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Must-win situation for India

Top-order batting still a concern for the Indian camp ahead of the Sri Lanka game, reports Atreyo Mukhopadhyay.

cricket Updated: Feb 26, 2008 09:42 IST
Atreyo Mukhopadhyay

The landscape has changed, but not the equations in this tri-series following the Indian team’s arrival to what is probably the most picturesque cricket venue in Australia. They are where they were before the start of the final round of league matches and must win to ensure themselves a place in the final after Sunday’s defeat. And even if they don’t, they could extend their stay in Australia if Sri Lanka don’t beat the hosts on Friday.

There are hills with clouds on top forming the backdrop instead of the skyscrapers. The chill in the air is stronger than what it was elsewhere and suddenly, you can’t blame yourself if the mind tends to veer away from cricket and indulge in some sort of idleness that is far removed from the whistle-stop lifestyle of contemporary cricket. Sadly, you couldn’t afford to do that if you were Indian and in Hobart.

So the concern over top-order batting was foremost on their mind, miles ahead of thoughts of simply sitting and relishing the pristine surroundings. The sight of rabbits scampering past the car on way to the hotel from the airport didn’t capture imagination. It was all about Jayasuriya, Murali, Sangakkara and Malinga. With them, of course, the thought of what’s next, if Dhoni’s team doesn’t make it despite starting the final set of league matches from a better position?

There are signs that Gautam Gambhir is coming of age, that he has understood the value of his wicket. His can be a precious one not only for him but also for the team. It was important for him to realise that, because with him somewhere near the top of the order, India have someone who can be there for some time and also score quickly.

The other one who could score at a faster clip and also have batted upwards in the order has been leading by example. Dhoni’s transformation from a merciless hitter of the ball to one who is trying to dab it here and there has been the other highlight of the Indian journey in the tri-series so far. Batting at No. 6 which is a pivotal position in one-day cricket, he is working overtime to shoulder responsibility and absorb pressure.

There were hints of that in the rain-marred second match against Sri Lanka in Brisbane. He was stemming the rot first, concentrating on singles and twos, before cutting loose towards the end. For a team struggling to answer a few questions in batting, Dhoni has shown afterwards that it was no one-show wonder. Five more matches have gone by and the skipper has shown with each passing game that he is there to lend the steadying hand instead of going hammer and tongs.

Even in the days of power plays, the one-day game is a lot about sanity. You don’t have to send the ball out of the park twice every over to achieve something. Ricky Ponting’s hundred on Sunday was a perfect example and despite refraining from pyrotechnics, he ensured that his team got a total in excess of 300. Dhoni hasn’t been as fortunate yet, but the message he is sending is loud and clear — concentrate on occupying the crease when things are not going you way. If you do that, there is a better chance of bailing the team out of trouble.

Being alien to this concept going by the reputation he carried into international cricket and lived up to for a while, Dhoni has shown how important it is to play according to the situation and adapting to it. It hasn’t paid great dividends yet, but for a team with a few rookies in the batting order, here was one example worth watching. Early to say what an impact he would have on the younger ones, but if they want to learn that this game is also about perseverance, Dhoni is one they can take a cue from.