From their choice of bowlers I suspect restricting opposition batsmen to a low-ish total and chasing it down to be the Bangladesh game plan for the tournament. (Yesterday’s match will lead them further on that path.) They even have an interesting plan for the chase. I noticed that most of their top, experienced batsmen like Bashar and Ashraful had moved down the order to propel the finishing act in a chase, if required. It may not be the greatest plan against top sides for an anchorman like Bashar to come in so far down the order but the Ashraful move looked a good one. They will need a combination of striking ability and big match experience in case the asking rate climbs.
It will be interesting to have them bat first though. Their flashy batsmen are likely to struggle a bit. And while their spinners can expect assistance in the afternoon on drier pitches that may not always happen, as the pitches tend to hold well on the first day. On the flip side Mortaza and his medium pacer mate Rasel will be hard pressed to give those vital breakthroughs.
Indian woes and hopes
As for Indian fans hoping to see India proceed further from the Group of Death, they have to add the following to their list of daily prayers:
- no rain on India’s match days
- India bat first against Bermuda and put up 350 plus
- India win both their remaining matches (with top seven firing in both)
- either Bangladesh beat Sri Lanka, or Sri Lanka thrash Bangladesh badly
- Bangladesh Bermuda game getting washed out
The equation, as it stands now, is elaborated by cricinfo's Anand Vasu here. India have to overcome two major hitches to make the best of the controllables. [Those are besides the accepted perennial minuses of lethargic fielding, lack of consistent bowling and, increasingly, the Sehwag form problem.] Both of them reside in the Indian middle.
The Indian middle overs bowling led by Bhajji is not hot and everyone except Bermuda can expect to be let off the hook at that stage. Sri Lanka did that in three consecutive games last month and will be hoping for the same again. Also Indian middle and lower order batsmen have no plan in place to counter loss of early wickets even after so much exposure to these conditions over the last year or so. Bangladesh administered Lara’s methods to Team India and the latter demonstrated their continued ability to freeze in the face of accurate slow bowling. Ones and twos are just not their cup of cricket.
Let's hope forthe sake of Indian cricket lovers that these 'middles' are not 'upset' anytime soon. As Dr. Mardy quotes Ovid in today’s Quote of the week newsletter:
"Chance affects everything. Let your hook be always cast;
in the stream where you least expect it, there will be a fish."
PS: A few weeks back Harbhajan publicly asked his lower order mates to contribute more in West Indies. Look at Bhajji’s two innings since landing there: He casually gave catching practice to the cover fielder first ball in the Holland match, and was bowled attempting to cut a ball inside stumps yesterday. This when each of the occasions required a senior player like him to play sensibly and stay on. Perhaps that ‘contribute more’ call from Harbhajan was just a surreptitious request to Pathan, Zaheer, Munaf and Agarkar to share his quota of scoring runs.