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Indian hopefuls on fire after two close wins

Race to the World Cup squad is becoming hotter and hotter after the two ODIs against the WI, writes Atul Sondhi.

india Updated: Jan 26, 2007 19:46 IST
Atul Sondhi
Atul Sondhi

The Indian selectors can afford to celebrate now. The mixture of youth and experience they are looking at to make an impact in the West Indies, is indeed proving out to be a potent combination if the first two ODIs are any indications.

If such performances continue, except one or two, the rest of the slots will have been virtually sealed by the end of this WI series.

But first a rare thing.

India break a jinx

The win at Cuttack was the first time in over eight months that India had won two matches in a row in a series. The last time it had happened was in the duel against England when India had won four successive encounters.

Table One
India's last Sixseries

 Series Won-Lost
 England  in  India 5-1

 Pakistan  in Abu Dhabi 1-1

 West Indies in West Indies 1-4

 DLF cup  in    Malaysia  1-2

 Champions Trophy in India 1-2

 Against SA in SA 0-4 

In the next five series post-England, India had won just four matches while losing 13.

So, the performance at Cuttack has taken care of at least one jinx - of winning two consecutive matches! At the same time, their contributions to these wins must have also boosted the confidence of a few Word Cup hopefuls.

Incredible Karthik

If the Indian batting was buoyed by the return of Sourav Ganguly, It must have been further boosted by the performance of Dinesh Karthik.

After getting starts in South Africa in all the three ODIs but failing to capitalize on them, Karthik's next big chance came at Cape Town thanks to an injury to Dhoni.

The replacement wicket keeper did not let this opportunity slip by, scoring 63 in an unfamiliar position as opener and then capping it up with an unbeaten 38 in the second, which could have helped India win the series but for a collapse in the end.

Again, his 63 at Cuttack were more valuable than a century considering the circumstances. At seven for 90, the match would have been over but for some rock solid display by Karthik. In the circumstances, his strike-rate of 72 was exceptional…the one which gave India a chance to fight it out.

With Rahul Dravid reluctant to don gloves again, India will definitely need a second wicketkeeper on such a long World Cup tour. With Karthik shining with bat, he could also be a worthy option as specialist batsman, if need be.

Powar Play

In a team with two proven match winners in Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, it is rare for a spinner to get a chance to showcase his guile. However, Powar has not disappointed in whatever limited opportunities he has got.

In the last five ODIs that this portly off-spinner has played beginning the WI series, he has had at least three very good performances to show.

Two for 38 at Kingston at an economy of 3.80, three for 24 in eight overs against England at the ICC Champions trophy, and now 3 for 42 at Cuttack. These have been commendable performances by someone, who has generally been considered a fill-in man.

To cap it, Powar's career economy of 4.52 in 17 matches is truly world class considering the critical time when he comes in to bowl.

One more good performance in the next two matches, and Powar could seriously threaten Harbhajan's chances.

And if India have made up their mind to pick three spinners, the Mumbai offie should definitely be in considering the way he turned the ball on Wednesday - hapless Morton's wicket, bowled all ends up, being the prime example.

Gutsy Gautam

After a string of flops from Virender Sehwag, selectors are pinning their hopes on his Delhi-mate coming good. They, including Coach Chappell, feel that Gambhir has the strokes to make it count in the West Indies.

But the problem could be temperament. Since January 2006 (India-Pak series in Pakistan), Gambhir has played in seven ODIs. In three of these, he has got out between 20 and 29, failing to convert promising starts into big scores.

That has been Gambhir's problem throughout his career.

Table Two
Gambhir's ODI Career

 Runs Innings

 50+ 3

 40 - 49 0

 30 - 39 2

 20 - 29 4

 10 - 19 4

 1 - 9 5

In this series too, after a very promising 69 in the first ODI off just 75 balls, Gambhir disappointed in the second with just two runs before edging one to the wicketkeeper.

Gambhir will certainly need few big knocks to prove that he indeed has the temperament to repeatedly play big innings at this level. He is capable of doing it, but the time at his disposal is limited.

The next two encounters against the West Indies are going to be extremely critical for these three players.

After all, on stake will be the boarding pass to the Caribbean.

First Published: Jan 25, 2007 13:01 IST