x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

India's bowling looked shaky in their World Cup opener

India's bowling looked shaky in their World Cup opening win over Bangladesh, and spinners may be the key to their fortune.

When India won the World Cup in 1983, they started with a shock 34-run victory over the West Indies, then the two-time defending champions.

Since then, though, their World Cup forays have usually involved playing catch-up after poor starts.

In 1987, they lost to Australia by a run and four years later, in the first Trans-Tasman World Cup, England beat them by nine runs in Perth.

In 1999, they were defeated by South Africa, and when the Proteas hosted the event in 2003, India's first match against major opposition - they had beaten the Netherlands earlier - saw Australia trounce them by nine wickets at Centurion.

The exception to this tortoise-start rule came in 1996 when victory over Kenya was followed by a comfortable success against the West Indies.

However, think of India and their poor starts and it is inevitable minds turn to the Queen's Park Oval in Trinidad on March 17, 2007.

It was that rarest of days when both sides of the Radcliffe Line were equally miserable. Ireland sent Pakistan tumbling out of the competition in Jamaica, but few Indian fans had it in them to gloat after their own side were embarrassed by sprightly Bangladesh.

That debacle and the furious reaction it provoked back home were certainly on Indian minds as they squared up against Bangladesh in Saturday's World Cup opener at Mirpur.

This time, it was not just the team they had to overcome, but thousands of fans whose joyous enthusiasm will act as a 12th man in the days and weeks to come.

Few Indian players dared mention "revenge". Virender Sehwag did, and after a 140-ball 175 that provided the impetus for an 87-run win, he pronounced himself satisfied.

Gary Kirsten, the coach, and MS Dhoni, the captain, will not be. The batting may have been of five-star quality, but even on a pitch that offered little for the bowlers, the ease with which Bangladesh scored runs was a worry ahead of more testing games against England and South Africa.

Shanthakumar Sreesanth, a late addition to the 15-man squad after Praveen Kumar's elbow injury failed to heal, went for 53 in his five overs.

He was unlucky early on, but once the batsmen continued to target him, he got flustered far too easily.

The length he bowls when trying to get swing is ideal for a batsman unafraid to hit through the line, and his attempts to alter the angle of attack were invariably disastrous.

A year or so ago, Ashish Nehra was the automatic pick to partner Zaheer Khan with the new ball. These days, he too is terribly inconsistent, leaking runs with both new ball and old.

Munaf Patel has done an excellent holding role in recent times, but his lack of pace makes him an unappealing new-ball option.

Though neither Yusuf Pathan nor Yuvraj Singh posed too many difficulties for Bangladesh, it has become increasingly clear that the turning ball will be India's biggest weapon if they are to win the World Cup.

Harbhajan Singh tossed it up beautifully at times in Mirpur, and there is a case to be made for the inclusion of Piyush Chawla given how poorly most teams play leg spin.

Sehwag's shoulder problems mean he will not bowl, while Sachin Tendulkar, once capable of filling in for a few overs, has also become a bowling afterthought.

On pitches as slow and low as that in Dhaka, it is not inconceivable that Dhoni will resort to at least 30 overs of spin.

The combination of off-spin, leg-spin and a left-armer (Yuvraj) means that India have most bases covered.

Having started as Kapil Dev's team did in 1983, it is now up to the players to ensure that the momentum is not squandered.

 

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