It’s a wrap: In the warm-up games and now in the curtain raiser against Bangladesh, India indicated that its batting lineup has few, if any, problems. In fact, the only problem is one of plenty, with the side having to rest a player like Suresh Raina for lack of space in the lineup. On the bowling front, the reverse is true — India has a heck of a lot of problems it needs to find answers for, starting with the composition. Whether three seamers was the way to go in Mirpur is a question that will remain unasked, since it is not our practice to question results, but I still believe a Piyush Chawla instead of a Sreesanth, on this track, would have been lethal. That aside, it needs saying that while various bowlers had decent spells, the unit as a whole turned in a fair to medium performance — the kind that with the backing of a huge total against a team like Bangladesh produced results, but could suffer as tougher challenges come up. Bangladesh was beaten — but not disgraced. 283 is a great score to put up; more to the point, a lot of teams when faced with 350+ scores tend to buckle at the knees, but Bangladesh held its own almost throughout its innings, and did a full house proud. I’ll be back with live blogging for the next big game: South Africa versus the West Indies, Thursday February 24. See you then. And meanwhile my colleague, AR Hemant, who while I was working was busy chatting with fans on our scorecard page, has his match report up. Here it is. Good night, and thanks for the company. Bangladesh 46-50: 283/9; India wins A full house at the Sher-E-Bangla stadium had been reduced to silence first by the Indian batting, then by the lack of traction for Bangladesh in the chase. Raqibul gave them some small reason to cheer when he launched Munaf over midwicket, in the 47th over, for the first six of the Bangladesh innings, and followed that up with a carve through the covers for three. The dying flare of a candle if you will, but Munaf promptly had Naeem Islam trapped in front off the very next ball, as if to point out how futile it all was. At the other end, Zaheer continued his exhibition of the 114 different ways to grip a cricket ball — he seemed to do everything with it but roll it along the ground; for a bowler who used to be vulnerable at the death, Zaheer has over time developed a bagful of tricks to keep the opposition confused. And after feeding the batsman a few slow balls, he suddenly shifted up through the gears with a quicker ball that skidded through and nailed Abdur Razzaq in front of the stumps. A direct hit from Harbhajan caught Shafiul short of his ground in the next over… Okay, I am just filling up space; none of the action in the final five overs mattered anyway. Actually, the game as a contest got over by the half way stage of the Bangladesh innings or at least by the 30 over mark; by then it was obvious that only one team could win. To cut to the chase: India won its World Cup opener by a margin of 87 runs — a sizable margin, but a lot less than I thought at the end of the first innings. Back in a few with one final post, summing up thoughts on the first game. Bangladesh innings: Overs 41-45: 264/6; Raqibul 15 off 16, Naeem Islam 1 off 2 Back in the pavilion and with leisure to think (or with someone to helpfully whisper in his ears), Shakib took the power play in the 43rd over. To what purpose, remains unclear. Dhoni countered by bringing back the experienced Zaheer at one end, in place of Yuvraj; the bowler produced a very good slower ball that Musfiqur, constrained to swing at everything, managed to hit straight to Suresh Raina at cover (Mushfiqur 25 off 30). An over later, he brought Munaf back and as is now becoming a habit with the seamer, he got a wicket with his first over, with a ball full, and angled in at the base of the stumps to beat Muhmadullah’s flail. (Incidentally, the way Munaf picks up a wicket with the first over of every spell, it might be a plan to bowl him in one over spells, you think?) At the other end, Harbhajan played enforcer, bowling his patented flat lines and ensuring that for all their flailing, the Bangladesh batsmen could only score in ones and twos. But then, it is all academic anyway — the only question that remained as the game headed into the last 10 overs was the margin India would win by. Bangladesh needs 107. It has 30 balls to do it. Game over; the fat lady’s curtain song remains to be sung. Bangladesh innings: Overs 36-40: 236/4; Mushfiqur 20 off 24; Raqibul Hasan 0 off 0 I guess Dhoni’s moves were fairly predictable logical: he got in a few overs of seam while the ball was soft; once it was changed and a harder replacement given to the bowling side, he switched seam off and brought back spin at both ends, in the form of Yusuf Pathan and Yuvraj Singh. Besides taking the pace off, the move meant that the left arm spinner could bowl finally to a right hand batsman — far more comfortable for Yuvraj than bowling to left handers. Shakib got to his half century in 47 deliveries, once again underlining his reputation as one of the genuine all rounders in the game today. But all the while, the pressure was mounting along with the run rate; Shakib needed to go for broke and he tried doing exactly that against Yusuf, going down on his knee to slog-pull the slow spinner only to put it up in the air for Harbhajan to hold at wide long on (Shakib 55 off 50). One suspects that the Bangladesh captain missed a trick — 40 overs have now been bowled, and the batting power play has remained in abeyance. Taking it when he was at the crease and Tamim was his partner could have helped the latter break free and, against a tighter field, try to reverse his slow progress; taking the PP after 40 overs seems pointless since the last ten overs are about hitting out anyway, especially when facing this kind of target. In the event, Bangladesh has 60 balls left, and 135 runs to get — a little matter of getting two runs off every delivery and then some. India, for its part, has three overs each of Zaheer, Munaf and Harbhajan, two of Yusuf and four of Yuvraj. On balance, you’d have to say India has all the options it needs to counter even a miraculous late charge. Bangladesh innings: Overs 31-35: 205/3; Mushfiqur 6 off 8; Shakib 39 off 36 Thanks largely to Shakib’s busy mode of play, the 3rd wicket partnership had put on 59 runs at close to 7 runs per over — not quite enough to meet the ask, but brisk enough to present possibilities and to put the game into a delicate state of equilibrium. Munaf, coming back for his second spell, broke through the partnership, and tilted the scales in India’s favor again, when he got Tamim to try a pull at a delivery not quite in the slot for it; the batsman couldn’t keep it down and Yuvraj, at midwicket, took the sharp chance low at midwicket. Tamim managed 70 off 86 — but as he broods on an innings that really did nothing for his side, it will be the 41 dot balls he regrets. The wicket was the cue for Dhoni to bring Zaheer back, in a bid to enforce discipline at both ends (his first over went for 8, thanks largely to a majestic front foot pull by Mushfiqur Rahman). Overall, during this phase the Bangladesh batsmen picked the pace up again, with the left-right batting combo causing a few problems to the two seamers. These 30 deliveries produced 36 runs at a healthy 7+ rpo — but the key remains the ask: 166 runs to get, 90 balls to do it in, a task that clearly requires someone to explode in extraordinary fashion. The question is, who — and against which bowler or bowlers? One thing in Bangladesh’s favor — the ball gets changed now; the harder, newer one could be easier to get away, unless MS decides to bring the spinners back on and deny the pace for big hitting. Bangladesh innings: Overs 26-30: 170/2; Shakib 25 off 23; Tamim 57 off 78 The storyline continued: spin at both ends with Yuvraj concentrating on taking the pace off the ball, while at the other end Yusuf replaced Harbhajan. Dhoni was clearly intent on getting his part-timer to bowl through while reserving the regular offie for the crunch phase. Dhoni still had the problem of Sreesanth’s unfinished overs to deal with, and he addressed that problem by bringing the seamer back on in the 30th over to take over from Munaf. With less swing on offer and the field spread to protect the square boundaries, Sreesanth recovered from the thrashing of his first spell and produced a comeback over that, while still expensive, was not on the lines of his first three. The trick for him, and his captain, is repeating it often enough to run through his full quota and take the pressure off the part-timers. A caveat — appearances and recent posts notwithstanding, it is not as if Bangladesh was overwhelmed. Shakib in particular brought plenty of cheek to his batting, moving around the crease to disrupt lines, and using invention to circumvent the tight lines and apt field placements. If the Bangladesh innings seems to be in a state of stasis, it is largely a function of the enormous total the home side is battling against. At the end of 30 overs, the asking rate for Bangladesh is 10.1. A better way of putting that is, the home side now needs 202 runs in 120 deliveries. Bangladesh innings: Overs 21-25: 137/2; Tamim 41/61; Shakib Al-Hasan 8 off 9 Batting as if he were in the nets, Tamim Iqbal had in the 2007 World Cup encounter between these two teams set up his team’s stunning win. Four years on, the same batsman failed to recapture that fine rapture, and proved as much a hindrance to his team’s prospects. On the surface that might seem like a cruel assessment, but against the match context, once Kayes left, one batsman had to take over the responsibility for rapid run-scoring — when chasing 300 plus, the batting side just cannot afford to nudge and nurdle at both ends. Tamim was the logical candidate for the strong arm role, but against accurate spin bowling and a pragmatic in/out field-setting, he gradually became becalmed. Initially he tried but failed to bring off the big shots; over the course of the last 10 overs, Tamim unfortunately wasn’t even been trying. In the event, it was Junaid Siddique who went — to the increasingly potent combination of Bajji and Dhoni. The off spinner, who had largely stuck to bowling tight and flat, tossed one up just outside off and spun it away a mile; Junaid was drawn into the drive and beaten and, as he did during the warm up game, MS whipped the bails off quick as you like (Junaid Siddique 37 off 52 balls). The second wicket partnership was worth 73, but those runs came at the low rate of 4.4 and acted as a drag on the chase. Yuvraj Singh came on in the 25th over in place of Yusuf — a move that could turn out to be a bit of a gamble given the presence out there of two left handers who will find the left arm spinner’s nature line easier to handle than they did the off spin of Pathan. Seven runs came in his first over including a well placed four to third man — the first four in over 10 overs. To put the state of play, at the halfway mark, in context, India after 25 overs were on 162/2 — the gap has opened up, and it is almost unbridgeable. Bangladesh innings: Overs 16-20: 118/1; Siddique 31 off 41; Iqbal 36 off 51 At the end of 15 overs, with the bowling power play over and done with, India had two options: bring back Sreesanth, now that the prodigious swing of the new ball would have damped down a bit, and/or opt to start using the occasional bowlers. MS Dhoni opted for the latter approach, resting Munaf and teaming Yusuf Pathan — whose USP is an ability to bowl very flat, very straight between wickets, using his height to spear the ball through — with Harbhajan Singh, spreading his field, and challenging the Bangladesh batsmen to come after the bowlers. When you have 370 runs to defend, that is as good a ploy as any — you can sit back and wait for the weight of runs to crush the batting side. The two spinners played their part to perfection. Against an ask that demanded at least one boundary per over besides the singles and such, Yusuf and Bajji went through this five over spell without conceding a single boundary; also, and equally significantly, they kept racking up the number of dot balls, each a crippling handicap for a batting side chasing such a target. 25 runs came off these 30 balls — and that, in context of the ask, tells its own story. Bangladesh innings: Overs 11-15: 93 for 1; Tamim Iqbal 25 off 39; Junaid Siddique 19 off 23 Movie scripts are ordered around plot points — incidents that take the emerging storyline and spin it in another direction. One such point came in the 12th over when Dhoni, with the PPs operative, opted to rest Zaheer and bring on Harbhajan Singh, operating to an in-out field minus close catchers. A successful Bangladesh assault on the sole regular spinner could have set the cat truly among the pigeons, more so with Zaheer resting after his first spell and Sreesanth negated by that early Kayes assault. Harbhajan’s response was to go around the wicket to the left handed Tamim, to bowl the fullish length, and to focus on wicket to wicket lines rather than attempt to spin the ball. The offie’s first over yielded two runs, and answered the question of what the tactic would be — bowl tight, and push the asking rate up thus incrementally increasing the pressure. At the other end, Munaf did what he knows to do best — focussed on his line and length, bowled straight and denied extra room on either side of the wicket, and forced the batsmen to work for their runs. Junaid and Tamim managed to do better than they had in the previous five overs, but only relatively speaking. Both were busy, without ever indicating that one or both had the nous to take this attack by the scruff of its neck. Through a combination of shots and nudges and not a few edges, the left-right pair managed to rack up 25 runs in these 30 balls. A highlight: In the 13th over, Yusuf Pathan showed that his earlier accident had, if anything, only sharpened his wits. Junaid mishit a pull off a relatively shorter ball and managed only to scoop it up over the bowler’s head. Yusuf raced around from midwicket all the way behind the bowler, dived in the midst of his headlong run, got his hand to it, lost it, and made a damn good fist of trying to recapture the ball before finally losing control altogether — a spectacular attempt worth appreciating despite the final result. It is tempting to say the game is evenly poised. Almost a 100 up, 9 batsmen still in the hut waiting their turn, an overall run rate of 6.2 and a requirement of 7.9; most importantly, the home side in touch with India’s position at the same stage of the first innings. But that is not quite the case — the crucial phase comes now, as the field spreads, the ball gets older, run-making becomes increasingly difficult, and the pressure really begins to mount. Bangladesh innings: Overs 6-10: 68/1; Junaid Siddique 8 off 10; Tamim Iqbal 11 off 22 In the first five overs, Kayes hit the ball sweet as you like, while Tamim struggled to find the touch and timing that are his hallmarks. “Against the run of play” is a favorite phrase of commentators — here, it was apt as it was Kayes who went in the 7th over. Munaf Patel replaced Sreesanth and promptly settled into a very tight line, angling the ball across the left handers and taking them out very close to off stump; Kayes, unable to find the room he had gotten used to against Sreesanth, tried to manufacture a cut to a ball too good in length and too close to off for the shot, and predictably chopped it on to his stumps (34 off 29 balls). At the other end, Zaheer settled into the optimal plan on this kind of track — using the width of the crease, he varied the angle of the ball into the left handers, but otherwise eschewed exaggerated swing and seam. Also, significantly, he cut out any room the batsman could have exploited to play either on the off or on, with the result that the mayhem of the early overs was halted, and a sense of order restored to the proceedings. It was a brilliant display, perhaps going unnoticed in a phase of the game where the accent is on the hitters. So here’s the figures: Zaheer at this point has bowled 20 dot balls and given away a mere 17 runs in his 5 overs, at a time when the batting side is going at 6.8 rpo. The Indian innings was as much about unexpected injuries (Sehwag whacking himself; a Sehwag thump crashing into Kohli’s forearm; Kohli pulling one into his own groin…) as it was about blazing batsmanship. The second half of the game continues the trend — in the 9th over, Junaid Siddique, the number three batsman, attempted to break the shackles imposed by Munaf and Zaheer (overs 6, 7 and 8 produced a total of 7 runs). Moving across his stumps, he created room, got under a Munaf delivery and pulled high over mid wicket. Yusuf Pathan, patrolling that region, tried to make a catch of it, lost his bearings, and ended up crashing head first into the advertising boards, knocking himself silly and cueing a break in play while the medics attended to his brain box. India during these five overs pulled it right back, witness the fact that overs 6-10 produced a mere 17 runs, for the loss of Kayes’ wicket. That prompted MS Dhoni to opt for the bowling power play and get it over with — a good decision, all things considered. Bangladesh innings: Overs 1-5: 51/0; Imrul Keyes 30 off 21; Tamim Iqbal 6/10 There’s one good thing to be said about having to face humongous scores when chasing — it takes the thinking out of the game. After all, when you are chasing 371 in 300 deliveries, what else is there to do but try and hit every ball that comes your way? It is the in-between totals that create doubt — do we bat carefully and save wickets for a dart at the end, or do we have a bash at the beginning and try and bring the ask down. With 350+ totals, all such thoughts are irrelevant — you need to score at 7, 8 RPO from the get go or see the ask go higher with every passing over. Tamim Iqbal and Imrul Kayes are two youngsters best placed to take advantage of this situation — both are fearless in temperament, and have the shots in their arsenal. Both opted for the big back lift and the huge swing at everything remotely within their range. The batting wasn’t pretty — but against quality bowling and a humongous target, it rarely is. What it was, was effective — at leas thus far. The most surprising aspect of the opening phase of this innings was the prodigious swing Sreesanth and, to a lesser extent, Zaheer, got. The former bowled at high speeds, and got the ball to move rapidly into the left hander, more often than not putting the batsman into a tangle. To his bad luck, either bat-edge or pad got in the way of his better deliveries, resulting in runs leaking largely to the third man/fine leg regions. Interestingly, once Zaheer figured out that the swing was actually as much of a liability as an asset, he shifted to bowling very full and very straight. Sreesanth attempted to control the swing he was getting by going around the wicket to the left-handers, but that only straightened the angle and resulted in Imrul Keyes taking him to the cleaners in an electric 5th over where the batsman managed an inner-edge to the third man boundary, then a whip off his legs to the on side off a no-ball, and then a power packed pull off the free hit that resulted from that no ball. A ball later, the bowler was greeted with one of the best on the rise cover drives you will ever see — a shot that messed with the bowler’s mind and resulted in him losing his radar totally, bowling the next one wide of leg stump and going further, all the way to the fine leg boundary for five wides. Sreesanth ended up leaking 24 runs in that over — and will almost certainly be taken out of the attack for a spell. The start thus far has been as good as Bangladesh could have hoped for. I still think this target is way too huge to sustain this sort of assault indefinitely — but at the least, Bangladesh shows no sign of caving under the pressure, and that sets this game up beautifully. For trivia buffs, the first over of the innings saw the first referral under the UDRS system, when a late-swinging ball from Sreesanth got Tamim Iqbal in a tangle and crashed onto the front pad in front of the stumps. Umpire Kumar Dharmasena ruled it not out, judging it would slide down leg; MS Dhoni called for the first of his two allotted reviews, and Hawkeye confirmed that Dharmasena was right. That’s for trivia buffs; more practically, India now has only one review left, while Bangladesh has both of its allotted quota. Break ke baad: As you wait for the game to resume, here’s a thought: the last time these two teams met in the World Cup, this happened. Tamim Iqbal will square up to Zaheer again, in just a few minutes. Reckon an encore is possible? I’d suspect not — Zaheer circa 2011 is a totally different animal from the one that did duty in 2007 — and the best article that captures the change is this one, from my friend Aakash Chopra (@cricketaakash on twitter). Read, while you wait for the second half. India Innings: Overs 46-50: 370/4; Virat Kohli 100 not out off 83 Shakib bowled the 46th, and managed to keep the bleeding down to just 9 runs, including a superlative Kohli six over long on; Rubel Hossain, who remains the most economical bowler in the home team’s ranks, gave 14 away in the 47th, but it was remarkable only 14 were taken given the way both batsmen were throwing all they had at everything that came their way. And in the 48th over, Viru Sehwag finally succumbed, not to the bowling but to his own tiredness and the pain that hobbled him ever since he hit one onto his own knee — looking to smash Shakib square, he managed only to under edge it onto his stumps to end an epic. In the end, the knock may not have broken any records (at best, it ties with Kapil Dev’s iconic 175 not out in 1983) — but at some point, when Sehwag’s cricketing epitaph is written, they’ll likely talk of this innings as a milestone. Sehwag has for all of his career threatened to perform prodigies in one day cricket; every successive coach from John Wright on has tempted him with the vision of what is possible if only he deigns to bat through an innings. Finally, that message appears to have seeped into the batsman’s mind — and if this is how he means to go about his business, the reign of terror is just beginning. All the Sehwag shots were there — the effortless straight lift; the savagery behind the slash-pulls on the on side, the majesty of the on-the-up drives through the off side… every single shot so familiar to Indian fans from repeated viewing was present and accounted for. What Sehwag additionally brought to this innings was the full force of a deceptively strong cricketing mind, and that could be the single reason why this innings will be remembered as a turning point. Yusuf Pathan seemed on paper the best bet to come in and continue the mayhem — but in these days of video-analysis and pre-planning, even the terrorized Bangla bowlers knew better than to pitch one up in the right hander’s half of the track. And so, rather than the expected explosion, we got a 7-run over in the 49th. Shafiul, whose stints at the bowling crease thus far had resulted in serial embarrassment, managed to give away just 5 runs in the 50th over, capping that with the wicket of Pathan off the last ball of the innings. Those two under-utliized overs resulted in a score under the 380 that was easily on the cards — but it shouldn’t matter. The 370 India ended with is, by any stretch of the imagination, a winning score — India will really have to work hard to lose this game from here. Finally, Virat Kohli, take a bow: a century on debut in the World Cup is good in and of itself; the calmness and efficiency of its construction stamps the lad out as a major talent and India’s best young batsman today, overtaking the likes of Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma. Given how things turned out, there seems little point talking about the Bangladesh bowling — every bowler was found out, and that is about all the words that are needed on that. Could they have done something differently? Likely not — though they are improving as a unit, they still don’t pack sufficient firepower to take on this Indian lineup, in this mood. With that, we are off on a break – back to live posts after the first five overs of the Bangladesh innings. India Innings: Overs 41-45: 331 for 2; Sehwag 168 off 133; 81 off 70 Sehwag whacked a six in the 41st over; Kohli smashed a six and a four in the 42nd; both batsmen pretty much threw their bat at everything that came their way. So what’s new? These are the slog overs — and India played them as befits a team with 300+ on the board, just two batsmen out, and a lineup that reads Yuvraj, Dhoni, Yusuf Pathan still in the hut waiting for their turn. Actually, what surprised me during this period was the way the Bangladesh bowling, to the extent possible, limited the damage. 55 runs came in these five overs — but considering the form of the two batsmen and the scores they are on, maybe you should say only 55 runs came during this period. Anyway — everything is now irrelevant: who bowls, what type of bowling it is… These last five overs are about two things: just how big a score India can put up, and whether Kohli will get a century and Sehwag will bat through and, who knows, break the double hundred mark, less than a year after his opening partner did it. India Innings: Overs 36-40: 276/2; Sehwag 138 off 117; Kohli 55 off 55 India’s re-calibrated power play strategy seems to be working just fine, thus far. We saw it used for the first time in the game against New Zealand, when MS Dhoni, who to my disgust had earlier tended to take it after the 40 over mark, took it in the 36th over. Here, it was in the 35th. Both times, the idea has been the same — use the power plays to build up a good head of steam as the innings heads into the kitchen-sink phase in the last ten overs. It worked a treat here: 48 runs came during the power play overs; India’s run rate overall reached 6.9 — and most importantly, the platform was fully erected for a barnstorming finish. The last ball of the 36th over had much to do with how the power plays went. Rubel Hossain bowled a slower short ball; the change of pace messed with Sehwag’s timing and he ended up bottom-edging a pull onto his knee. From his reaction, it clearly hurt; from that point on, he was limping around in his crease. Clearly feeling handicapped by his injury, Sehwag reverted to an older avtaar — the stand and deliver version. In the 37th over, he hammered Abdur Razzaq for four behind the bowler’s back, smashed him for six over long on; then whacked a short one past wide mid on for another 4. At the end of that over, Gambhir came out as runner for his Delhi mate — and you weren’t quite sure whether the runner was to help Viru, or to save Bangladesh from the batsman’s ferocious intent to hit everything he could while his knee held up. At the other end, Kohli showed another facet of a form batsman — who invariably looks like he is playing second fiddle, until you suddenly look up and notice that he has managed a 50 in even time. Kohli’s came off just 45 balls; the five fours that studded it were all exquisite; the 19 singles he used to turn the strike over was a more graphic indication of the sensibility he brings to his play. Does it sound like I am a fan? Honestly, I’m getting there — and anyway, what’s not to like? He always had the talent; now that he has married temperament to it, the lad is set to go places. Right, now hold your breath: the slog overs are upon us and with this sort of platform in place, the next ten overs could be truly spectacular. India innings: Overs 31-35: 241/2; Sehwag 115/102; Kohli 46 off 41. Sehwag — how predictable is that? — scored the first century of World Cup 2011, off 96 balls. What set this one apart from others in recent memory is the sign of maturity — there was a point, between overs 6-10, when he seemed a touch frazzled as Bangladesh changed its bowling plans. Where an earlier incarnation would have rebelled against the shackles and tried to slog his way through his troubles, this new improved Viru thought things out, experimented a bit with footwork and strokeplay, found the answers, and moved smoothly through the gears again. At the other end, Kohli continued to impress. Form and confidence obviously have much to do with it, but even so there is something about this young man that impresses more with each passing innings. The youngster played some exquisite strokes, rapidly rewrote the runs to balls equation in his favor, ran like a hare between wickets and pushed Sehwag — who when he sets out his stall to bat long is not too happy with all that extra effort — to match his running. But the moment that stood out for me — and underlined what this lad is all about — came in the 33 over, when Naeem Islam, brought back to cover for Shafiul, made one angle to leg and keep very low. Kohli was shaping to drive; he spotted the ball staying low, crouched low to adjust, and managed to pull, with power and placement — remarkable, when you consider that the pull was played to a ball just above knee height. Between them, the two batsmen have taken the bowlers out of the equation — pace, spin, it hardly seems to matter any more as Kohli and Viru do to the ball exactly what they want to. At this point, with 15 overs to go, a batting power play taken just ahead of the ball change, plenty of batting still in the hut and the ball being replaced by a harder one, it is all really set up to go India’s way. Incidentally, I am not much of a fan of how India takes the power play, but this time they got it spot on: two in form batsmen, and just before the harder ball comes on — perfect. At the start, my assessment was that on this track, India would have played badly to score below 300 — that target can now safely be revised upwards, to the vicinity of around 350. And despite Bangladesh’s array of gutsy batsmen, a 300+ score will make this India’s game to lose. And here’s a passing thought: Viru said before this Cup began that he wants to try and bat through 50 overs. This is his first outing after making that statement. He ended the 35th over with an effortless six over the cover fielder. Care to predict what his score could be if he actually manages to go the distance? India Innings: 26-30: 194/2; Sehwag 97 of 90; Kohli 18 off 22 With overs by the slower bowlers running out, Shakib Ul-Hasan had to bring the expensive Shafiul back into the attack — and he did just that in the 27th over. In his come back over, the bowler came within a bottom edge of yorking Sehwag, and a coat of paint away from getting Kohli playing on as the batsman tried a pull at a ball that didn’t quite come on, made a mess of the shot, and saw it land an inch shy of leg stump. In the 29th over, Shakib got his fingertips to a Kohli straight drive and almost managed to run Viru out — again, the ball missed the stumps by the proverbial coat of varnish. Those minor alarms apart, it continued to be business as usual, with Sehwag continuing his mix of strikes and taps to keep ticking it over, while Kohli eased into his own style of cricket. The in-form right hander likes to start at his own pace, opting initially to turn the strike over, and get his body and mind ticking in unison before he steps up the pace. Understandably, therefore, the run rate comes down a notch early on — but Kohli when in form is quick to pick up the pace, and the five-over span saw India, despite a well spread field and containing lines, took 34 off these five overs without ever seeming in a hurry. Shafiul Islam’s 5 overs have now gone for 46 — and Bangladesh’s problems intensify, with one frontline bowler proving too rich for the fielding side’s blood. Somewhere, somehow, they have to make good on the remaining five overs of the opening bowler — either risk bowling him again, or finding some cover. Be interesting — and likely, will provide India with an opportunity to turn the screws further. India Innings: Overs 21-25: 162/2; Sehwag 85 off 77; Kohli 3 off 7 Sehwag’s wagon-wheel is beginning to look as close to perfection as it possibly can get; he is getting runs all around the park, where in the initial phase his intent was to score largely square on the off and through the V on the on. Over the last 10 overs, Sehwag has gotten his game on; he has been moving — as much as Sehwag is capable of moving, that is — across the breadth and width of his crease to keep changing the angle on the bowler; simultaneously, he has shown pinpoint awareness of where the fielders are, and each time Shakib moves his field around, Sehwag pin points the new gaps to milk runs. Maybe he really meant it when he said he wanted to try and bat through 50 overs — the Sehwag on view here is certainly an improved model. Aggressive as always, but more able to shrug off patches of enforced idleness without it getting to him and inducing indiscretions. At the halfway mark of the innings, India is by almost all yardsticks sitting very pretty — except perhaps for the loss of Gambhir in the 24th over through a classic piece of misjudgment. To a ball from Mahmadullah not quite as short in length as he thought, Gambhir went back instead of forward; the ball didn’t climb either, and the batsman’s attempt to force square failed, with the ball sneaking beneath bat and past pad to knock back off stump. (Gambhir 39 off 39 balls). The wicket came just when the left hander was finding increasing fluency in his stroke play — but with the in form Kohli in next, plenty of batting to come, and an innings scoring rate of 6.4, India is clearly ahead at this point. Ten overs more, and the ball change comes along with the batting side getting the advantage of squaring up against a harder ball. Maximizing that opportunity will depend to a large extent on these two batting through the intervening period. India Innings: Overs 16-20: 129/1; Sehwag 68 off 62; Gambhir 27 off 29; 25 runs in these five overs With the bowling power play done with, Bangladesh shifted gears completely, opted for an in-out field with plenty of cover in the deep, and deployed spin at both ends with skipper Shakib Ul-Hassan joining Abdur Razzaq (later replaced by Naeem Islam) at the bowling crease. Against that, Sehwag in particular employed a mix of heaves (one of which, in the 18th over off Shakib, was a miscue that landed dangerously close to the fielder at short third man; another heave in the 19th over, this time across the body, was similarly miscued and flew just over the head of a jumping mid-wicket) and placements, using the depth and width of the crease to create the room he needed. Gambhir preferred to keep his attacking instincts at bay despite the presence of spin at both ends, and opted to work the ball around the park (interestingly, spotting that Gambhir was not about to chip down the track as he is prone to, Shakib showed good sense to bring the field in for the Indian left-hander, tightening things up and denying him the singles he was clearly looking for). While all these ebbs and flows in the game were interesting in isolation, the bottom-line is that after 20 overs, India is motoring along at a healthy 6.5 runs per over, setting the game up nicely for the big-hitting batsmen to follow; meanwhile, an unnoticed problem for Bangladesh is that Razzaq and Shakib, Bangladesh’s best slow bowlers, have already exhausted half their allotted overs. The problem for the fielding captain is going to be to find the personnel to slow the ball down as the innings gets to the business end. India Innings: Overs 11-15: 104/1; Sehwag 60 0ff 49; Gambhir 11 off 13 This lot of overs, during which the bowling power play produced 41 runs for the wicket of Tendulkar, can be summed up in some broad strokes/themes: Virender Sehwag figured it out — running around the ball to play inside out, staying to leg or even taking an additional backward step to create more room, he began disrupting the Bangladesh game plan of slowing it down and keeping it on the stumps. The result — after a lull during the overs 6-10, he began motoring again. The wicket began showing increasing signs of idiosyncrasy. In the 13th over, for instance, Shafiul Islam bowled one to Gambhir that was very short — and kept very low. The batsman played the length, prepared to smash it through point, and had to finally scramble when he realized the ball was bouncing a good foot less than its length dictated. A bottom edge towards point resulted. The point we had been banging on about, from the start, about the need for openers (true of any pairing, but critical for openers looking to play inside the opening power plays) to spend quality time with each other. In the 11th over, Sehwag started off with back to back fours, but then came a moment of pure insanity when Sachin tucked Abdur Razzaq towards mid on and set off. Shakib Ul-Hasan dived to field, Tendulkar was already almost at the other end, Sehwag had his back to his partner and was busy watching the fielding heroics, and the throw to the keeper found Tendulkar run out by the length of the pitch. It’s the kind of amateurish mistake novices make; neither of these batsmen qualifies as a novice — hey, what fun to say I told you so — they are a very rusty pairing, and it shows particularly in their between-wickets interactions. (Sachin 28 off 29). The wicket of Sachin notwithstanding, the Indian innings in this patch recovered from the relative stasis of the second lot of overs, and thanks largely due to Sehwag. His fluent footwork and innovative shots got the bowling all mixed up; in the 15th over he brought up his individual 50 with a characteristic loft to long on, and celebrated with a couple of chips over extra cover that would have done a star golfer proud. India Innings: Overs 6-10: 60/0; Sehwag 27 off 33; Sachin 28 off 27 The second set of five overs produced a mere 22 runs — and that more than anything else indicated the change in the home side’s game plan. The 6th over, by Rubel Hossain, produced one wide and three scrambled singles. The 7th, from Abdur Razzaq, produced 4 – again, one wide, three singles including a Sehwag push that almost resulted in a caught and bowled. The home side appeared to have shaken off their nerves and to have figured out the optimal game plan – bowl very straight and fullish on off/off and middle if you are bowling seam; take the pace right off and keep it wicket to wicket if you are bowling spin. In both cases, the onus becomes on the batsman to make all the difficult adjustments, to provide both the power and the direction – and as the Indian openers found, that is none too easy to do on this track. The nature of their play correspondingly shifted to nudges and deflections, and patient waiting for the bad ball (one such from Razzaq was over pitched in the 9th over; Sachin skipped down the track, took it full, and hit it over mid on to the fence). A fairly amusing passage was in the 8th over, when Rubel kept banging the ball in, using all of his muscle; Sehwag ducked under it thrice in succession – but what you noticed was that even if he had stood straight, the ball was hardly climbing throat high. Overall, while Sachin’s ability to work the ball kept his run rate up, there is a sense that we are in pause mode, waiting for Viru to figure out what his response to the altered nature of the attack is. Bangladesh, sensing opportunity, opted to take the bowling power play immediately after the 10th over, which on balance is a smart thing to do. India Innings: Overs 1-5: 38/0, Sehwag 20 off 15; Sachin 16 off 15 The 2011 World Cup began with the anthems of the two sides. And then Virender Sehwag played his own anthem to start things off. The first ball of the 2011 World Cup was short, straight, outside off from Shafiul Islam – in other words, a set up for Viru, who went up on his toes and smashed it past cover point for four. Very early on, some clarity on the nature of the track: It plays straight and true. There is no seam, no swing for the pace bowlers, making it a “hit through the line” kind of track. Viru proved that point in second over when he looked to play Rubel Hossain, the fastest of the Bangladeshi bowlers, square; he found the ball straight on off, and hammered what in tennis would be a forehand down the middle, for four. On the other side of the batting spectrum, Sachin greeted Rubel with a delicate whip off his pads – all timing, placement and acute awareness of the field, no power required. Once the Bangladesh seamers figured things out, they took to bowling very straight on the stumps – the only chance they have of containing batsmanship of this quality. And even so, the margin of error is near zero – too short, too full, marginally slanting towards middle and leg, are all invitations to mayhem. Recognizing the conditions, Abdur Razzaq came on to bowl his slow left arm spin as early as the 5th over of the innings. And in the space of one over, showed that the only game plan on this track is to take the pace right off the ball and make the batsmen do all the hard work. Just two runs came off the 5th over, providing the home side some relief. If there is any scope for critiquing the Indian openers, it is in the calling and running. A stutter in the second over, underlines the fact that if you want a particular pair to open in a big competition, it is essential that they play a few games together before that. With either Sachin or Viru resting assorted injuries, this opening pair hasn’t had quality time in the middle – and the lack of coordination shows. Early days, but with this pair settling in, India seems on track for the big score they need to give their bowlers enough in the bank to bowl at. My guess? 275-plus is a winning score, and I would be surprised if on this track, against this bowling, India ends with a sub-300 score on the board. The Toss: Bangladesh wins the toss, and inserts India. Shakib Ul-Hasan says anything under 260 is an easy chase. I donno — I think India is better off batting first – if this wicket is as slow and low as it is touted to be, it will only get more so during the course of the game and that to my mind makes batting more difficult. India, strangely, going in with three seamers — seems a bit counter-intuitive on a ground that is rated low, slow. Personally, I’d have thought two spinners, two seamers, with the prevailing tactic being to take the pace right off the ball. But that’s just me — Dhoni, Kirsten and company obviously have other ideas. They The People On Cricinfo, Sambit Bal calls this the ‘People’s Cup’. Every event needs a catchy slogan, and this one is as good as it gets. Nowhere does it say slogans need to be accurate, though. On the same site, another story on ticket distribution underlines just how much of a ‘People’s Cup’ this one isn’t. Consider this sample clip (Emphasis mine) : In Kolkata, the focus at the moment is on accepting the fact that the India v England match has actually been shifted out of the Eden Gardens. Ticket distribution is now focussed on handing out the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB)’s large share of their quota tickets amongst members and affiliate clubs, a practice which is also common in Mumbai. “There is no panic now,” said an official in Kolkata, “because there aren’t going to be fist-fights at the counter.” And Punjab Cricket Association said tickets for matches in Mohali would go on sale from February 21, “including for the semi-final.” This lopsidedness in ticket sales had been caused, an ICC event organiser said, “because the World Cup has been treated like a bilateral series with the local associations controlling everything.” He said there was “no single central leadership” or organisation in the World Cup ticketing. “It is why there are so many complaints about tickets not being distributed, not enough information given about when they are up for sale or where.” The ICC’s own quota for tickets per match is specific: it receives 1270 free tickets of which 1000 are given to sponsors, with the remaining 270 divided between the two teams (125 each) and match officials. The ICC said it could then also avail of an additional 250 hospitality seats but pay for its own catering and then had access to 2450 tickets that it could purchase for distribution amongst sponsors (2000) and member boards (450). The ICC’s maximum quota per match equalls just under 4000 tickets. The most risible line in an article rife with unintended humor is the bit that quotes a Kolkata official saying there will be no fist-fights at the counter. Of course there won’t — with most tickets going to officials, there’s no point in people — fisticuff-capable or not — turning up for the People’s Cup, no? In this context, read an earlier post titled Whose World Cup Is It Anyway? Curtain raiser for the curtain raiser: The morning papers were chock-full of articles previewing the first game of the World Cup — and after spending a couple of hours reading through all of that, I feel the way Harry Belafonte must have when he sang: It was clear as mud but it covered the ground/ And the confusion made the brain go ’round. Consider the tea leaves being read: India has won 26 of 28 games against Bangladesh. But Bangladesh beat India the last time the two teams met in the World Cup, triggering the early exit of the presumptive favorites of 2007. Mirpur is Bangladesh’s impregnable fortress — the home team has won all the games played here (Um, so — should India even bother turning up today?). Teams batting second win most of the games at Mirpur and one important factor causing that skew is dew. But then, dew will become a serious factor only a month or two later… And so it goes, round and round — with the ‘revenge’ meme as pervasive undercurrent. Oh, and sundry past greats from India and elsewhere have realized that the best way to get space in newspapers is to say India will win. In all of this, only one thing is clear: Whatever happened in Port of Spain four years ago is history. Both teams have gone through considerable change in the four years since, in terms of personnel both before and behind the scenes; both teams have also changed, in radical ways, their approach to the one-day game.To perpetuate a cliche, it’s a new day, a new game. The track, according to our colleagues at the venue, looks to be low, and slow. If that assessment holds — and note that no one gets to go prodding at the wicket ahead of the toss — then the real game will be played out in the middle overs, when wicket to wicket lines and bowlers who do not give the ball any pace will look to control the game. While on that, my colleague AR Hemant (@arhemant on Twitter) wrote a column yesterday on how crucial the middle overs will be in this tournament — worth a read, as you wait for the game to kick off. Also worth a read is Venkat Ananth’s assessment of the Bangladesh side — thoughtful, considered and fact-filled.
By Prem Panicker