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Will India be bold enough to play two spinners?
March 23, 2007
What a sensational first week of the World Cup this has been. As if India losing to Bangladesh was not a big enough shock, the very same day saw Pakistan beaten by Ireland. Add to that Herschelle Gibbs' six sixes feat.
Amidst all the great cricket, the untimely passing of Bob Woolmer has saddened everyone in the world cricket fraternity.
If the Indian team under-performs and loses the vital match against Sri Lanka on Friday, it will end the dreams of a nation and the fallout is likely to be severe. It may also prove to be the final World Cup appearance for Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid, all still outstanding cricketers.
Bangladesh springing a surprise has put India in a vulnerable position. No doubt, they deserved to win as they played inspiring and fearless cricket against their more famous neighbors. They may well deprive India or Sri Lanka of a place in the Super 8's.
Sri Lanka pose a major threat to India's World Cup hopes and it is difficult to separate the two teams as they prepare for Friday's key game. They have met on six previous World Cup occasions, with Sri Lanka winning three with one no result match -- neither team has a real advantage going into this die-or-die encounter.
India will take great heart from their impressive form and win over Bermuda, but realistically all those deeds were done against a 'club' team who are by far the weakest team in the competition. All teams would have relished the chance to play Bermuda and break records.
India may well rely heavily on the form of the big three, but younger players, Yuvraj Singh and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, two of the biggest hitters in the game, could emerge as India's heroes. Virender Sehwag has returned to form at the right time with a blistering century but can he replicate that innings against a classy Sri Lankan attack?
The bowling still has unanswered questions -- how good are they in West Indian conditions? Munaf Patel who reminds me of Australia's Terry Alderman, looks to have the goods as a seam and swing bowler and Zaheer Khan bowled impressively against the Bermudans. However, will the Indian selectors be bold enough to play two spinners in the same match? Their inclusion and bowling in tandem could be decisive.
Tendulkar is still a class player. I like his approach to cricket -- with no fuss he just gets on with it and entertains his adoring fans. He has an extraordinary World Cup record -- he has scored more runs (nearly 1,800) than any other player, including four centuries (the same as Ganguly and Ricky Ponting) and he has won eight Man-of-the-Match awards, which is highly impressive. Now the burning question is: can the 'Little Master' produce that form in a pressure match?
Of all the Asian countries Sri Lanka have the team best suited for the prevailing conditions. They have players who could exploit the smaller boundaries. Sanath Jayasuriya, who is competing in his fifth World Cup, still poses a threat to any international bowling attack as he showed with his century against Bangladesh on Wednesday and many bowlers still feel intimidated by him. With a flick of the wrists to a good length ball, he can send it sailing over the backward point or square-leg boundary for six -- he is a very difficult batsman to bowl to.
The up-and-coming Upul Tharanga is an exciting prospect. The two featured in an awesome opening stand of 286 in 32 overs as they easily chased down England's big score at Headingley last year.
However, it is the class of Kumar Sangakkara who holds the key to Sri Lanka's team batting fortunes -- he is a classy player who consolidates an innings with a measured and sensible batting approach in any given situation.
Sri Lanka's trump card is the impressive Muttiah Muralitharan. When he plays, Sri Lanka's chances of winning a match increase considerably. He is a genuine wicket taker who has incredible control of flight, spin and guile. Has any batsman actually worked out how to read and play his doosra (the ball that spins the other way)? He has an outstanding economy rate of under four runs per over.
The unorthodox Lasith Malinga with his slinging round arm action and extra pace has caused batsmen all sorts of problems. He bowls one of two lengths -- full yorkers or short pitched deliveries with not much in between, making it difficult for batsmen to adapt to, and leaving them bewildered and bowled!
Both sides have impressive skills and world-class players. My feeling is that Sri Lanka could be the winner on the day and if that is the case, India, like Pakistan, may well exit the tournament, barring something out of the ordinary.
But then, I have been wrong before!
- GE Features
The Cup: Complete Coverage
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