x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

It's not all rosy for India at the Cricket World Cup

While Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag top the Cricket World Cup scoring charts, India have personnel issues further down the team.

After five games, Sachin Tendulkar sits second on the World Cup run charts with 324, just three behind Virender Sehwag, the man he walks out with to face the new ball.

He has hit two magnificent centuries against the sides considered the biggest threats to India before the tournament began.

But, in what must seem like a bad rerun of a depressing 1990s story, India have taken just a point from those matches against England and South Africa.

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In Bangalore, a combination of dreadful bowling and the one-day innings of a lifetime from Andrew Strauss resulted in a tie.

Against South Africa on Saturday, he gave the rest the ideal platform, scoring 111 from just 101 balls and taking the score to 267 for one with 63 balls remaining.

Even run-a-ball conservatism would have taken them to 330, but India folded for 296. South Africa won with two balls to spare.

While the middle- and lower-order batsmen have been culpable of not pushing on in both games, a quick look at the bowling charts will tell you why the team has struggled.

Zaheer Khan shares second place with 12 wickets, and Munaf Patel, in ninth place, has nine.

But Munaf has gone for nearly six and over, while the next-best specialist bowler is Harbhajan Singh, who averages just a wicket a game after five matches.

In The Age, Dean Jones, part of the Australian side that won the first subcontinent World Cup in 1987, wrote: "[MS] Dhoni believes he will win the World Cup with this bowling line-up: Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Piyush Chawla and Harbhajan Singh.Dhoni must turn to history to see that this bowling attack will not win a World Cup."

Harsh words, but justified on the basis of what we have seen over five games. With nearly a week to go before they play their final group game against West Indies, what can Dhoni and India do to revive a flagging campaign?

The days leading up to the match will doubtless feature reruns of his quote from Saturday night, when he suggested that some teammates had played to the packed galleries rather than to their strengths.

The reliance on Zaheer with the ball is a worry, but there are also batting kinks that India need to iron out.

Sending Yusuf Pathan in at No 4 in a couple of games has not worked, and it has left Virat Kohli, who scored a wonderfully fluent hundred in Dhaka from that position, needing to come in and play his shots from the off.

Pathan is a finisher, Kohli is not.

If the ability to clear the ropes in a power play is the prime criteria, then either Kohli or Gautam Gambhir must make way for Suresh Raina, whose short-ball frailties will not be exposed in these conditions.

If both Gambhir and Kohli are to play, then they must bat at their normal positions. Without a proper all-rounder, the composition of the bowling was always going to be a headache.

Munaf is excellent at bottling up one end in the middle overs.

But he must bowl out his overs.

Leaving a man who lacks both pace and variations for the slog overs is an invitation to the opposition to clear the infield.

With India in no mood to abandon the four-bowler strategy, the only way to accommodate R Ashwin, the off spinner, is to drop either Munaf or Nehra.

Ashwin was picked in the squad mainly for his ability to bowl in the power plays and at the close.

After losing one close game and so nearly another - England scored 28 in the last two overs - his time has surely come.

 

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