Long story short, if India are to beat defending champions Australia on March 24th, skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni has to bring back his old-self. With time, the Indian captain has become defensive in his approach - which at times has cost our cricket-mad country. Sure we won the World Twenty20 under him and challenged Australia's hegemony at the top - but those attacking instincts have somewhat perished.
He probably has the best team right now - batting wise. Bowling wise, the pitches here in sub-continent will always suit the batsmen. If our bowlers can't perform in England, Australia or South Africa we have a case for worry - not here. Did anybody say anything about fielding? We are improving.
Coming back to Dhoni's captaincy; his wasted attempt of making a bowler out of Piyush Chawla (in what appears to be an attempt to prove critics wrong) cost India 174 runs in three matches before sense prevailed in Chennai. He doesn't lack the nous.
He's got to bring his attacking style back. Let the opposition work for their runs, force wickets by bowling the right bowlers and not let a certain Billy Bowden force the power play in the 46th over. It needs to be taken when your best batsmen are at the crease in order to blast the opposition away. Let the Australian bowlers wish they were Down Under.
The team has fared badly during the tricky batting power play losing almost everything in those five overs:
- Against Bangladesh India took the power play from 34-39th over which yielded 48 runs without any wickets.
- They managed only 32 runs at the expense of 1 wicket against England during the 36-41 overs.
- India had won the match in 46th over against Ireland before umpires forced it onto them. They took the power play in 45th over.
- India lost four wickets for 30 runs against South Africa during the power play which they took between 39-43rd over. India lost the game by 3 wickets.
- Lesson not learnt and India lost four wickets for 28 runs against West Indies during the 45-50 overs.
Who says you cannot take the power play when your best batsmen are at the crease?
The art of captaincy comes rather naturally to him - Sachin knew it - while Ricky Ponting, after losing the Ashes, is under enormous pressure to keep his job after the World Cup. The most endearing feature of Dhoni's leadership is that he keeps his mouth shut and only talks after India have won the game. He tends to get too philosophical at times though.
Of late, I have been wondering whether Dhoni still possess the excellence (with the bat) that made him a ferocious striker of the ball once upon a time. His form with the willow has deteriorated wildly and he doesn't inspire half the confidence as he did earlier with his stroke play. His scores at the World Cup read DNB, 31, 34, 19*, 12* and 22 so far. Forget the helicopter shot - it only looks good in that Pepsi advertisement.
Our bowling was a worry and the problem has compounded two-fold along with some mediocre fielding during the ongoing event. That Dhoni's men are yet to post a convincing win over the leading Test nations in the showpiece tournament has raised a few questions about their capability to finish sides off. The order of the day will be some gutsy captaincy from MS and not to play to compete, but to win.
The Big Match: The records at previous World Cups and performance in the league phase means nothing when you are in the knockout stage. It's a total different ballgame. One good ball/one bad shot/bad decision and you might be too old for the next showpiece.
India go into the quarter-finals with a much-needed win over improved West Indies while Ponting's men lost their record winning streak of 34 games against Pakistan in their last group match. Angry Australians will test India's quality at Motera.
The absence of Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath may have made the Kangaroos bit susceptible but they are still the top-ranked side in ODIs and possess the skill to hit back anytime. The fearsome pace duo of Brett Lee and Shaun Tait can overawe any opposition on a given day. Mitchell Johnson has been their most effective weapon in the tournament so far and Indian batsmen will have to work pretty hard to go past these big guys.
Team Composition: It's good to have some selection headaches. The clock has turned astonishingly for Yuvraj Singh this World Cup. He has scored runs consistently, got wickets for Dhoni and is somewhat getting back into the groove - physically.
Yusuf Pathan, who has had a forgettable tournament so far might lose his place to Suresh Raina, once fit-again Virender Sehwag comes back to partner Sachin at the top. Harbhajan not getting wickets remains the biggest concern.
India would like to avenge 2003 final humiliation where Ricky Ponting punished the sub-continent giants with a blistering 140 runs. Dhoni should do away with his safety-first approach if he harbours any chance of further progress at the global event.