Virat Kohli watches the ball after playing a shot during the ICC Twenty20 Cricket World Cup Super Eight match between India and Pakistan at The R. Premadasa International Cricket Stadium in Colombo. AFP Photo/Ishara S.Kodikara
Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh form the backbone of India’s batting but it will be their role as part-time bowlers that will be crucial to the team's fortunes in the all-important game against South Africa on Tuesday.
The failure of the five-bowler combination has brought extra responsibility on the two star batsmen, and after their bowling success against Pakistan, India will be inclined to again go in with a four-bowler combination.
As they did on Sunday, skipper MS Dhoni will rotate his specialist bowlers in the powerplay overs. But the key will be how India go about their game from the seventh over onwards.
It all worked to a nicety against Pakistan when Dhoni quietly slipped in a few overs through his part-timers, from the seventh to the 12th overs. Yuvraj gave nothing away with his brand of left-arm spin (3-0-16-2) and Virat exceeded expectations during a three-over spell (3-0-21-1). They floored Pakistan by snaring three top order wickets as well.
The final Super Eights game, however, might provide a different sort of challenge for Dhoni in terms of handling the fifth bowl-er's quota. South Africa batsmen know what awaits them and will be ready for it. There is always an element of risk with the part-timers and AB de Villiers' team will see it as a chink in India's armour. The two players will be targeted and how they handle the pressure as bowlers will be vital.
Dhoni said the role of his two key players would be crucial to the team's success. "When we play with seven batsmen, the part-timers' role becomes important. Virat is an option but it is crucial to have a left-armer, someone who takes the ball away from the right-hand batsman. Here Yuvi's role is very important."
While their bowling is a bonus, Virat and Yuvraj are among the best in the business in their primary role as batsmen, and their wickets will be most sought after by the South African bowlers.
Virat added to his growing aura as the premier young batsman in the world with another swashbuckling half-century on Sunday. And his former coach Gary Kirsten was all praise.
"He is probably one of the stand-out batsmen in the world at the moment and we all know what he is capable of doing. He is one of those X-factor cricketers that other teams want to get out because he is not going to get out himself. He doesn”t throw his wicket away," said the SA coach.
Yuvraj has yet to get a big knock here but has improved with every outing. His 19 not out off 16 balls on Sunday was pleasing. "Yuvraj will take a lot of positives out of this innings and once he gets going, he is a terrific batsman to have in the side," said Dhoni.
Time for an encore
India have earned a lifeline with their win over Pakistan, but it will count for little if they fail to back it up with another strong showing against South Africa.
From their experience so far, India will be careful not to get carried away by Sunday's game. The Men in Blue showed lot
of spunk against their arch-rivals, but the same lot had looked jaded and dispirited in their previous outing against Australia.
This tournament has seen things change from game to game and over to over. It can be put down to the nature of the format or India's volatile nature.
In two games, they have fluctuated between the very good and the very bad, and a study in comparison will help them choose the right combination for the opposition and conditions.
South Africa and Pakistan are as varied as chalk and cheese. So what worked against the latter might not be the ideal template against AB de Villiers' men. There is a risk in changing the winning combination but there's a good case of adding an extra spinner at the expense of a pace bowler.
Proteas' weakness against spin has been exploited with telling effect so far, so despite L Balaji's success, Harbhajan Singh can be considered. "It's horses for courses. Whatever suits the conditions best, we will look to adopt that. It depends on what kind of wicket we play on next. We've not decided on the playing XI for the game," said MS Dhoni.