India leaves itself with fine-tuning to manage

The Indian team gave itself much food for thought with a lacklustre win yet again a Group B league contest in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011. And, Yuvraj Singh and Mahendra Singh Dhoni had to pull the chestnuts out of the fire once more with a mature and calming presence.

If it was Ireland in Bangalore on Sunday, it was the Netherlands that caused creased foreheads in the Indian camp at the Ferozshah Kotla here today. It was up to Yuvraj Singh (51 not out, balls, fours) and Mahendra Singh Dhoni to share an unbeaten 52-run stand and steer India home with 13.3 overs to spare.

After a frenetic start in which Virender Sehwag (39, 26 balls, five fours, two sixes) and Sachin Tendulkar (27, 22 balls, six fours) scored at 9.2 runs an over, India lost its way. The openers gifted their wickets to left-arm spinner Pieter Seelaar while Yusuf Pathan, promoted to No. 3 to give him some time in the middle, offered a return catch after a brief flourish.

With the medium-paced Peter Borren hitting an excellent length unlike his new ball bowlers, Gautam Gambhir (28), who survived a run out chance when he had made just three runs, and Virat Kohli (12) did not last long.

For all that, it will be the Indian bowling that merits more discussion. The attack, especially Harbajan Singh and Piyush Chawla, brought themselves under the scanner as the Netherlands set the home team a190-run target. Neither Harbhajan nor leg-spinner Chawla could claim to be proud of his overall effort, beaten by the sluggish track and determined batsmen.

To be sure, Harbhajan’s bowling will come in for more scrutiny, given his failure to claim wickets in successive matches against Ireland and the Netherlands. He seems to have found a comfort level with restrictive bowling but the team will need its most experienced bowler to find his aggression sooner than later.

To be fair to Chawla, there was one great moment when he got a googly to snake past Scwarczyski’s jabbing blade and hit the wicket. He also picked up a second wicket in his final spell but had to sheepishly hide his face behind an arm when Alexei Kervezee managed to pull a rank long hop powerfully but straight to Harbhajan Singh near the mid-wicket boundary.

Zaheer Khan finished with the best figures for India with three for 20 while Nehra appeared to find his rhythm in bowling a full length. The fifth bowler’s combination of Yuvraj Singh and Yusuf Pathan played their part adequately enough, leaving the Indian thinktank to scratch its collective head in search of an answer to the specialist spin bowling conundrum facing it.

Though Mahendra Singh Dhoni said at the toss that Chawla was preferred to Ashwin because he needed more practice, it is a good wager that the leg-spinner played this game only because Munaf Patel reported unwell and because there was an overwhelming desire within the team an the team management to avoid a sameness to the attack.

As he walked into the dressing room for the supper break, Chawla said the two sixes hit by Peter Borren off his last two deliveries spoilt his figures. It was an indication of the defensive thinking that India’s key spinners have embraced. In fact, Yuvraj Singh appeared to have more confidence in his left-arm spin, varying his pace and trajectory unlike the specialists.

Ostensibly, the two teams had different agendas: India wanted an easy win while the Netherlands simply wanted to put India on the backfoot. In the end, the Dutch managed their objective as India huffed and puffed to take little more than the two points from the win. As it heads towards its final league games against South Africa and the West Indies, India left itself with work to do.