India’s top order caved in to the pace of Shane Bond quite abysmally, till a ninth wicket stand between Irfan Pathan and J.P Yadav saved them the embarrassment of being dismissed for their lowest ever total in One-Day cricket. J.P Yadav, making a comeback to the Indian team showed that, if given the right kind of opportunity, there are players beyond the favored few who can come in and show their worth. He has been a stellar performer for the Railways team for the past few years but has got limited chances to play and when he didn’t do well in them, was instantly dropped. Here again, it’s a signal to the others on the fringe of selection that the selectors will take cognizance of consistent performances in domestic cricket, even if the player is not a teenager. Yadav is 30 and at an age when in India players are looking for an alternate career, but if he manages a regular place in the Indian team, it will signal that experience also is a commodity that is as useful if not better than raw youth.
It could not have started better for India with Pathan and Nehra picking up the New Zealand pair that had destroyed the Zimbabwe attack just a couple of days back. They got the ball to nip back into the right-handers, which makes them even more dangerous. Nehra had worked very hard when he was left out of the Tests last season and bowled a lot in the nets where he improved his rhythm and his accuracy. More importantly, by bowling with the old ball in the nets, he wasn’t trying to do anything special by way of variety and that meant that his wrist was in the right position, when he delivered the ball. Here too, he didn’t look for variation but line and length, and that paid him rich dividends. He also got to use the new ball rather than come in first-change, as has happened before Zaheer was dropped. That meant that he was able to get that swing back in to the right-hander’s pads, and that’s always a difficult ball to play.
Pathan has had similar problems, where he lost the art of swinging the ball into the righties as he was regularly doing when he first burst onto the international scene. It’s good to see him get it back too and if Agarkar can be given the right field and thus bowl from closer to the stumps, India will have an attack to contend with, especially on these pitches, which have a little more in it than Indian wickets.
Yadav played his part as a bowler too and kept a steady line. As he plays more, his confidence will grow and India could have the kind of all-rounder they are looking for in limited-overs cricket. He is not a frontline bowler and won’t get five wickets, but if he can chip in with a wicket or two and keep his economy rate under five runs an over and then bat sensibly as he did here, then he should have a long stay in the team. However, there have been many who have performed in one game and then faded from the scene, so he has to use this game as a confidence-booster and not be complacent after a few good write-ups.
The disappointing thing about the Indian batting was the lack of footwork from the batsmen. They looked uneasy at the prospect of facing Bond, who bowled in the 90 mph zone, and that does not augur well for the future. Cricket is not just about batting or bowling but about application of the mind too, and Kaif getting out in the manner that he did, to what could well have been the last ball of Bond’s first spell, showed that there was no thought given to that. His wicket meant Bond was given another over in which he took Sehwag’s wicket and with it went India’s chances of winning this game.
Earlier in the English season, Richie Benaud described Australia’s performance in a One-Day game as being very ordinary and then added that much stronger words could be used to describe it. This is the kind of writing that makes him popular with the modern generation for he conveys a lot without blasting the players, but then Richie has been covering cricket since the 1960s and perhaps has become dispassionate about the game, even when his beloved Australia is playing. Much as one would like to be the same, it’s extremely difficult to do so, especially when you know the talent is there but not always the application. Still, it’s early days in the tournament and like all optimists, I am hoping that India will recover and go on to win the tournament.