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Defeating a bogey team doubly sweet

Amid euphoria of a series victory against West Indies, the lessons of success are important , writes Atul Sondhi.

india Updated: Feb 07, 2007 14:09 IST

The West Indies series has been a very happy ending for the Indian team. Getting rid of a bogey team has been doubly sweet as it were the reverses against the 2007 World Cup hosts last May which had led to a string of defeats and put questions mark over many a career.

The 3-1 victory is all the more important as the West Indies, as host team, are very much expected to pose a strong challenge to other outfits including India, as the biggest cricketing extravaganza kicks off in the Caribbean in March. 

However, our euphoria should not mask our deficiencies. With little bit of application from the visitors, India could well have been down 1-3 in the series.

In the first match, we almost allowed Chanderpaul to get the West Indies out of Jail, and in the second, it was only some brave batting by Dinesh Karthik and Agarkar, which saved India blushes. Only at Vadodara, did India register their most convincing win of  the series.

World Cup will be a tournament where other teams are going to exploit even minutest traces of weakness. It is there, that the lessons of the present series will come handy.

Tendulkar in middle order
 
The new reality demands that Tendulkar be saved for the middle order. If he is still India's best batsman, then the ace should not be exposed to the new ball too early.  And if he is not, then certainly the middle order is the best for him.

Psychologically, India still depends on Tendulkar. Much like in most of the nineties. Even if others are in cracking form.

For records, after an unbeaten 141 runs as opener against the West Indies in Kuala Lumpur last year, Tendulkar has played nine more innings as opener and five as number three or four batsman.

As opener, Tendulkar has aggregated 247 runs in these 9 innings at an average of 27.4. As number three, he has just 32 runs from two innings. However, as number four, Tendulkar now aggregates a staggering 160 runs from three innings.

As an opener, one good ball from a frontline bowler can get the best of batsmen out. Remember the 1999 Super six match against Australia at Oval with both the teams struggling to get their first points in England.

Then, chasing Australia's 282, India lost Tendulkar to  McGrath's out swinger in the very first over and soon India were tottering at 17 for four, and were virtually sent packing out of the match, and the tournament.

For India, Tendulkar's ability to rotate strike at will in the middle overs will be more important than the fireworks he can deliver in the initial overs. Even seasoned Ranatunga, a fan of Tendulkar's effortless stroke-play, never wanted him to open in the ODIs. He always felt Tendulkar could be much more useful in the middle overs, much like Aravinda de Silva.

It will be a step backwards if  Tendulkar's tremendous success in the series against the West Indies, and at number 4,  again leads to renewal of calls for him to open. 

Sourav's Partner?

Chairman of selectors Dilip Vengsakar would like Sourav to open in the World Cup.  And after the West Indies series, the best possible choice to partner Sourav looks to be Robin Uthappa.

But this choice is also fraught with some danger. What if Uthappa's nerve fails to hold in a tournament of such magnitude. After all, he is just five ODIs old!

Putting all hopes on Karnataka Opener to give India a solid and rollicking start, without the option of a third opener, could be as thoughtless as discarding him for a good part of 2006 after just two failures - 12 and zero after 86 on debut at Indore

So India will definitely need Sehwag as third opener, if not among the top two. The experience of this Delhi batsman will come handy if nerves, or bad form, grip one of the other two openers.

Bowling uncertainties

The Indian bowling continues to be an area of big concern. So much so that there are even question marks over the departure of Sreesanth and Munaf Patel, due to varying reasons ranging from fitness and ODI form.

Sreesanth, such a rage in the tests in South Africa, continues to be expensive in the ODIs. While Munaf's fitness can only be tested in the forthcoming series against Sri Lanka, as, in Vengsarkar's words, match practice is different from net practice.

The only other pacers, who look sure shot bet for the trip, are Zaheer Khan and Ajit Agarkar.

The Indian batting lineup for the World Cup may have looked settled, but there is still no surety about the composition of the bowling attack. Hopefully, by the end of the 1st ODI against Sri Lanka, most of the questions on this count will have been answered.