Signboards around the Chinnaswamy Stadium on Saturday informed fans that tickets for the India-Ireland World Cup Group B match had been sold out. Suddenly, the match cannot be treated as one between heavyweights and also-rans.
There are two factors lending this match a serious look.
On Wednesday, Ireland demonstrated they were out to punch above their weight by scripting the highest successful run chase in the World Cup. Even the biggest doubters of their ability will not take them lightly after their triumphant march past England's massive total of 327. India meet giantkillers
The second reason dates back to four years ago; and it is best to hear it from MS Dhoni. “I insist there is nothing called a weaker side in the World Cup. We have very fond memories of getting beaten by Bangladesh in 2007; and we won't make that mistake again.”
The sarcasm in India captain’s reference to “fond memories” could not be missed, but there is something that indeed bridges the difference between ability and experience of teams to an extent. The pitch here has so far been nightmarish for bowlers thus reducing the contest to a battle of bats.
As far as the batting firepower is concerned, Dhoni can go to sleep in a good frame of mind. His batsmen have had a ball since the practice match against New Zealand in Chennai on February 16, and taken the team past 330 in three successive outings including that one.
Against England, the Irish bowlers leaked runs aplenty; and that is something the Indians might have relished. With perhaps the most destructive batting unit in contemporary cricket at his disposal, Dhoni said he would play to his strength.
“What happens if we end up 30 runs short playing with six batsmen? We are more inclined to play with seven batsmen because Yusuf (Pathan) and Yuvraj (Singh) can share the duties of the fifth bowler.” Dhoni hinted that he would prefer batting second this time.
If Dhoni has one dilemma, it is about choosing the fast bowlers. With spinners Harbhajan Singh and Piyush Chawla both likely to be retained,
it's a question of picking two from among Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra and Munaf Patel. Nehra is fit, and if he plays, it's not clear who he would replace.
Zaheer usually doesn't bowl at the nets a day before a match and it was no different on Saturday. Nehra too did nothing more than just limbering up. Keeping in mind the long duration of the tournament and their fragile state of fitness, it will be interesting to see how India use and preserve them.