Prem Panicker

  • Like
Blogger

Prem has been writing about cricket since 1996 -- and sometimes wishes he hadn't.

Live Blog: India versus West Indies in Chennai

West Indies all out 187

Perhaps it was in the fitness of things that Ashwin got the final wicket -- his bowling was the lone bright spot during the opening exchanges of the chase, and largely responsible for the Windies not being able to break entirely free.

And with that, it is India versus Australia on Thursday. Thanks for the company, I'm off to do the match report, which should be up on Yahoo in the next few minutes.

West Indies: Overs 36-40:

Just once in a while, cricket provides an extraordinary sight -- the sort you can dine out on for decades. This phase provided one such, courtesy Munaf Patel.

His fielding at fine leg and third man has been a positive embarrassment, but that is nothing compared to his time honored practice of never, ever, backing up when he is bowling. His typical ploy is to stand in mid pitch, gesticulating wildly, contorting his face in disappointment when a fielder's dive fails to live up to his exacting theoretical standards, and generally allowing everyone else to tidy up.

He bowled short of length and Sarwan worked it to mid wicket. Raina collected, and realizing who the bowler was, lobbed a return he would have normally fired in. Munaf collected, gently moved his hand back, poised, and finally, after the entire Chennai crowd, which was holding its collective breath, nearly died of asphyxia, managed to remember to bring his hand down and break the stumps, just beating the diving Sammy. Any other fielder, the batsman would have been gone by a yard.

In the next over, Yuvraj produced another of his looping, dipping leg breaks. Andre Russell opted to stay back and aimed an almighty cut; all he managed was to pat it tamely to point, and Windies were now in the midst of a full blown implosion (5 wickets, 11 runs).

Another nail got driven in the gaping coffin when Zaheer got one to hold; Benn, too early into a vague waft on the on side, checked, and patted it to mid on to end this block on 179/8. The last ten overs would have been the Windies opportunity to catch up with and surpass India, thanks to the home team's implosion. It didn't quite work out that way, though, because the Windies got its own implosion in first.

West Indies: Overs 31-35:

Here's another trend for your notebook, to go with the "start with spin" trope: bring the best seam bowler you have back around the 30th over. If there is reverse, that is when he will get it; five overs later, the ball will be changed and all the benefits of the worked-on ball will be lost.

Sammy did that in the Indian innings, and was rewarded with the wicket of Kohli. Dhoni did it here, and Zaheer, shrugging off his ordinary first spell, produced one of his classics to left handers -- a late swinging delivery just outside the off, fooling the batsman into playing for the one going away, only to find it dart back in and hit the top of off.

Graeme Smith occasionally wakes up in a cold sweat after dreaming about this particular beauty; Devon Smith might remember this for a while, as being the ball that cut a fine innings (81 off 97) short, just when he seemed set to play the big, anchoring knock a chase like this demands.

Worse, from a West Indies point of view, followed in the next over when Keiron Pollard did a Shahid Afridi. Still so new to the crease he wasn't even fully done asking the umpire for directions to his off stump, Pollard teed off to Harbhajan, swatting him high but not long and finding long on with unerring accuracy.

Yusuf Pathan taking the catch was the cue to celebrations more appropriate for when the Cup is ours; the moment also cued the till-now subdued Chennai crowd to burst into full throated support. Zaheer reversing, Bajji getting some turn, and an Indian crowd getting behind its team -- that is a combination the West Indies are not too well equipped to survive with poise, and the pressure is beginning to show.

The ball change brought with it a bowling change -- Yuvraj came back in the 35th -- and struck. His second ball is one that is becoming his signature: floated up, drifting in slightly, dropping deceptively earlier than the batsman guesses thanks to the loop. Thomas was lured, by the length, into coming forward; the movement was tentative, he failed to get to the pitch, was beaten by sharp turn, and smartly stumped. (There was a near encore two balls later; only Sammy managed to keep his back foot anchored).

After 35 overs, the West Indies had gone to 161/5. The ask is over a run a ball. And West Indies minds seem in a state of siege -- there is a panicky air about the play just now, giving India the upper hand.

The extent of the turnaround in the game in this phase is best underlined by Harbhajan's figures. His first spell had gone for 26 in 4. His second now reads 4-0-6-1.

West Indies: Overs 26-30:

Harbhajan Singh, after a forgettable opening spell and an even more forgettable stint in the outfield, returned in the 28th over, and started off with a tight maiden to Sarwan. In his next over, he then made one jump and turn disconcertingly -- only, his line remained off, with the ball starting middle and going down leg. Munaf kept it reasonably tight at the other end, and with Sarwan and Smith still playing within themselves, Windies ended on 154/2.

At this same stage, India was 160/2. The problem for India -- and the opportunity for the Windies -- lies in the hash the home side made of the last part of the innings, which means the Windies can just bat through from here with a reasonable expectation of winning.

West Indies: Overs 21-25:

Both Ramnaresh Sarwan and Devon Smith batted with a lot of mind -- playing very late whenever they could, and quickly coming forward whenever the exasperated bowlers changed the length up. Yuvraj was introduced in the 21st; a late square cut that Munaf Patel comically escorted to the ropes greeted the slow left armer, and Yuvraj must have wondered why such gifts weren't given him when he was melting in the Chennai sun earlier in the day. A sashay by Smith to play the pick up loft over the long on ropes in the next over, and Dhoni's frown grew bigger -- his prime spinner was patrolling the boundary; Raina had been taken out of the attack; he needed Yuvraj's magic to peg the West Indies back and it didn't seem like any was forthcoming.

At the halfway stage, Sarwan and Smith -- the latter gradually opening out his shoulders, but still playing risk free -- had taken Windies to 132/2 (oh, and Munaf had finally given up his Comedy Central duties on the line and come to the bowling crease). Even stevens, but the next five overs could really set this game up one way or other.

West Indies: Overs 16-20:

Raina did in fact come on for Ashwin after the latter had bowled an 8-0-36-1 spell that started with the first over of the innings. And Bravo greeted him with what, if he were Japanese, would qualify as sepukku. Raina bowled a short ball of the kind he would probably have treated his kid sister to in the family backyard if he was feeling generous; Bravo was so eager to punish that one, that he over hit the ball and pasted him down the throat of Harbhajan Singh at long off to give India a fortuitous break through.

The lad has sublime skills; if experience teaches him to make the most of it, he could still end up shading his iconic cousin.

At the other end, Devon Smith had been quietly accumulating runs while the more flamboyant Bravo was in the spotlight; shortly after the latter departed, Smith stroked yet another single to move to 50 off 64; an anchoring innings that, thus far, has allowed his partners freedom to express themselves.

Thus far, the Windies are playing this right. Run-making is going to get increasingly different as the ball softens and India's array of part time spinners take the pace right off. The trick lies in smooth scoring in the first 25 overs to keep abreast of or ahead of the chase, and that seems to be the focus of the Windies innings right now.

After 20, Windies have reached 107/2. And oh, by the way, India have 8 overs of Zaheer and all ten of Munaf, and need to figure out the optimal times to use them.

West Indies: Overs 11-15:

Having bowled six overs for 18 runs and a wicket while his spin twin was going 23 in four, Ashwin came up against the closest thing to Lara since, well, Lara. In the 13th over, Ashwin's 7th, Bravo turned the clock back with a beauty -- a flowing pick up from high over his shoulder, a slight shimmy to get the feet right, and a scything hit through the line that took a perfectly good Ashwin off spinner and deposited him over the long off boundary. That the bowler would shorten his length a shade was predictable -- and Bravo skipped back inside the crease, and slammed the next ball square to ruin what till then was a lovely spell of controlled off spin.

Meanwhile, Dhoni removed Harbhajan, who appeared to have lost all touch with his internal radar, and brought on Yusuf Pathan. Windies hammered 36 runs during this period, largely thanks to Bravo, and the batting team now seems in increasing control of the chase. In addition, Dhoni has a problem coming up -- Ashwin has bowled 8 already, and has only two left; the preferred solution could well be to bring Raina on instead.

West Indies: Overs 6-10:

After his first two overs went for 13 (and more than the runs, it was the fact that Zaheer seemed to get little movement and less bounce off this track), Dhoni brought Harbhajan into the attack as early as the 6th over. And, as for Ashwin, kept attacking fielders in place (two slips for Ashwin, slip and leg slip for Harbhajan).

Edwards fumbled around for a few, messed his reading of the doosra, then shimmied down the track and lofted the bowler back over his head for four. At the other end, Ashwin finally unveiled his carrom ball to pin Edwards in front; umpire Steve Davis called it not out, but was overturned on review.

Darren Bravo came up the order, with the West Indies clearly intent on taking a bite out of the target. The period saw the two offies operating in tandem -- and showcased Aswhin's thoughtful bowling (going around the wicket to the left handers, bowling from wide of the crease to the right handers) that got him an analysis at the moment of 5-0-15-1. Harbhajan, in contrast, has gone for 16 in three and as has been the case in recent times, draws a lot of oohs and aahs from the close cordon without looking like sealing the deal.

46/1 after 10, and the West Indies remain on track.

West Indies: Overs 1-5:

In a move borrowed from his own CSK playbook, MS Dhoni opted to open the bowling with Ravichandra Ashwin, whose "strength of mind" has come in for considerable praise from his IPL captain (It has also served as a somewhat bizarre reason for keeping him out till now, but never mind that).

Debutant Kirk Edwards eased Ashwin to the extra cover boundary in the bowler's second over -- in part because Piyush Chawla, substituting for Yuvraj Singh, made a mess of an attempted diving stop. And Devon Smith cashed in on a rare loose delivery from Zaheer -- short, wide of off and begging for the blazing square drive backward of point; an over later he again punished Zaheer, this time for overpitching, with a fierce straight drive.

But perhaps the most bizarre incident in a long time came a ball after that drive, when Smith drove, Kohli fielded superbly and threw down the stumps at the bowler's end where Edwards was backing up too far. Kohli appealed, no one else did. And Simon Taufel, who was perfectly positioned to make the call, ruled it not out though Edwards was a good half a foot short of his ground. To cap it off, the Indians shrugged and got back to the business of leaking runs.

At the end of the first five overs, Windies had made 24/0. Not an electric opening, and some luck involved in keeping the wickets column virgin, but they'll take it happily. India, not so much.

India 46-50:

The batting power play was finally taken. Or not taken, so much as imposed mandatorily, with Harbhajan Singh joining Yusuf Pathan in the middle. Sammy had overs in hand from Russell and Rampaul -- and the latter underlined India's folly in delaying the acceleration when, with Yusuf reduced to heaving at everything, he sent down a fast, inswinging yorker to rattle middle stump and further stunt India's progress.

Next over produced more bad news, as Harbhajan aimed a vague hit at a Russell delivery outside off, managed only to scoop it in the air on the on side, and Keiron Pollard came racing in from the line, flung himself headlong forward as the ball died on him, somehow managed to get his hand under the ball, and even more incredibly, clung on despite the excruciating pain of having rammed a finger into the turf and dislocated it.

Rampaul returned and did it again -- late swinging yorker to castle Zaheer a ball after the batsman had stepped away and crashed him through extra cover. Trouble here was, Zaheer was looking to play the shot by rote; Rampaul changed the length up, and got a well deserved 5-for.

Russell needed just one ball of the 50th over to clean Munaf Patel's clock, and India had yet again made an unwholesome mess of the end of its innings. MS has been talking of his fielding, of his bowling, even of his top order in not so complementary terms. But the constant, recurring problem has been the problem of the middle and lower order to capitalize on good starts -- and what merits mention is that this has usually started with his entry to the middle. Harsh, perhaps, but IMHO, it is the single issue that could impact on India's fortunes in the quarters and, provided we survive, beyond.

Credit where due, the West Indies saw their chance and took it, particularly in the last ten overs. They ramped up their fielding, the quicks got their lengths spot on, and once they sniffed their chance and got the opposition down on the floor, they ensured that they put the boot in.

269 is an inbetween target to set on this track. The window of opportunity for the West Indies is the early overs -- once the ball softens, making the pace against an array of bowlers in the slow-and-slower category will be hard. And the problem there is the absence of Gayle (not to mention the uncertainty over Pollard's finger injury).

India 41-45:

Yuvraj Singh duly completed his century (114 balls). A power play lurked tantalizingly on the horizon. All things seemed possible. And not for the first time, the innings seemed to decelerate just when you thought the foot would go hard down on the accelerator.

Bishoo floated one up a bit; Dhoni skipped out with his fat flailing in an approximation of the 'helicopter shot' that now has a soft drink backing it; the ball turned more than he bargained for, and gave the keeper a simple stumping to complete.

Darren Sammy, who had earlier in the 44th over been pulled for six with supreme contempt by Yuvraj, bowled another of his innocuous deliveries on the middle stump and Raina, down on his knee, sought to sweep it to the wide fine leg boundary. Rampaul, positioned at the shorter position, dived to his right to pull off a good catch to a ball that was going at a fair clip.

And on the stroke of the 45th over, Yuvraj finally played a tired, tame shot at Keiron Pollard to present the bowler with a tame return catch. India ended the period on 240/6, with these five overs having produced 28 runs and three wickets.

The most bizarre facet of this period of play was the refusal to take the power play. Optimally, it should have come after 35, with Kohli and Yuvraj set against a harder replacement ball. It didn't. It could have come in the 41st over, with Yuvraj past his 100 and Dhoni out there. It didn't. Now it comes because there is no longer the option of not taking it.

The session also featured an extended break, with 'keeper Thomas sustaining an injury to his finger that necessitated treatment; by the time he was back on his feet, Yuvraj was crumpling up in a combination of dehydration and exhaustion. One outcome of all this is a severely truncated lunch break.

In passing, I wonder which Indian player will, at the halfway mark, tell the Indian captain that it is necessary to play for the team, not the crowd?

Okay, that was just random mischief.

India 36-40:

The rate of scoring remains smoothly pegged at the 5.8-6 mark; the bowling looks as helpless as it has done through this innings -- and yet you get the sense that somehow, the Indian team missed a trick in the timing of its acceleration.

At the 40 over mark, India has reached 212/3. But the scoring in this five over spell actually fell, by about 4 runs, with the Indians garnering just 24 in this period. From a narrow point of view, understandable as Yuvraj inches towards his century; from the larger point of view, the slow down comes precisely when you would have accepted the foot to go down hard on the accelerator. And in the final analysis, this delayed timing could mean the difference between a 280-ish score, and the 320-ish one that looked eminently possible around the 30 over mark.

India 31-35:

Some of Darren Sammy's bowling choices have been, how to put this politely, less than optimal. But he got it right when be brought back Rampaul and Russell in the 31st and 32nd over respectively.

If the older ball was going to reverse -- and given the abrasive nature of the ground, it was a good bet it would -- then it had to be exploited before the mandatory ball change after the 35th over.

Rampaul more than Russell (mainly because the latter, apparently having learnt nothing from his earlier experience, was too often on the short side of length) got the ball to go a bit. But all of that said, Kohli was guilty of throwing it away, more so considering what was happening with Yuvraj at the other end.

If there is a hint of irony in the increasing physical struggles of a player who, in his most frequently seen ads, uses the tagline thakna mana hai, let's not go there. To his credit, he has worked a lot on his game, and his timing is increasingly back to a close approximation of his best. He was however visibly tiring with every run, and the best bet was for him to go for broke while he still could, while Kohli batted long at the other end.

Rampaul got the second ball of his second over to come in sharply, on length, from outside off. It deserved respect -- not the contemptuous slog Kohli, who till then had kept his aggressive instincts in check -- aimed at it. The shot was indescribably ugly; the ball beat the flailing bat and rattled the woodwork to end a composed, classy knock and a reviving 122 run partnership at a healthy 5.1 that first stanched the bleeding, then put India on the road to a sizable total.

If there is one person Yuvraj did not want walking out at the fall of Kohli it was his captain. MS Dhoni is the most aggressive runner in the Indian ranks, and Yuvraj has already tasted his captain's wrath on an earlier occasion when, similarly tired, he turned down an easy second run.

But Dhoni is who he got, and between them they have seen India to 188/3, with a batting power play looming (I'd be surprised if MS took it after 40 -- or rather, disappointed, not surprised). The run rate has been maintained, despite the loss of Kohli, with 28 coming during these five overs.

India: 26-30:Rampaul brought back in the 31st, in the hope of some reverse. Russell from the other end. Both quicks brought back in the hope of some reverse.

The problem with bowling spin to Indian – in fact, most sub-continental – batsmen is the margin of error, which shrinks to near zero thanks to the innate ability to read the ball out of the hand, where batsmen from outside the sub-continent largely wait for the ball to land before they figure out what it’s going to do.

First Bishoo, then Benn, found this out the hard way. In trying to keep his length tight, Bishoo overpitched, just once, and Yuvraj promptly cracked him through midwicket. That was off the first ball of the 26th; a nervous Bishoo promptly dragged the next one down and wide, and got paddled for another four.

At the other end, Benn came back to the crease for Pollard; to his first ball of the new spell, Yuvraj leaned back, made room, and cut against the turn; the next ball was length, outside the off, and Yuvraj leaned into a flowing cover drive that was silken in execution.

Unnoticed, the two batsmen quickly put an end to the Windies Plan B before it could really be put into effect -- to double team spinners and keep the run rate in check.

At the other end, Kohli continued to turn the strike over, allowing Yuvraj the luxury of facing more deliveries. But when Pollard switched ends, taking over from Bishoo, and slowed the pace down on an off cutter, Kohli spotted it early, waited an eternity, and then muscled it through midwicket to bring up his own 50.

At the end of 30, India had moved to 160/2. The last five overs produced a healthy 37 -- and what is noticeable is that the Indians switched the tempo back up without really looking to go hard. The platform is now in place, there is a batting power play lurking, and India increasingly looks placed for a 300+ total.

PS: Yuvraj has over the course of this Cup increasingly batted himself back into near peak form; the only question remaining is whether his fitness is all it should be, and that question was underlined when, during this period, he crumpled to the ground in exhaustion. Chennai is hot (there is a very good reason they don't play too many matches there in March), and it is a sapping heat that sucks the moisture right out of you; to survive and thrive, you need to be at the peak of your fitness. And it doesn't help to have a Kohli type as partner -- someone who sets off for a run at the slightest excuse. What remains to be seen is if the weariness Yuvraj manifested will impact on his touch and timing in the remaining part of his knock.

India: Overs 21-25:

At the halfway stage, the game remains in delicate equipoise. Outside of strangely spongy bounce (a ball from Keiron Pollard kicked off better than good length, in this period), there really is nothing in the wicket, nor in the Windies bowlers on view, to threaten the Indian batsmen.

Against that, Kohli and Yuvraj are clearly focussed on batting out a few overs, rather than take too many chances and run the risk of the middle and lower middle have to play too many overs. So whatever aggression there has been, is sporadic, and unleashed only when a particular delivery begs for rough treatment.

A straight length ball from Sammy was one such -- and Yuvraj smacked it almost out of the ground; when Bishoo went a touch short in length, the same batsmen went down on his knee and powered a sweep to the square fence; when Pollard got the length wrong on a leg cutter, Kohli waited on it and cleverly late cut it down to the third man boundary.

Outside of those shots, another relatively quiet period of play saw India end at 123/2; collecting a decent 26 runs during this phase with a minimum of fuss. You would expect another such period before the batsmen begin to think of increasing the tempo a notch.

India: Overs 16-20:

How Devendra Bishoo would do against the Indians was a point of interest -- and thus far, he has done decently against two Indian batsmen bent on consolidation. There is no appreciable turn to be had -- at least none the spinner seems to be generating, but his lines have been tight around off, and his focus on good length has ensured that neither Yuvraj nor Kohli have been able to use their feet to him. What he is focused on is denying the Indian batsmen space for stroke play, depending also on smart variations of pace to unsettle the batsmen, and at the 20 over mark, his three overs have cost a mere 9 runs.

With Sammy also taking the pace off and with the field now spread, a mere 16 runs have come during this period, dragging the overall rate down under 5. Not so much a problem at this point for the side batting, but a portent of things to come; it will be interesting to see if during the next phase or two, the batsmen succeed in working the ball around better, and ticking the board along in singles.

India: Overs 11-15:

It happens all the time on bouncy tracks -- quick bowlers get carried away and overdo the short stuff. The West Indies bowlers have been somewhat guilty of that thus far in this innings -- way too many short balls, not enough of the other stuff.

Russel has a nice, clean, effortless action and good pace; there have been no signs of swing and/or seam, but then this wicket is not at the start offering much by way of movement (that should change once the abrasive pitch and outfield scruff the ball up, bringing reverse into play). Also, Russell seems not too happy to have to switch lines between right handed and left handed batsmen -- to Kohli he has tended to stray on the pads; to Yuvraj, he tends either to give width outside off (the southpaw played a silken cover drive to one such) or compensate by straightening the line too much, and end up drifting onto the pads.

That said, he should have had India three down when, off the last ball of the 12th over, he had Yuvraj in a tangle with a short ball the southpaw tried to fend clumsily away from his body. The resulting top edge saw Darren Sammy, at backward point, time his lunge a bit late, and fail to hold on. As if to atone, the Windies skipper took Rampaul off and brought himself on, and nearly managed to fox Yuvraj into a return catch -- but the ball was a bit too high, and Sammy's jump wasn't good enough.

At the other end, Kohli appears to have settled down into the kind of innings he was wont to play before being kicked downstairs - smooth, unhurried, characterized by good calling and running and the occasional forceful shot when lengths and lines permit.

After 15, India has gone to 81/2; the bowling power play is over and produced 28 runs, and the rate of scoring remains at a healthy 5.6 rpo. Meanwhile, with the ball getting softer, the Windies bowlers are gradually losing some of that early bite, and it can't be too much longer before spin gets its turn.

India: Overs 6-10:

Virat Kohli abruptly terminated the Benn-to-bowl strategy with two silken drives, one through the covers and the next a bit more on the extra side; at the other end Gautam Gambhir hopped around a bit against Rampaul, and Russell when he was finally given the ball in place of the spinner, but in between crunched a cover drive off Rampaul when the bowler erred in length.

The 50 came up in the 8th over, by way of a Russell bouncer the keeper would have needed a ladder to collect, and the innings appeared to have recovered from the loss of Tendulkar when, in the next over against Rampaul, a Gambhir upper cut fell into the lap of Russell at third man. It is tempting to say the wicket was "needless" -- but then, what wicket does a team ever "need" to lose? What does merit mention is that Gambhir missed out on a chance to bat deep and long, and his departure brings Yuvraj to the crease far earlier than anyone would have liked.

After ten, it is 53/2. And as the play of both Kohli and Yuvraj indicated after the fall of Gambhir, the play now for India has to be to stage a sizable partnership, not go nuts r' us.

India: Overs 1-5:

This game is about character as much as it is about records and performances, and two shades of the cricketing character were showcased over the past 24 hours in Chennai.

Yesterday, Ricky Ponting got an edge so thick, a fraction thicker and it would have been the middle. He stood there, poker faced, till the third umpire turfed him out.

Today, Sachin Tendulkar got a brute from Ravi Rampaul in the first over of the Indian innings -- a ball that jumped, tennis ball fashion, from just back of good length, squared the batsman up, and touched something -- glove, splice, who knew? -- as it careened through.

The umpire shook his head. Sachin shook his head, too -- in personal disappointment that he hadn't managed to evade that. And turning around, he walked, before the West Indies could even think of an appeal.

It is not my case that batsmen should always walk, or that one form of behavior is preferable to the other. But the contrasting incidents go some way to explaining why one player is revered the world over, and the other one occasionally reviled even in his native land.

On another note, the use of Suleiman Benn as 'tactic' is one thing -- but tactics are contextual, they depend on pitch conditions and the nature of the opposition. With an Andre Russell handy, and on a wicket with rubber ball bounce, the use of Benn -- more so to someone like Gambhir -- seemed somewhat thoughtless.

The Indian batsmen spent much of this period ducking and weaving, but also got enough off target deliveries they could work around and put away, and had coasted to 28 for the loss of Tendulkar.

In passing, Kohli is back at his preferred slot in the upper order, batting three thanks to the absence of Sehwag and consequent promotion of Gambhir -- and he looks a far better player already.

Pre-game: The morning papers, websites and blogs are full of it. If this happens then that opponent awaits and if that happens, this opponent awaits. If this and that happen but not the other... you know the kind of thing.

None of it should matter. India has a choice between four possible opponents in the quarters, in games that could be played in different venues and under different conditions, and none of them is a pushover. Is it better to play Australia or Sri Lanka? Your guess is as good as mine, and as likely to be wrong.

The team -- and for once it is lucky the collective doesn't go in for reading, much -- will merely fret itself to a standstill if it tries to play the possibilities. The one thing it can do is play this game, with a clear idea that besides a win itself, there are things it wants to take away from it, lessons it needs to learn, processes it needs to perfect.

It needs to figure out its right batting order -- and personnel -- for instance. While it is well and good to talk up the flexibility -- and it is certainly not my case that even when the game situation deserves it, even demands it, the team should remain inflexible about who will bat where -- the case of Virat Kohli, for one, is a clear indication that constant tinkering leaves individuals confused about their roles, and impacts on performance. Do you want Raina to be something more, do something more, than bring out the drinks and substitute for whichever player can't be bothered to do the hard yards? If so, what do you want of him, where do you want him to bat that will maximize his strengths and minimize his weaknesses?

Such questions can be asked of almost all members of the batting lineup -- and IMHO, finding answers the team can live with in the only 'experimental' game left is likely more important than winning this game, even.

You could say the same about the bowling. What is your best opening combination: Zaheer and Munaf, or Zaheer and Nehra? Why? Does Ashwin figure in the team plans for the next stage(s), and if so is it more important to give him a tune up game now, or keep him under wraps to surprise opponents with? If he does play, what role will be assigned to him -- that of an attacking, wicket-taking off spinner or one who switches on inside the early power play phase and plays jailor to opposition batsmen looking to break free? What do you want from Harbhajan - wickets, or a 4.5 "economy rate"?

Or how about the fielding? A little earlier in the program we were treated to the bizarre sight of Ashish Nehra at mid off and Munaf Patel at mid on -- and the kind explanation for that is that the team needed to hide its slowest movers, and figured the best thing to do was hide them in plain sight. MS Dhoni is right when he says there is nothing much he or anyone else can do to improve the fielding standards -- but there are surely things the captain can do to use the limited resources to optimum (like ensuring that Kohli and, when he plays, Raina, are out at midwicket, mid on or mid off whenever power plays are on, for example). Finding out optimal positions and responsibilities for individual fielders is yet another item in the to-do check list for today.

Speaking for a moment as an Indian fan rather than as a journalist, I'd be totally happy if the day ends with the team having been able to figure out answers to these and other important questions, even if it is at the cost of losing this game.

Right, so here we go: updated analysis, every 5 overs, starting 2.30 PM IST. Refresh for the latest. See you at the game. And while you wait, check out this exclusive interview with the man whose knee is the focus of the cricket public's attention: Viru Sehwag, on video

Latest Posts

Matches

Subscribe

[X]

How to subscribe

Roll over each section to subscribe using Add to My Yahoo or RSS Feed feeds.

Yahoo News offers dozens of RSS feeds you can read in My Yahoo or using third-party RSS news reader software. Click here to find out more about RSS and how you can use it with Yahoo News.