A dithering performance

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India’s win over Ireland was like an easy exam paper you failed to max

India’s win over Ireland was like an easy paper in an examination that you fail to fully capitalise on. This was a scoring subject, as they say. India could have blazed their way to 90 marks on 100. They would have to be happy with about 75. The strongest batting line-up in the competition had to chase 208 against Ireland. They made it close. Only the start and the end was comfortable, giving India the somewhat deceptively commanding victory margin of five wickets and four spare overs.

Yuvraj Singh took five for 31 with his left-arm spin and scored 50 not out to emerge the Player of the Match. This was his first five-wicket haul in One-day Internationals. Even for a man who has tasted every thrill on the field and off, this was a new high.

“I felt the way I did when I got my first century,” Yuvraj said.

On a bright Sunday afternoon in Bangalore that made you squint your eyes, two Emirates stewardesses in beige and red uniforms stood beside the shimmering World Cup trophy for the customary pre-match routine. The nearly 40,000 people in the flying saucer of the Chinnaswamy Stadium expected an exciting flight, one that would land only after a resounding India victory. Some entertainment from Kevin O’Brien, engineer of the fastest hundred in World Cup history, would not have been unwelcome.

O’Brien disappointed, feeding Yuvraj a caught and bowled dessert during a spell when Ireland forgot that being caught meant being out. The other wish of the spectators, of an Indian victory, was fulfilled. But it was a tense performance. At this rate, India will not win the World Cup. If the stewardesses had been around till the end, the Indian players might even have asked for a life jacket. Another thing that both players and spectators might have asked for is a guide to understanding the umpire referral system, which saw yet another change. Now a batsman may be given out leg before even if he is more than 2.5 metres from the stumps, provided the ball is hitting middle stump at a legitimate height.

At the start of the contest the coin was flipped and heads and tails rolled around like hero and heroine in a Hindi film, but in the air. Who would finish on top? Dhoni guessed right and chose bowling.

Currently, however, the Indian bowling is as sterile as the American economy. Sunday was another day of slow returns, more so because the wicket had the same pulse as Sachin Tendulkar’s wax statue. Moreover, Harbhajan Singh and Piyush Chawla failed to cause any dents. There could be job cuts in future, gentlemen.

Chawla was not just wicketless but also expensive. He is a leg-spinner and his ability to spring the googly was a factor in his selection against Ireland, who had five left-handed batsmen in the line-up. But he conceded seven an over. Juhi Chawla could have been a better option. She would have at least injured the opposition with the baingan bharata she made in ‘Qayamat se Qayamat Tak’. Harbhajan too drew a blank in the wickets department. Yuvraj compensated, of course, but India will need more from its specialist bowlers. If not for Zaheer Khan’s immediate blows and the inexperience of the Irish batsmen, India could have faced a target in the region of 250 runs.

There were stretches when even the formidable Indian batting struggled. The slow wicket, Ireland’s tight fielding and the soft dismissals of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir meant that India’s chase had to navigate the cloud of anxiety. When Virat Kohli’s run-out dismissal reduced India to 100 for four, Ireland were clearly catching up. You could smell the fear in the stadium. Yuvraj and Dhoni, however, showed the nerve to see India through. This was Yuvraj’s second consecutive fifty and his return to confidence with both bat and ball is heartening for a team yet to hit its stride. Yusuf Pathan too got a chance to rev up the engine of his bat. His 24-ball 30, loaded with three sixes and two fours, ensured that the finish was easy.
The day’s top scorer was the Irish skipper William Potterfield. The name has a phonetic proximity to David Copperfield and Holden Caulfield. These are cult figures in their respective spheres. And so ‘William Potterfield’ too assumes the halo of a fairytale character.

Against India, William Potterfield lived up to the expectations one has from someone called William Potterfield. He scored 75 runs, the value of which was obvious but appeal discreet. Despite a demoralizing start, which saw Ireland lose two wickets in the first three overs, Potterfield kept his head and rebuilt the innings. Besides, he did things his way. The runs were not coming. After ten overs, Ireland were 27 for two. The first time Ireland’s rate went above four was in the 18th over. Yet, Potterfield did not rush things. Almost single-handedly, he oared Ireland to a somewhat respectable total.

This was a Sunday of low-scoring matches. England beat South Africa in Chennai. India overcame Ireland in Bangalore. There were just 33 fours and four sixes in the match. In the tied match against England last Sunday, India alone smacked 35 fours and seven sixes. At last there is some variety of pattern in the World Cup.