R Ashwin has made a big difference: Every time he was being left out, nearly everyone (including yours truly) had been saying that R Ashwin should play. He has, in the last two games, and you can see the difference. He has opened the bowling on both occasions, held his nerve, and been attacking. Zaheer Khan has been redoubtable from the inaugural match. With Yuvraj consistently picking up wickets and Harbhajan showing, on occasion, an intent to attack, India now have wicket-taking bowlers and the bowling does not seem as thin as it did in the first few games of the tournament.
No praise is too high for Zaheer Khan: With 17 wickets (the most so far by any bowler) in this tournament, Zaheer has been remarkable – and remarkably disciplined, inspirational and successful. His yorkers on Thursday were mostly inch perfect. He bowled as well with the old ball as with the new. And his slower ball was a lesson in guile and craftsmanship. Shudder to imagine what will happen if he has a day off in this championship. If he doesn’t bowl as marvellously as he has, and Yuvraj doesn’t pick up key wickets, the attack will immediately go back to looking as pathetic as it did in the beginning.
Yuvraj has turned this tournament into his own: With four man of the match awards in seven games, Yuvraj has been the consummate finisher in this World Cup. He has made the adjustment required of him. He has tempered his attacking instincts, although the dazzle is evident when he decides to showcase it. He is hitting far straighter than he used to. He is trying to – and succeeding – in batting till the end. The 40th over, in which he hit Brett Lee for two boundaries, and the 41st, in which Shaun Tait gave away 13 runs, split the match wide open for India. But having said that, had Yuvraj not held his nerve till the end…
India fielded the best they possibly can: The inclusion of Suresh Raina made a difference in this respect. With Virat Kohli, Yuvraj and Raina showing purpose and intensity inside the ring, and Ashwin and Harbhajan putting in valuable work in the outfield, India’s fielding on Thursday was the best it has been in this tournament. Dhoni conceded that India isn’t – and will not be – a formidable fielding side, but he admitted that India saved 10-15 runs and that this was the best they could field.
This is the ideal batting order for India: And it would be wise, unless the circumstances are exceptional, to stick to it. Despite the stupidity of Kohli’s dismissal, the scandal of Gautam Gambhir’s runout and the shambolic throwing away of MS Dhoni’s wicket at a crucial juncture, India kept getting partnerships. They will need more of those, and bigger ones, against Pakistan on Wednesday.
[ Soumya Bhattacharya is the Editor of Hindustan Times, Mumbai. He is the author of You Must Like Cricket? and All That You Can't Leave Behind --both memoirs on how cricket defines India -- and the novel, If I Could Tell You. His books have been nominated for national and international literary prizes. He can be reached on twitter at @soumya1910 ]