India face early elimination after Saturday. They face a daunting task, which includes beating Sri Lanka, keeping an eye on net run-rate, and hoping that others would keep doing worse. Sri Lanka’s 243-run win over Bermuda hasn’t helped. India’s hopes surely hang by a slender thread.
The Indian batting deserves all the criticism coming its way after their display against Bangladesh. I can’t understand why Rahul Dravid chose to bat first on Saturday. The wickets in the Caribbean have been helping new-ball bowlers and teams batting first have invariably found themselves under a cloud. With Virender Sehwag still to find his feet and Robin Uthappa in his first World Cup game, Dravid didn’t seem to have weighed in all the factors.
Fielding first would have been the better option, especially if you think of the opposition India were up against, and the fact that it was the Cup-opener. A win would have allowed India to ease themselves in.
Invariably, the Indian batsmen go into their shells when wickets fall early. We don’t seem to have a Ricky Ponting or a Kumar Sangakkara, who choose to come out firing when faced with a difficult situation. The Indians panic and the fear of losing is palpable.
The approach on Saturday was timid, to say the least. For most of the day, it looked as if Bangladesh were India and India, Bangladesh — even in the middle overs. As Sourav Ganguly and Yuvraj Singh batted, there wasn’t any overt attempt to pick up singles. Indian batsmen fall in the trap of going for the boundaries rather than keeping the scoreboard ticking. I would have thought their last Caribbean trip would have made the team realise this error.
The middle-order collapse was amateurish. Yuvraj’s wasn’t a percentage stroke and Ganguly’s heave was irresponsible. Dhoni and the rest appeared dazed or in a trance.
Bangladesh, though, deserve all the accolades that are coming their way. Their fielding wasn’t just brilliant, it was spectacular. The bowling was no less commendable. The spinners, all left-armers, didn’t suffer due to lack of variation. Mashrafe Mortaza and Syed Rasel showed verve and zeal and much more than just basic skills. Mortaza, when fully fit, can walk into any team of the subcontinent.
Interestingly, Bangladesh’s run-chase was largely managed by two teenaged batsmen — opener Tamim Iqbal and Saqibul Hasan. The rest of the batsmen on view were also less than 22. It was basically an Under-19 team from the neighbouring country which has ground into dust the hopes of millions of Indians.
Seventeen-year-old Tamim made the world sit up with his assault on New Zealand’s Shane Bond in their warm-up game and now it was the turn of the Indian pacers to face the music. His hoisting Zaheer into the second tier of a stand was quite a sight, as also was the way he flayed Agarkar and Munaf.
Bangladesh didn’t do anything their captain and coach had feared. They neither got overawed by the Indian superstars nor did they forget their own strengths. Captain Habibul Bashar had hoped the boys would play as a team, not as 11 individuals. They did, and how!
To come back from this shock, India need a mixture of good luck, a fearless approach — apart from ruthless team selection. They must play five bowlers and Yuvraj must bat at four. If they are conservative from here on, they would be back home by the end of the month.