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First step before the leap

cricket Updated: Sep 30, 2009 01:49 IST
Anand Vasu
Anand Vasu
Hindustan Times
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How often does all of India pray that Pakistan wins a cricket match? Well, that’s what it’s come down to, for India to make the semifinals of the Champions Trophy. On Wednesday morning, even as India begin their pre-match routine for a day-night match at Wanderers they will keep a close eye on how Pakistan are faring against Australia in their day game at Centurion.

And it’s not as though India don’t have problems of their own. The prime among them is Ishant Sharma, and the time may have come to leave him out. The state that he is in, a spell out, even only a match or two, might be better than bowling him into the ground.

The conditions will play a big part in determining India’s combination — and Mahendra Singh Dhoni admitted they would track the Pakistan-Australia match before taking a final call on the team’s balance — but either way it’s not a bad idea to give Abhishek Nayar a go.

Harbhajan Singh has had a couple of bad games, but it’s difficult to see Dhoni going the same way as Kumar Sangakkara, who left out Muttiah Muralitharan in the game against New Zealand. Amit Mishra is the form spinner, and given the West Indies’ traditional difficulties with leg-spin, Dhoni would like to have him in the mix, but doing so at the cost of Harbhajan in a pressure game is unlikely.

If for some reason — either an Australia win or an inability to catch up with their net run rate — India fail to progress to the next round, it will be the second time in successive ICC events that India have failed to make the semifinals. Given the reaction to India’s ouster in the World Twenty20, the pressure will be on.

West Indies, India’s opponents, are in exactly the opposite position.

They came to the tournament as rank minnows and anything they achieve will be a bonus. Players like fast bowler Kemar Roach and batsman Andre Fletcher have only enhanced their reputations on this jaunt.

The fact remains, though, that Dhoni has led India to victory in every ODI assignment since August 2008, both bilateral and multi-team. This Indian team has been remarkably consistent and grown into a major force in limited overs cricket.

Nothing, not even failure to reach the last four, should change that.