When a match is dull, it is not just the spectators who get bored. You also see it in the body language of the fielders. They drag themselves around.
For the most part, India versus Holland at the Ferozeshah Kotla was that kind of a match. India struggled to arouse themselves for an encounter with a rival that did not challenge them, though in the end they won by five wickets and nearly 14 overs to spare. The wicket, as usual, was made of powdered sleeping pills. Sunil Gavaskar called it ‘National Highway no. 6’, while doing the pitch report. There was only one exciting stretch in the match—when Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag began the Indian chase by scoring faster than pizza chains make home deliveries. As India raced to 69 for none in just over seven overs, Tendulkar became the first player to score 2,000 runs in the World Cup.
You could have allowed some of the Indian players to be on autopilot. After all, it is tough for most professional athletes to be fully switched on for every assignment, especially those that don’t test them. Usain Bolt won’t run with full intensity in the heats.
But the Indian bowlers, especially legspinner Piyush Chawla, had no right to take it easy. They had to make up for earlier disappointments. And yet, once again, the Indian bowling lacked edge. Chawla was once more joke material in the press box. He failed to justify the faith Dhoni keeps showing in him. It was hoped that R Ashwin would get a chance against Holland, but he is an offspinner and Harbhajan Singh cannot be dropped. The situation works to Chawla’s advantage.
Also, Dhoni said Chawla needed to get his confidence back after the experience against Ireland. “I thought Chawla needed a match more than Ashwin,” Dhoni said when asked about the selection.
The bluntness of the Indian bowling helped the Netherlands notch some statistical milestones, if minor ones. The opening stand of 56 between Eric Swarczynski and Wesley Barresi was the Netherlands’ best of the tournament. Their total of 189 was the second best. The Netherlands did not score too many, but the worrying part is they scored them comfortably.
As the Dutch captain Peter Borren said, “Zaheer Khan is a world-class bowler, but he’s not bowling at 145 kmph.”
Commenting on the sustained failure of the Indian new ball bowlers to strike early, Dhoni said, “The only way you can stop the opposition from scoring is by taking early wickets.”
Coming back to spin, which was supposed to be India’s strength, Chawla was better here than against Ireland. But he was far from convincing. Chawla’s most awkward moment on the field was not the two consecutive sixes he was hit for by Borren. It was when he took the wicket of Alexei Kervezee. It was a longhop, which Kervezee pulled to mid-wicket into Harbhajan Singh’s hands. Chawla smiled and hid his face, embarrassed to have taken a wicket with such a poor delivery. It is ironic that Harbhajan had to catch it, because it is his seniority that is coming in the way of Ashwin’s selection and allowing Chawla to be in the side.
India’s chase was a mirror image of the Ireland game. The early batsmen did not stick around for long. Yuvraj Singh got a 50. He and Dhoni took India home. Yuvraj got the Man of the Match, his third in a row.
Tendulkar and Sehwag gave the Indian chase a spectacular start, but perished early after their entertaining cameos. Yusuf Pathan was promoted to no. 3; Dhoni had said before the match that he wanted Pathan to spend time at the crease. But undone by the slowness of the pitch, Pathan gave a gift of a caught and bowled wicket to Pieter Seelar. Seelar was also responsible for sending back Tendulkar and Sehwag. But it was Pathan’s dismissal that was most disappointing to the player as well as the crowds. Pathan had hit a four and a six and looked a likely candidate to finish the match in imposing fashion.
On to Nagpur now, where India play South Africa. It is hoped that the quality of the opponent inspires them to higher levels of play.